The Dubois farm sits in a tiny village with only a handful of houses, most of which are occupied by Dubois family members. When Guy’s grandparents bought this land in 1910, they found 400 kilos of truffles on the property (right now, truffles are worth about 1,000 € per kilo. You do the math.) Guy’s father gave Danie and Guy 45 kilos of truffles as a wedding gift, and they now find about five kilos each year. I asked if they sell the truffles, but Guy said he eats them all before anyone has a chance to buy them. On the bus stop across the street, there’s a hand-painted mural of Guy’s grandfather with a truffle pig and its haul of truffles. Now they use dogs because, like Guy, the pigs eat all the truffles they find.
Guy is 72, tall and thin and often speaks a French dialect that’s difficult to understand, but he’s very funny. He’ll grab my hand for a twirl in the kitchen, squeeze my topknot, or wiggle his hips as he carries a piping hot plate to the dinner table. Every now and then, he’ll make a comment, and I’ll smile and laugh (though, je ne comprends pas), and then I realize he’s poking fun at Danie. Because his hearing has deteriorated, he can’t hear the tone of his own name, so Danie has to call him by his first and last name to get a response, “GUY DUBOIS!!!!”
His primary responsibilities are to harvest the fruits and vegetables upon Danie’s request, give guests tours of the conserverie, or cannery, where everything is produced, assist his son with managing the animals, and serve the apéritif and entertain while Danie prepares the meals. And he always takes a long siesta on the couch after lunch.
One of the things I knew I’d miss most about being away from home was piling onto the couch with my girlfriends and a few bottles of champagne for Bachelor Mondays. But after Guy, Danie, and I wrapped up our dinner on Monday night, I discovered my Bachelor craving would soon be satiated: “L’Amour Est Dans Le Pré” -- Love is in the Meadow. The farmers here are so busy tending to their crops, they don’t have time to date, so this show sets them up with a few women to choose from. It’s the Bachelor, but instead of glamorous gowns and helicopters grazing skyscrapers, they’re in overalls picking chestnuts.
Guy and I now have a standing date Monday nights at 9:30 p.m. He sits on a chair about a foot from the TV screen, and I stretch out on the couch behind him. We both agree the redhead sucks.
Danie is the patron, or boss, and gives orders like a drill sergeant. She’s smart, independent, and a hell of a cook. She operates at 100 mph all day, everyday, and her command of the kitchen reminds me a bit of Big Red (for all you Orange Is the New Black fans.) Each time the phone rings, she throws her hands up and exclaims, “C’est pas possible!” It’s not possible! It cracks me up because it’s so French. But when she has at least four people hovering in her kitchen at all times, I understand the stress. The other day, she was reaming the grandkids over something that I couldn’t understand, but the tone and volume of her voice was unequivocal. When we sat down to lunch, I discovered the scuffle was over the pizza crust -- thin or thick crust?
oday we are in the conserverie, putting dried magret (goose breasts) into vacuum-sealed bags (which will be sold in the farm store) and making huge pots of tomato coulis and sundried tomatoes. There is always at least one giant pot of something marinating on Danie’s stove, and today it’s chopped figs with a box of sugar cubes thrown in. This will emulsify overnight, then we’ll boil it into fig confiture. We also picked three big basketfuls of green beans, which we will blanch, stuff in jars, then salt to preserve in the conserverie.
Danie has two secrets to her success: First, her organization -- she’s always foreword thinking. We cook in bulk, so she always has a stockpile of meats and homemade sauces, jams, and vegetables that she can easily pull out of the freezer or conserverie, as needed. Second, she doesn’t plan the meal in advance, and she doesn’t use recipe cards or precise measurements. When you’re a really fabulous cook, you get to do stuff like that. (My eyes, however, remain glued to the recipe, and every grain of salt over an even teaspoon gets tossed over my left shoulder.) She chooses her dishes based on whatever is fresh from the garden; you would never catch Danie making a strawberry tart in March. Her fridge is practically empty (aside from leftovers from yesterday, a cheese platter, and homemade alcohols), and her cupboards are not stuffed with expired sauces and spices.
It’s 90 minutes before a group of fifteen guests will arrive for a five-course lunch, and Danie is in the kitchen saying, “What will I make today?” A storm approaches, and Guy runs inside with two baskets full of Mirabelle plums just before the clouds release a torrent of rain. “Parfait – une tarte aux prunes pour dessert!” Danie already has two balls of her famous feuilletée tart crust waiting in the fridge, so we throw together the plum tarts in about fifteen minutes. We put the leftover plums in a pot with some sugar to make confiture, which Danie will later serve to her bed and breakfast guests.
After lunch, Danie gives me a lesson in pastry dough. The ingredients are simple: flour, butter, water, a pinch of salt, and a spoonful of oil. Danie dusts a brick of butter in flour and rapidly shaves off paper-thin slices that drop down into the rest of the flour. In about two minutes, she has shaved the entire block.
A few of the lunch guests have walked in to watch the magic, and they ask Danie for the precise ingredient measurements. Danie’s friend questions why she’s so quick to give away her secrets. She laughs and says she doesn’t worry because nobody can ever recreate her recipes on their own. And she’s right. I give the dough a whirl. The butter is rapidly melting in my hand (partly because I’m gripping it with my entire fist, not delicately with two fingers); instead of thin, ribbon-like shavings, wet butter clumps are collecting in my bowl; my hands are cramping and, after thirty seconds, I’m exhausted. But when I finish the butter, and the lunch guests have departed, Danie winks and dumps a bit more flour and water into my bowl. Despite my rudimentary display of butter shaving, the pastry is perfected with Danie’s true measurements.