The other day I was making a quiche, rubbing butter and flour between my fingertips, and thinking about the French immersion I took before I moved to Paris, about my courses and classmates, and a poem that we learned by heart. It’s a slight poem, and mournful. I can still recite the words.
Chanson d’Automne de Paul Verlaine
Les sanglots longs
blessent mon coeur
(Translation: The long sobs of autumn’s violins wound my heart with a dreary lethargy.)
et blême, quand
je me souviens
des jours anciens
et je pleure
(All stifled and lifeless, when the hour strikes I remember days gone by and I weep.)
Et je m’en vais
au vent mauvais
pareil à la
(And so I go on an ill wind, which carries me here and there like a dead leaf.)
Pretty gloomy gumdrops, right?
Fall has arrived in Paris. There is a northern wind in the air, and piles of crunchy leaves on the streets, and bushels of plums in the market to prove it. That quiche that I was making was for a picnic, one of the last of the season, and some friends and I enjoyed it on the Champ de Mars as we watched the golden late-summer day turn into a luminous evening lit by a blue moon and the sparkle of the Tour Eiffel.
You’d think that I’d be sad, what with the disappearance of peaches and nectarines, and my imminent departure from Paris, and Paul Verlaine’s gloomy refrain running through my head. But autumn has always been my favorite season, a time of new beginnings and all that. As much as I love Paris, I’m ready to be reunited with my cookbook collection, to launch new projects (including on this blog — stay tuned!), and to join my husband in nights of Indian food and bad TV. I really miss that guy.
I was thinking about all of this as I rolled out my tart dough, pre-baked the shell and removed its shrunken form from the oven. (Sidenote: Why do the edges always creep away from the sides? Why?!) The cadence of Paul Verlaine’s autumn song swam in my head as I squeezed water from defrosted spinach, and chopped some steamed broccoli, and whisked together eggs, milk and cheese.
When the quiche was in the oven, I sat down at my computer and Googled “Chanson d’Automne.” And I made a discovery.
During World War II, the BBC and the French Resistance developed a code to signal the start of Operation Overlord, aka D-Day — and they used the first three lines of Chanson d’Automne as an alert. When repeated twice — “Les sanglots longs/ des violons/ de l’automne” — meant that operations would start within two weeks. They were broadcast on June 1, 1944. When the poem’s next three lines were transmitted twice — “Blessent mon coeur/ d’une langueur/ monotone” — it signaled that the action would take place within 48 hours and that the Resistance should begin sabotage operations. These lines were broadcast on June 5, 1944. (For more details, visit this fascinating website.)
It turns out that Paul Verlaine’s despondent poem — part of an 1866 series that he oh-so-cheerfully entitled Paysages Tristes, or “sad landscapes” — was actually a symbol of hope.
Mes amis, I leave you with a recipe for quiche and the wish that cooking it may bring you many insightful, heartening, and inspiring contemplations.
See you in Washington, D.C.
Spinach and cheese quiche
1 recipe pâte brisée dough (see below)
500 grams/ 1 lb frozen chopped spinach
200 grams/ 1 cup grated cheese (Comté, Gruyère)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or cream
Salt and pepper
With clean cool hands and a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough on a floured surface and fit it into a 22-cm/10-inch tart pan. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Chill for one hour (allegedly this reduces the shrinking). Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Bake the tart crust until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven.
While the shell is baking, defrost the spinach and squeeze it dry (I usually use my bare hands. It’s very satisfying). Combine with the milk, cheese, and beaten eggs. Season well. Pour the egg mixture into the prepared crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the quiche is puffed, set, and lightly golden.
Note: I really like Chocolate & Zucchini’s pâte brisée recipe, though I usually substitute whole wheat flour for half the quantity. She also offers lots of good pastry tips with the recipe (though not all of them work for me).