Sing for your Supper

Every Wednesday evening I drive about 15 minutes from home and spend an enjoyable hour or so singing with a French choir. Being in an area popular with British ex-pats, about a quarter of us are English but essentially, French is the language we use.

Chorale Chantvallon
Chorale Chantvallon performing in Taizé Aizie (16) in 2009

As people arrive, one greets and is greeted by everyone either with a cheery “Bonjour. Ça va?” or a friendly “Salut!” and one or two bises (a light kiss on the cheek). This takes some time with an average of 25 or so people turning up to sing each week but it does make you feel part of the team and new arrivals are no exception.

An English visitor sat next to me earlier this year and commented on how friendly everyone was. “Of course”, I replied, “it’s a community choir so everyone knows each other very well,  they care about each other…. and we socialise a lot.” Apart from weekly practices, we give concerts around the region and venture further afield to other regions of France and even to the UK. Food and drink always play their part, whether it’s a picnic, a summer party, or a fundraiser, there’s a generosity and natural sense of fun and sharing surrounding food that makes it such an important part of our choir community.

Chantvallon Summer Picnic 2011
Chantvallon Summer Picnic 2011 at Balandière

After every practice we gather together to have a drink and something to eat before leaving for home. Taking it in turns to bring the food and drink ensures that  there’s something different every week. Some bring mainly sweet things – cakes (chocolate being the favourite), fruit tarts, biscuits, and so on. Others have a more savoury inclination and will bring home-made paté, cheeses, olives, quiche, pizza – all manner of things. One of our sopranos runs a business with her husband called ‘Fromacoeur‘ They manufacture tasty little Goat’s cheese bites which are sold across Europe, even in Marks & Spencers where you’ll find their delicious little stuffed peppers in the delicatessen range. Others might bring huge turines of paté maison (home-made paté), or the regional speciality known as chou farci (stuffed cabbage).

When the choir performs, one or two people always take it upon themselves to bring a large flask of coffee and some biscuits – always very gratefully received, especially when we’re singing in a cold, damp church. One of the tenor voices runs a drinks supply business and started a little tradition of bringing a bottle of pear liqueur to concerts. So if you attend one of our performances and wonder why we’re late arriving on stage – you know why!


Recipe – Raspberry & Almond Tart

This is a delicious tart that could be served up any time of year. It’s an idea that came to me when I was trying to think how I could use a bowlful of fresh raspberries and a packet of feuillettée (puff) pastry from the fridge. Although I always make my own shortcrust pastry, having puff pastry to hand means I can always put something together quickly. My favourites are a simple fruit topping on a base of crême fraiche and an egg whisked together with a little sugar and maybe some spice if it’s apple. Alternatively, I make savoury parcels for dinner with a piece of salmon and some spinach, or simply  vegetables in a creamy sauce.  Today, I thought about making a kind of Bakewell Tart using fresh fruit instead of jam but putting the fruit on the top. The result is a gloriously light and colourful dessert which can be served warm or cold and it really doesn’t need anything else other than a glass of chilled white wine.

raspberry and almond tart
Raspberry and Almond Tart

100g margarine

100g caster sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

100g ground almonds

fresh raspberries, (cherries or blackcurrants would do equally well)

some flaked almonds

icing sugar (optional)

Remove the pastry from the fridge and leave to one side to soften. Beat together the margarine and the sugar until light and fluffy then add the eggs a little at a time keeping back a small amount to brush onto the pastry. Gently fold in the ground almonds.

Unroll the pastry onto a large shallow flan tin with a loose bottom. Spread the almond mixture over the base but not going right to the edge. Put the fruit on top, more or less covering the surface and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Taking the edge of the pastry between your fingers, lightly roll it inwards over the edge of the almond mix and brush the folds with the remaining egg. Bake for 30-35mins at 180C until the filling is golden brown.  Sift icing sugar over the flan just before serving.