Monday, August 14, 2006
Ode to Confiture
Some proclaim the pride of France to be foie gras, to be cheese, to be bread – with its crusty shell encasing a vulnerable center. Some exclaim it is Escoffier!, it is Bocuse!, it is Ducasse! – with their gallivanting the world collecting Michelin stars and claiming to need none of them. Even some exclaim that the pride of France is it’s tradition, is it’s history, is it’s religion – of which none really exist…anymore.
Non! J’exclaim. All are anathema! The pride of France is its confiture. Its jam.
Taking the shape of its decagonal jar, the jam in France is its own Ecole Superieur. A mock hand-written label signifies its homemade taste. Its ability to be licked, nay, plucked from the glass with the fingers – allowing its gelatinous sugars to drip from the tip of the nail to the base of the digit where it inevitably becomes stuck in the well between the lucky one and the less fortunate. No discrete motion efficiently extirpates the jam. The tongue must engage in battle. It must ride forth from the cave that holds it captive and ride into the valley with a single purpose. The hand must twist and maneuver to provide the path for the tongue. Perhaps, if you are lucky, the drip in the well contained a caviar of raspberry, a preserved cherry, or a shred of strawberry.
You must work for your confiture - even in France, nothing is really free. If you are lucky enough to be able to pry the lid free of the jar (in my world, the jam never has time to stick to the sides long enough to become a hindrance), if you are lucky enough to smell the rendered fruit – never the sugar, if you are lucky enough to open a jar of Bonne Maman confiture, you have just begun your morning.
Confiture has risen to a higher level in Europe than it ever has in America. Americans use jam as an enhancement for otherwise tasteless and unexciting bread. Jam is sandwiched between cream cheese and butter as a mere condiment. Europeans know the true abilities of jam. It has been tried and tested and proven worthy. Confiture in France is the true compliment to bread. Adding confiture says to the bread, “I am proud of you.” Butter is optional. Cream cheese – the waxy, completely tasteless commercial variety - is heretical.
There is nary a food that confiture does not enhance. Spread on pork, cherry confiture increases the smoky flavor of a ham, a chop, or a slice of bacon. Strawberry jam creates a sweetness and moisture in chicken and game that never could have existed without it. Perhaps my favorite, however, is a FG&J sandwich. A thin layer of goose liver pate and an equal layer of raspberry confiture on a soft piece of pain de campagne. I am swooning.
The pride of France may be its white yogurt. But no yogurt is sweet enough without a full spoon of jam.