Saturday, June 8, 2013

Juniper Berries - Baie de Genièvre on French Menus. Berries in France I.

Baie de Genièvre, Genièvre or Genévrier Commune
 Juniper berries 
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
 Juniper berries are not really berries; the so-called berries that we use in the kitchen are the tasty, dried, sour, blue-black, pods or cones that contain the juniper seeds;  fresh juniper pods are only rarely seen as they need two years to ripen. The dried juniper pods are used for their flavor, like a herb, and they are readily available; the dried pods keep for a long time and will be found in every French kitchen.
Despite these berries really being pods they will be on menus as berries and so I will mostly call them berries in this post.

Juniper berries
Photograph courtesy of richardcjones
The juniper are evergreen bushes from the conifer family and grow wild all over Europe. The dried pod is behind the flavor in hundreds of sauces, pastries, and of course gin.
Juniperus communis, the most often seen European juniper tree and berry.
Photograph courtesy of Biodiversity Library
On French menus you will have a wide variety of dishes flavored with juniper:
Dos de Saumon au Chou Alsacien, Beurre Blanc aux Baies de Genièvre – A thick cut of salmon served with a beurre blanc sauce, a white butter sauce, flavored with juniper berries. Accompanying this is the very special quintal d'Alsace cabbage; a cabbage hybrid that may grow to six or more kilos; however, most are picked when quite small, around four kilos!
Les Médaillons de Chamois aux Baies de Genièvre - Round cuts of steak from a young mountain goat from the Alps, also called the mountain antelope, flavored with juniper berries. The close cousin of this mountain goat is called the isard or izard and found in the Pyrenees where it will be on menus with the same recipes.
Photograph courtesy of astazou
Juniper with its strong flavor is traditionally used with game dishes; wild game often has a strong flavor and the juniper provides some competition.  Cuts like the menu item above cannot come from an adult as steaks would be far too stringy; the meat from adults will be marinated in wine, flavored with juniper and then stewed.

Cotes de Sanglier à la St. Hubert Chops from a wild boar prepared in the manner of Saint Hubert.  St Hubert (656-727) is the Belgian patron Saint of the Belgian Ardennes region and hunters. The hunters  in the French Ardennes, across the border, have similar recipes and are also happy to have St. Hubert look after them. In season, game dishes are on the menus across the whole Ardennes; this dish and many other St. Hubert dishes, all made with wild game, will be flavored with juniper berries. The French département of Ardennes is in the région of Champagne-Ardennes; when you are there I am sure you know what you will be expected to drink for lunch and dinner,  and perhaps for breakfast as well.


Wild boar with juniper accents
Photograph courtesy of Renée S. Suen

Jambon de Luxeuil or Jambon de Luxeuil Les Bains - This is a cured and smoked ham  produced around the spa town of Luxeuil-les-Bains in the north of the département of Haute-Saône in the Franche-Comte.  The ham is marinated in salt and juniper berries and then lightly smoked before being hung for at least nine months.  Luxeuil-les-Bains is close to the town of Fougerolles where they make some of France’s finest kirsch, cherry,  liquor, so  they do not have to work with juniper berries all day and drink gin when they leave work.
Les Rognons de Veau aux Baies de Genévrier Flambés au Genièvre Veal kidneys prepared with juniper berries and served flambéed with gin.
La Terrine de Lapereau aux Baies de Genévrier – A hare pate flavored with juniper berries.
Tournedos de Magret de Canard  Réduction au Quinoa et Genévrier – Thick cuts of duck breast served with a sauce made with the natural cooking liquids along with quinoa and juniper berries.
The juniper berry or pod. (German - wacholder), (Italian - ginepr), (Spanish - enebro). (Provençal -  genèbre), (Latin - juniperus communis).
Even squirrels like juniper berries/pods.
Photograph courtesy of Rein Rache .
Behind gin’s popularity  as a beverage is the physician Franciscus Sylvius (1614 –  1672); he was a respected Dutch doctor who recommended mixing  juniper pods with alcohol along with other herbs that were sold in pharmacies for treating gallstones, gout and more. The Dutch names for gin are jenever, junever and  genièvre. Since Franciscus Sylvius put the drink on the market the dutch distilleries have never looked back, though how many people have been cured by drinking large quantities of gin is an investigation  still in progress.


Dutch gin
Photograph courtesy of Soenarko
While the English new about gin long before the Dutch William of Orange  and his wife, Mary became King and Queen of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1689, its popularity grew with the Dutch influence. Within 60 years of William and Mary arriving in England the country was swamped with cheap unlicensed gin shops and gin had become the drink of the poor, most of the gin sold did not even contain any real juniper flavoring.
The Dutch universally get the credit for creating gin and the English universally take the credit for drinking the most gin per capita. The British excused their unlimited consumption of gin when they ruled India; then they drank gin and tonic, with added quinine in the tonic so they could say that gin was part of the fight against malaria.
Tonic water with quinine
Photograph courtesy of of toastforbrekkie
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
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