Sunday, 31 October 2010

A taste of Switzerland

Our time in the Swiss countryside was made extra special by the hospitality of our friends Ed and Barbara. They had lined up a number of activities and things to try while we were staying with them. The weather wasn't as hoped but still we did have a brilliant time with them.


We arrived in Darstetten late on the Friday with Ed meeting us from the train station, we then sat and listened to his band rehearsal for a short while before heading for the local bar to sample some beer and wine - much needed after a long day traveling from London. After the rehearsal we joined the band in a few drinks at a different bar.

We had been promised home made Pumpkin soup and Schnapps by Ed, and so when arriving at their house, bowls of steaming orange goodness were served to us. The soup was unlike anything we'd tasted before and we did quiz Barbara for the recipe, and we will try to replicate it another time. She told us that the key ingredients were interestingly orange juice and curry powder. She also served it with roasted pumpkin seeds on top and a spoonful of cream. The Schnapps that then appeared were all homemade by various friends and family members. All in various flavours of late summer fruits; blueberry, blackberry etc. Very fruity, without too much of a kick. A treat indeed. After a couple of glasses we happily rolled into bed.

The next morning, the weather still hadn't lifted, as so over breakfast of toast and as many homemade preserves as you could wish for we discussed where we should go. The original plan was to get up a big hill/mountain, but a quick check on webcams showed about zero visibility up high so we went out for a drive instead.

The first stop was the Callier Chocolate factory where we were told gave loads of free samples. Hurrah! You can't go to Switzerland without eating chocolate, and if it is free, all the better!
The tour of the factory was excellent, with exhibits explaining the history of chocolate and how Swiss chocolate in particular is different than elsewhere. You could even try the raw cocoa beans and nuts that go into the various products. Then came the tasting room.

Even for a chocolate addict like myself, it was difficult to sample one of each product available. It was fantastic! We then spent rather too much money in the gift shop.

On the way back we past through interesting villages, over (what would be, if the weather lifted) scenic mountain passes, and did a bit of a walk witnessing the beautiful autumnal colours of the countryside.
That night was our trip to the Panorama Restaurant, which we have written about here.
Again, upon return, the schnapps came out. And we climbed into bed full content.
The next day we we due to leave just after lunchtime to get the train back to Geneva, so as an early lunch Ed and Barbara prepared Raclette. The Raclette was served with the traditional accompaniments; over potatoes, sprinkled with seasoning, with pickles and cooked with bacon (or in our case sausage) and onion. They had a table top Raclette cooker, upon which mushroom were also griddled. Barbara told us that rather than being a restaurant dish, this is very much a family gathering type dish. We each had a mini pan onto which a slice of Raclette was placed, garnished with onion and sausage if you liked and then grilled until melted. It was then scraped across boiled potatoes. Which were kept warm in a potato warmer like this which I thought was brilliant!

The pickles which were served included gherkins, pickled curried garlic cloves, and homemade pickled marrow. Apart from the gherkins, both the garlic and marrow were new to me and delicious. Perhaps we'll ask for the recipe....The various seasonings included dried Alpine Herbs, curry powder, and paprika amongst others.
Ed told us that sometimes a large block of Raclette is either grilled or warmed by the fire, and then the top layer is scraped off onto the plate, but it seems much easier with a table top cooker as everyone can cook their own portions at the same time.
The meal was accompanied with violet tea, as Barbara said that tea is the drink of choice for Raclette. She also said that Rosti is generally made the next day with the left over boiled potatoes, as they are best left for a while after boiling for the perfect Rosti.
After stuffing ourselves with the lovely Raclette was settled down to a game of Jass - the Swiss card game. I won't try to explain the rules, as quite frankly I don't think I remember them all, but it is to do with card counting. Ed gave us a deck of cards, and a list of the various scores and rules, but we haven't tried to play it yet ourselves. No doubt when we do, it will involve a couple of texts to the Ed and Barbara household to confirm the rules!

After being dropped off at the train station to begin the next part of our Switzerland trip in Geneva we thought about the things we'd done. It seems that many of the dishes that we ate and were told about are completely seasonal, and in the village many things are local. There isn't a lot of bacon available, and meat is rather expensive. Rosti, Raclette, Pumpkin are all generally eaten in the autumn. The Schnapps would have been made when the fruit was in season, and the pickles made to preserve the seasonal veg. Even the favourite desert of Barbara's, the Vermicelli, is seasonal.

I wont talk at great length about each day in Geneva, as this post is rather long already, but will mention a coffee and cake stop in the city. After a large lunch at an Italian restaurant we were wandering around gazing into the windows of chocolate shops and delis and saw a large coffee shop/choclaterie. We though it would be rude not to go in. 

The delights on display looked fantastic so we sat down an ordered a coffee and a cake in the bustling tearooms.

I ordered the famous Vermicelli and Tim had a vanilla slice. Both were lovely, rather large and just what was needed! Both had chestnut as a prime ingredient. The Vermicelli being mainly chestnut puree or paste with bits of cream and meringue at the bottom of the cup, and the slice had a layer of chestnut puree within the cream. Another example of the seasonal use of ingredients.

Our short trip to Switzerland was fantastic, and despite the weather, we probably did pick the best time of year to go. The colours of the countryside were beautiful, and when the cloud did lift there were glorious blue skies. Also the seasonal food available was great, it's not all just chcolate and cheese! With Rosti, Raclette, pumpkin, marrow, chestnut, preserves and later the game available in the Geneva restaurants, all being seasonal specialities. We will definitely return to Switzerland and spend more time in the countryside, as this does seem to be where the "real" Switzerland is.

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