The Snow Cupboard

The unfolding of the seasons here is a symphony of changes with each new thing chiming in one after the other. Now the leaves on the trees turn golden yellow against an impossibly blue sky, now the first pumpkins appear in the market, now the walnuts, the pomegranates, the ceps, the kaki fruit. Now sweet woodsmoke twists into the frozen stillness and now the air is so clear, invigorating and cold that it is good enough to drink. Champagne air. 

 My friend Suzie up in the hills behind Digne at the end of September 

My friend Suzie up in the hills behind Digne at the end of September 

Earlier in the year, my mum suggested that I prepare a 'snow cupboard'. "You will need it in the winter." 

And so I did. The cupboard includes packets of pasta and polenta and rice as well as canned tomatoes and boxes of matches, tins of sardines and bottles of olive oil. There is something deeply pleasurable and satisfying about squirrelling things away for the winter, whether it be food or wood. Now the cold may come.

And it did. Last week I woke up to a thick blanket of snow. The ice on the little pond is four inches thick and the barometer has been falling to -8c at night. It felt good to know that I needn't go out into civilisation, that I had everything I needed for a while.

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Back in September I was on my balcony watching the sun rise behind the mountains. Shots rang out across the misty valley. I heard a sound below. There in the trees a family of wild boar were running for cover. As they disappeared from sight, some hounds ran past, noses to the scent and frantic with excitement. I hoped the boar were safe in the sanctuary of my garden. 

That afternoon there was a knock on my door. Betty barked furiously for it's not often someone turns up. Two men were on the step, one, slightly built, was holding a carcass. 'Would you like this? We hunted the boar in your woods.' They introduced themselves as two brothers from the village.

'Oh, I saw the boar this morning. The family.' 

'Yes, it was the father.'

When I confessed I had hoped the boar would get away, the hunter smiled and told me there were too many and they have no predators. He handed me the skinned flank of animal. 

I thanked him, really touched by the brothers' kindness and yet so sad for the family. Grateful too for the meat. Such wild meat.

I decided to conserve the meat by canning it in jars, rather than putting it in the freezer, as for one thing the electricity supply here is unreliable when there are storms and I can't think of anything more unappetising than coming home to defrosted wild boar, but also because meat prepared in jars gets better over time rather than drying out as it does in the freezer. When I looked this up on British websites I was warned not to attempt this in case I got food poisoning, but speaking to my neighbour, I found out that this is a very common way of conserving meat in France, whether making pâtes or stews. One has to use the proper jars and lids, make sure everything is sterilised and cook for long enough in the pressure cooker. 

I spent a couple of days chopping and slicing, making a ragù for pasta or polenta and a stew similar to boeuf bourgignan, tossing the odd morsel to Betty.

The jars look great in the snow cupboard.

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RAGÙ

This sauce would also be excellent made with venison.

500g wild boar or venison meat, chopped finely or minced

50g onions

40g celery

50g carrots

1 clove garlic

2 bay leaves

sprig of rosemary

2 tins of chopped tomatoes (about 800g)

A slug of olive oil

50g red wine

salt and pepper

Peel the carrots, onions and garlic and dice extremely finely along with the celery. 

Cook gently in the olive oil for about ten minutes, stirring every now and again.

Add the meat together with the rosemary and the bay leaves. Turn up the heat a little and let everything brown together for another ten minutes.

Add the red wine and, once the alcohol has evaporated, add the tomato.

Season generously, cover, and leave to cook on a low flame for three and a half hours, stirring every now and again.

Check the seasoning and serve with pappardelle, tagliatelle or polenta, some grated parmesan and a glass of red wine.