Edible municipal gardening in Switzerland

August 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

An idea from Switzerland that could work well back home. Municipal planting in the North of England where I come from tends to take the form of highly coloured highly regimented and highly maintained beds of marigolds, begonias, lobelia and the like. I saw recently in both Champéry and Vevey, two towns in la Suisse Romande (French speaking Switzerland), examples of edible flower beds.

In Vevey these were straightforward ornamental vegetables, rainbow chard, sweetcorn and tomatoes.

In Champéry, a more imaginative approach was taken. Herbs and edible plants were displayed in planters which formed a trail through the village with a recipe for the relevant edible plant displayed next to it. The recipes were compiled into a handy little brochure available from the tourist office.

Here are 3 of the recipes from the leaflet which appealed to me, including one featuring comfrey. Normally all my recipes are tried and tested but these are new to me. I shall be giving them a go as soon as I’m back in my own kitchen and can forage for the ingredients.

A photo of the planter containing comfrey (Symphytum officinale or consoude in French) appears at the bottom of the post.

Recipe for comfrey tzatziki

For 4 people. This recipe makes sense as tzatiki is usually made with cucumber and both comfrey and it’s cousin borage are said to have a cucumber-like taste. Rather worryingly, the original recipe states that comfrey should be consumed in moderation because of the potentially liver damaging compounds it contains. You have been warned!

Ingredients

300g natural yoghurt, ideally Greek style
6-7 young comfrey leaves
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
5 mint leaves, ideally wild mint
salt and pepper

Chop the comfrey and mint finely and mix with the yoghurt and olive oil. Season to taste. Leave for 1 hour in the fridge and mix again before serving.

Recipe for little elderberry cakes

Makes about 25 little cakes. These sound as if they’ll turn out like madeleines – I hope so as madeleines are just about my favourite small cakes.

Ingredients

150g flour
150g caster sugar
40g ground almonds (ideally bitter almonds)
2 teaspoons baking powder
The grated rind and juice of half a lemon
150-200g ripe elderberries removed from the stalk
3 eggs lightly beaten with a fork
150g melted butter
125g natural yoghurt
2 tbsp orange flower water

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder, grated lemon rind and elderberries. Take care not to crush the berries. In a second smaller bowl, mix the eggs, melted butter, yoghurt, lemon juice and orange flower water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix and allow to rest in the fridge for 1 hour. Drop teaspoons of the mixture into prepared silicone moulds (I plan to use my silicone madeleine moulds, otherwise use patty tins). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 220 degrees C. Leave for a few minutes before unmoulding.

Recipe for Charentais melon and wild mint salsa with melon and muscat sorbet and raw ham from the Val d’Illiez

Serves 4 I would guess. This is one of the sketchier recipes in the leaflet so please alter it as you see fit. No ingredients or method are given for the sorbet syrup so please consult your usual cookbook to see how to make this.

Ingredients

2 Charentais melons
1/2 cucumber
1 dessertspoon icing sugar
125 ml sugar syrup
Small glass Pineau de Charentes or other sweet muscat wine
4 handfuls salad leaves
4 to 8 slices Val d’Illiez or other raw thinly ham

Peel and deseed the melon and cucumber, cut into small cubes and marinate overnight in the fridge with the chopped mint and the spoonful of icing sugar. Liquidise and set aside.

To make the sorbet, peel and deseed the second melon, cube and liquids then mix with the 125 ml chilled sugar syrup and the small glass of muscat wine. Churn in an ice cream maker or freeze in a shallow plastic container stirring the mix from time to time.

Serve the smoothy and the sorbet with a few dressed salad leaves (use a vinaigrette flavoured with chopped wild mint) and scatter over the strips of raw ham.

Champéry and the Tour des Dents du Midi

August 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

The range of seven peaks known as the Dents du Midi (Teeth of the South) sits high above the Rhône valley in Western Switzerland and is tantalisingly visible from the shores of Lac Léman (lake Geneva).

After staring at these dreamy mountains for years since I first visited the area back in the 1980s I was finally going to approach them on foot via the long distance footpath called the Tour des Dents du Midi. If you were really up for it you could complete the walk in 2 long days: we decided to opt for the 4 day option making our base the picturesque alpine village of Champéry in the canton of Valais.

Wending our way up the Val d’Illiez towards Champéry we kept seeing roadside stalls selling Valais apricots. The Valais is named after the mighty Rhône valley which dominates the region. It is the warmest and sunniest part of Switzerland and is famed for its red wines and its fruit trees. I’d previously experienced Valais fruit in the winter in the form of hideously strong schnapps, pomme (apple), williamine (pear) and the like. At the third roadside stall we just had to break our journey to experience the fruit in its much more pleasant undistilled form:

Delicious, ripe and juicy, much more appealing than the bullet-hard pellets that pass for apricots in supermarkets back home.

Our base in Champéry was the comfortable and good value Beau Séjour hotel at one end of the village main street. It’s pretty as a picture, all dark wood and pink geraniums and the annexe rooms where we slept were spacious and well-equipped. The hotel doesn’t serve meals other than breakfast but this was not a problem as we strolled down to the excellent Café du Nord for dinner.

The Beau Séjour does do a fine breakfast, the highlight of which for us was cooking our own pancakes on a dinky electrically heated tabletop device. Sadly, looking out of the window from our cost breakfast table, the weather outside was, exactly as forecast, grim. Undaunted, we merely donned our waterproofs and set off from the Grand Paradis chairlift carpark. We had 6 hours walking ahead of us including 900m of ascent.

The showers stopped intermittently and we were rewarded with views of precipitous slopes and alpine meadows. We took a lunch break at the Cabane d’Antème, pretty basic with building work audibly in progress. Soup was reconstituted Maggi or similar and coffee was instant but the chocolate cake was the real deal.

After another 3 hours’ trudging in the rain, the Alpage de Chindonne was a welcome sight bas we rounded our final corner. This was amazingly comfortable for a mountain hut, more like a small hotel, with prices too match! We were too late for the cheaper basic pasta meal, the répas du randonneur, so it was the à la carte option of viand sechée du Valais followed by the national Swiss potato dish, rösti.

Here is the board of viande sechée du Valais:

After a breakfast of bread and jam we set out on day 2 of our walk. Mercifully the rain had stopped and the sun broke through clouds and it became a beautiful day. A good thing too as we had 7 hours walking ahead of us. We spent the morning rounding the corner into the main Rhône valley arriving at the cliff top village of Mex in time for lunch. We then had a gruelling 1,000m climb up to the col du Jorat from where we could see down to our destination, the Auberge de Salanfe. By common consent this was the best hut of the tour. It has a spectacular lakeside setting, comfortable rooms, good food and efficient and friendly service. Dinner, a homemade vegetable soup and emincé de boeuf (beef casserole) with rice and vegetables, was wolfed down by all.

Day 3 turned out to be a relatively short 3 hour walk over the col to the Cabane de Susanfe as our planned peak, the Haut Cîme, 3,257m, turned out to be unobtainable because of the quantity of fresh snow down to 2,400m. We arrived at the Cabane at around lunchtime and spent a lazy afternoon in the sunshine rehydrating first on sirop de mélisse (homemade lemon balm cordial) and later on a microbrewery beer from Sion. Dinner was packet cream of asparagus soup followed by chilling con carne, then apple sauce for pudding. Sounds a little odd but it all tastes good after a day’s hiking. The Cabane de Susanfe is a genuine Swiss Alpine Club hut with just a coomunal dormitory and hut bunk sleeping arrangements. This proved the most difficult part of the walk: sharing a mattress with a pot-bellied snoring stranger is not my idea of fun….

After a slightly Spartan breakfast of homemade bread (good but not enough of it), jam and instant hot chocolate, we set off on the final leg of the journey back to Champéry and civilisation. After a tricky first hour we were through the steepest section of the walk, the Pas d’Encel, effectively the jaws of the valley. The buvette de Bonavau made a welcome break with tempting homemade fruit tarts on display:

Too soon it was back to civilization in Champéry. It was a sunny Sunday lunchtime and we were pleasantly surprised to find both the bakery open and a little market in full swing in the village centre. We stocked up on bread – both Valais rye bread with walnuts plus white bread for the softies in our party. The cheeses were a wonderfully ripe and stinky Tomme de Bruson from the neighbouring valley and a local artisan-made rinded goat cheese. The salami was chewy, flavoursome and flavoured with génepi. I think this variety of peach is called doughnut – they were small, fragantly white-fleshed and juicy.

A perfect picnic to conclude a successful walk, even if the Haut Cîme remained out of reach this time.

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