Hands up everyone who thought pastis was an aniseed-flavoured apéritif. It is; but it’s not a local speciality here. The pastis I’m talking about is an apple dessert made with very fine pastry, which is particular to the Lot and the part of Tarn-et-Garonne that borders it (there’s also a Gascon version in the Gers). Following a conversation about it in the comments on last week’s post, I looked into its origins and recipes.
Origins of pastis
The origin of the name is probably Occitan. The Occitan verb pastissar means to mould something with the hands, or knead. The noun pastis can mean a mixture or a thick soup, but it also means pastry and gave rise to the old French word pastisserie (now pâtisserie).
Another possible, but less likely, origin is the Moorish pastilla, a kind of pasty made with thin pastry, enclosing a filling of pigeon. Moorish influences are in evidence in the region: they probably introduced saffron. But I believe more in the first explanation.
Pastis was not an everyday dessert. Rather, it was made for important occasions, such as religious fêtes or marriages.
Le vrai pastis – a well-kept secret
As with other regional specialities, such as cassoulet, there’s a lot of debate about what constitutes “le vrai pastis” (the real pastis). Equally, custodians of the recipe are very secretive about some of the ingredients, especially the alcoholic liquid that’s poured into it at the end. Traditionally, this is a recipe “qui ne se donne pas” (is not given away) – or only to a few initiates.
You can buy pastis in local boulangeries, but then it’s often made with filo pastry. Le vrai pastis is made according to the traditional recipe, which involves stretching the pastry until it is the thickness of a cigarette paper. Apparently, you should be able to read a love letter through it. Here’s a YouTube video (also at the top of the post) showing how it’s done.
We bought a pastis at Limogne market when we had visitors. The woman selling it poured into it what she called her secret ingredient. Unsuspecting, we took it home, warmed it up in the oven and served it. Our guests’ children almost choked on what was obviously eau-de-vie – and so did we.
Recipe for Pastis de Limogne
Personally, I’d buy one, but if you really want to make it, here’s a recipe for Pastis de Limogne, courtesy of l’Institut Culturel Occitan Carcinol and published on the Parc Causses du Quercy site.
650 g plain flour
25 cl warm water
Pinch of salt
2 dsp oil
300 g sugar
60 g melted butter
15 cl. eau-de-vie de prune
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, make a well in the middle and add eggs, salt and oil, then the water bit by bit, continuously working the mixture. When you have a soft ball of pastry, put it in an oiled bag and let it rest for 2 hours.
Spread a floured sheet (!) over a large table to a length of about 2 metres, place the pastry ball in the centre and stretch it out until you can see through it. Allow it to dry out.
Cut the apples into fine rounds and lay them along the pastry and sprinkle over the sugar. Mix the butter, eau-de-vie and a little water and oil and spread this over the apple mixture (not sure how).
Using the sheet, roll up the pastry lengthways into a sausage shape, and then coil it into a large cake tin or mould. Around Limogne, this is known as “Pastis Anguille” (eel). In the Caylus area, it’s called in Occitan “Crostada al cabeçal”, after the coiled headdress once worn when carrying a burden.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour at 120° C until the outside is golden and crusty. Serve warm.
You’re very likely to be served this in local restaurants on the Causse de Limogne.
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