I reread my France posts recently, and it already feels sort of like if it happened to someone else, especially the early ones (since I was so jetlagged). And there are still so many photos and so much information left to process. Since the freshness of the experience fades in inverse proportion to said processing, future posts in the “Things What I Learned In France” department are likely to be less literal and more an organic assimilation of the information I absorbed while there. This post is about an homage to Gascony that popped into my head as I unwrapped the many goodies I had stashed in my luggage, including a sampler of the Chapolards’ charcuterie–saucisson sec, saucisse sèche, and noix de jambon–which Dominique graciously gave me and which somehow ended up swaddled in plastic bags and dirty laundry and buried deep in the recesses of my suitcase for the trip home.
I kid, of course; bringing those things home would have been illegal. Also, there was the Armagnac. And the prunes, and the Tarbais bean and Espelette pepper seeds, and pistachio oil and truffle salt and other items that would be at the top of your must-have list if your plane happened to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle and leave you stranded on some desert island somewhere like in a certain TV show that actually managed to be more annoying than Twin Peaks. I’m all about the pragmatism.
Pruneaux d’Agen and Armagnac are two of the most famous agricultural products in Gascony, and rightly so. The prunes are mi-cuit, (“half-cooked”) in that they are dried only up to the point where they shrivel and darken into prunes but the centers, surrounding the pits, are still moist and taste of fresh plums. It’s the best of both worlds. Prunes soaked in Armagnac are a popular treat, and as I fondled my illicit booty (which, if you’re going to fondle some booty, is the best kind) it occurred to me that the combination would make an excellent ice cream: a refined and region-specific take on the tired and dated Rum Raisin flavor of yore.
Soaking the prunes in booze for a few days softens the fruit back towards its plump origins and sweetens the brandy into a lusciously seductive liqueur. It’s a winning combination, and deeply evocative of the region. I used the bottle I bought at La Grangerie, which makes pleasant sipping but is not too fine to deploy in a culinary context.
After maceration, I took most of the prunes and blended them smooth with the armagnac that remained in the jar, then pushed it all through a sieve to remove any fibrous bits of skin. The remaining prunes I chopped coarsely to add texture and visual interest to the finished product. And then I made ice cream according to my normal recipe, using maple syrup for sweetener because it’s a flavor that I knew would mesh seamlessly with the brandy and fruit and because it’s the season for syrup around here and we have a big jar or two that I wrote about a couple of posts ago.
Homage à Gascogne: Glace aux pruneaux d’Agen et au Armagnac
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
10 Agen prunes
1/2 cup Armagnac
1/2 cup grade B maple syrup or more to taste
Put the prunes in a small jar and just cover them with Armagnac. After four or more days, remove and pit them, reserving the brandy. Purée seven of the prunes with the brandy and push through a strainer. Coarsely chop the remaining prunes and add to the prune purée.
Beat the egg yolks. Scald the milk in a sauce pan with the maple syrup and stir it into the cream. Add the milk/cream to the yolks, whisking in a small amount to temper them, then some more, then add the rest, whisking the whole time. Strain this into the top of a double boiler set over simmering water and add the prune mixture, whisking until the custard thickens enough to coat a spoon. Transfer custard into a covered container and refrigerate overnight. Process in your ice cream maker until good and thick, yielding a proud curl when scooped. Place in freezer for another 30-60 minutres before serving to firm it up. Serve with more Armagnac on the side.