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The Vendée Blog

Cocktail Time

Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 7:48 pm
Category: My Drivel, Recipes, Sausages and Related Products

‘tis the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and aperos.

During the summer months, our friends and we see little of each other. We’re all busy. But come autumn a sort of social whirl restarts and we all hit the circuit for “pre-dinner” drinks.

Aperos means going over to someone’s house for anything from a swift glass of rosé (when things don’t go well), to a lengthy evening of assorted drinks and multiple snacks lasting many hours (when they do).

Aperos starts out as a neutral forum for the purposes of probing the characters of newcomers and can develop into an event of varying regularity for the renewal of friendships and exchange of news.

Aperos may or may not be instead of dinner. It’s worth making sure that you’ve got something in in case things finish early.

Actually – and this may just be the Vendée: I am aware that there are other parts of France and I’m prepared to believe that things might be done differently there – friends seldom if ever have other friends to dinner. Or lunch. Formal mealtimes (as opposed to formal meals) are for family; aperos are for friends.

Aperos can be significantly different events depending on the guest list.

When the event is organised by the lady of the house things tend to be slicker than if it is an all-male affair. A mixed group is always more civilised. What is actually served varies, not least with fashion. Recently, white port has been in vogue – before that it rosé wine mixed with grapefruit syrup, which is a lot nicer than it sounds. On the food front, the nibble of 2012 has been duck beast, marinated in oil and herbs, cooked quickly on a very hot barbeque and then sliced to be eaten hot and bloody.

Children, it has always been my experience, are included in the invite (and this seems to be the case for all social occasions: the notion of “adult only” appears – happily – to be lost on the French). Invites can be issued many weeks in advance. The fact that chucking out time from a good apero might be 1am is seen as being of little importance.

All-male apertos tend to be a more off the cuff sort of affair. One gets talked into – for example – helping to assemble some sort of temporary structure for some school event or other and then someone suggests nipping back to theirs for a swift glass.

Most often, male aperos are held in cellars. Sometimes these can be quite lavishly appointed – I have a friend who has a cellar with a flagstone floor, stone built bar decked with fairly lights seating eight on proper stools and a fridge with ice maker, but this is exceptional. Most of these dens have packed dirt floors, stools cut from a tree trunk, a rough table and bare-bulb lighting.

Conversation is appropriately masculine, comprising politics, farming, hunting, wine and food. We do swap recipes. The food is fairly basic – lumps of home cured sausage or ham, bread, better and gherkins, that sort of thing.

The drinks are usually wine or pineau and are usually home made. I shall explain pineau. This is local to the Vendée and Poitou – Charente region. It is made by blending juice from unripe grapes with grape spirit (the travelling still continues to visit our village, so this can be home made too) and sweetening with sugar. Served chilled, at its best it can be honeyed and delicious; on the other hand, it can taste like British wine to which vodka has been added.

A little home-brewed horror is “quarante-quatre” – 50% alcohol grape spirit, to each litre of which is added a dried orange peel, 44 cubes of sugar and 44 coffee beans, the whole lot being left to steep for 44 days, hence the name. It is served ice cold and is unspeakably strong.

Another friend prepares a range of apero drinks based on fortifying rosé wine with an unhealthy amount of grape spirit and then popping a fruit tea bag into the bottle. The results are surprisingly good, particularly the hibiscus one.

I’ve been cautious about offering anything homemade myself, but following a taste of Sébastian’s blackberry apero, I have taken the plunge. My version is made by steeping a kilo of blackberries in 8 litres of white wine (I used muscadet) with a litre of sprit and 250g for sugar. Soaking time was 30 days, and initial feedback on the drink has been highly positive.

All I need to do now is to try to hold onto it long enough for this year’s batch of chorizo to be ready.

6 Responses to “Cocktail Time”

  1. Gorilla Bananas
    October 31st, 2012 20:27

    So it’s basically a buffet dinner with a lot of strong booze. Has anyone scientifically analyzed these French recipes to see whether they need to be as precise as they are. The ‘44′ one sounds rather contrived.

  2. Jon
    October 31st, 2012 22:17

    ’bout the length of it, GB. What I find amusing is the notion that the French don’t have a binge drinking culture. They do, it’s just a bit more subdued than the Anglo Saxon version. And with less violence.

  3. Evan
    November 1st, 2012 00:22

    Hi Jon,

    Your blackberry surprise sounds like it will be infinitely better than the good old Pembrokeshire ‘purple nasty’ we had back in the day. The recipe was 900ml ethanol, 100ml methanol and a dash of purple colouring; we used to get it ready made from the local hardware shop. It makes your lips go numb and is shocking for the liver.


  4. dolores doolittle
    November 1st, 2012 12:26

    Oh fond memories of such gatherings… (though the 2012 Duck Breast sounds worryingly gourmet – how could one’s Savoury Cake with a sausage in it compete?).

    We had a friend who liked to do ‘Apéros Dinatoires’ – supposedly between Snack and Dinner (of about 87 courses).
    But once I’d proudly learnt that Grignoter meant to Nibble, we plumped for giving ‘Apéros Grignotoires’ – between Snack CashewNut and Snack you Heat Up.

    Mercifully we did absorb the odd tip, and you’ve inspired us with your merry tales. Had we but a cellar here – suppose we could take it in turns in the Bin-bunker…

  5. Perpetua
    November 1st, 2012 16:57

    Up here in Normandy we have pommeau instead of pineau (apple juice plus calvados) and very nice well-chilled. Kit is pretty standard, as is kir normand (cider instead of wine).

    As a mere woman, I have no knowledge of these all-male aperos of which you speak…..:lol:

  6. Jon
    November 7th, 2012 21:30

    Ev – Ah… the great smell of meths!

    DD – You could start a whole new fashion. A bit of carpet, a few fairy lights and your bin bunker becomes the hub of the neighbourhood.

    Perpetua – I don’t think you’re missing much that is interesting in these all-male gatherings, to be honest: most of the best stuff happens when the ladies have got a couple of drinks inside them and the real gossip starts :shock:


Jon Doust

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