My trip to France in 1979 opened my eyes to a whole new world, especially with regard to French cooking. Raised in a humble family with very few extravagances, we rarely splurged on anything, including food. Madame Dubois, my patron at the Château de Montclair, and her mother, Madame Moulon, introduced me to some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. There were, however a few dishes I would rather forget.
Here is one excerpt from my memoir, French Illusions, My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley.
“On the way home to the Château d’Arceneau for lunch, the rolling motion of the car lulled me to sleep, and I didn’t wake until we arrived at our destination. Still a bit groggy, I followed the group into the château’s dining room and sat down at the table. When my nose caught a whiff of a pungent, unpleasant smell, I sat up straight and widened my eyes toward Monsieur Dubois, my body recoiling in disgust.
“Andouillettes are a smoked tripe sausage and a specialty dish of the Loire region of France,” he said. “I will admit they are an acquired taste.”
“What is tripe?” I asked, my voice hesitant.
“Animal intestines—in this case, pork intestines. My mother pan-fries the sausage and then adds them to vegetables in a spicy mustard sauce.”
When Maurice circled the table with the andouillettes, I requested a small portion and tasted it, but I didn’t ask for more. I just couldn’t tolerate the offensive smell and the zesty sauce didn’t disguise the strange coarse texture of the entrails.
As usual, there were plenty of other dishes to enjoy. Resembling a pizza, the tarte flambée was made of thin bread dough topped with bacon, cream and sautéed onions. Unlike the andouillettes, the tart smelled delicious and tasted salty sweet. Less recognizable, but just as flavorsome, the salade de tomates et fromage, was a cheese and tomato salad made with fresh basil and red wine vinegar.
Throughout lunch, very little conversation took place until Madame Moulon dabbed her mouth with the edge of her napkin and offered an interesting suggestion.
“Quelle belle journée! Allons donc cueillir des champignons en forêt!” Mushrooms in the forest? I wasn’t sure I had understood correctly.
Colette responded immediately, leaping from the table and knocking over her empty water glass in the process. “Moi d’abord!” I’m first!”