Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pop's Clacquesin

I wrote about Mama’s tsourekia, it seems only fair to write about Pop’s Clacquesin.

What the hell is this thing? It is a drink. French and hard to come by, they sell about 10 bottles a year. Nobody seems to drink it anymore. The distillery has even been made it into an event center; weddings, business meetings etc.

Pop went to Paris in 1927 to marry Mama. He was in the States before the Asia Minor catastrophe. Mom went to France after the catastrophe and they were married there. I wrote a blog about this part of their life.

Evidently my Father was introduced to Clacquesin when he was in Paris. It remained in his mind for years; he obviously could not get it in the States, at least not in Brooklyn. He would occasionally mention it in a very nostalgic way.

When my Mother and I went to Paris in the 40’s to visit my dying Grandmother, we must have brought him some bottles back, which my uncles got for him, they might have introduced it to him way back then in the 20’s.

This strange drink (Clacquesin) remained in my mind as well for years (60 years at least) for some weird reason. Without ever tasting it, it had the same effect on me as it had on Pop…I remembered it for years.

We met a French family here in Porto Heli a couple of years ago, and aside from them laughing at my pronunciation of Peugeot, they knew the drink that my father loved. They very kindly brought me a few bottles from France, which probably increased sales by 50%.

This drink has pine resin in it and other plants…which probably reminded Pop of foul tasting Retsina, which is made with pine resin as well. There might be a Greek connection after all; Frenchified Greeks might even have made it as well, although that is pushing it. The label implies a very exotic culture, jazz, dancers, and dinner jackets, almost bohemian.

Recently, my first cousin (her Father and my Mom were brother and sister) was visiting us. She was born in France and moved to Greece when she married a Greek. I showed her the bottle of Clacquesin that I had, she immediately perked up told me that her father and her uncle (my two uncles) would drink this together in Paris as an aperitivo. They drank it with lemon juice or lemonade. These were the guys that got Pop hooked on this drink.

Perhaps they all went to the clubs that are represented on the label. A Greek American candy-maker (Pop), two Greek French brothers-in-law that are tailors (my uncles) in a club listening to jazz, smoking cigars and drinking Clacquesin, having a great time, maybe even listening to Josephine Baker…I like that image, I hope they did it.

I now occasionally have one with lemon juice and toast Pop. It has been a long time, but the drink now has a role. My son and I will have a drink and feel a connection with family, uncles, Father and Grandfather, and I actually like it as a drink. We probably should be listening to Jazz and smoking cigars.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mama's tsourekia

Ok we all have heard it, “ my Mother was the best cook,” “nobody can make meatballs like my Mother,”
“ She made the best mousaka,” etc. etc. Mama was the best blah, blah.

I wonder, did anybody have a Mother that was a lousy cook? Will anybody fess up to having a Mother that could not boil water? There have to be some out there.

 Nevertheless it seems all Greek mothers are, or were great cooks.

I will continue in the same vein, Mama was a great cook…especially at tsourekia, and her koulouria were pretty sensational as well. They say people are either good cooks or good bakers, Mom was good at both, but she was a great baker, as my size when I was a kid will confirm.

The tsoureki is the traditional Easter cake, made with a hardboiled egg, dyed red as decoration some times.
 Mama made hers in a twisted version as well as the more traditional round shape. I remember the smell that permeated the apartment; actually the whole building had that amazing aroma. The neighbors knew that something great was in the making, if they played their cards right would get a tsoureki, actually they all got one.

My wife Jeannine is a spectacular cook, creative and always experimenting, even she agrees, Mama’s tsourekia were great. She has no idea why Mama’s were so great.

Mama was from Asia Minor, and learned to really cook from a Sicilian neighbor that lived downstairs, sounds like a pretty great combination of skills and tastes, maybe that was the secret.

We have eaten them all over the world, many Jeannine made, relatives have made them…we bought them in bakeries in Greek areas of NY, London as well as in Greece itself. Good ones, delicious ones…never great ones, at least not like Mama’s. I have no idea if this taste and aroma is in my mind or if it was real, I want to hope it was real, Jeannine agrees that they were spectacular. She might just be encouraging my fantasies.

Pining for great tsoureki might be a little shallow, maybe I am pining for a time gone by and the tsoureki is some baked symbol of that time, how come I didn’t pick something like baklava or cataifi.