Monday, 9 July 2018

It's a tough job, but someone has to eat the raclette

I love it.
And Saturday was a day filled with wonderful research.

I'm over halfway through writing the third book in my mystery series, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer. This one is set in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Beautiful, beautiful Switzerland!

I wrote a blog earlier in the year about starting this book.
I talked about reading travel blogs and books, eating chocolate and cheese, and dining at the local Viennese cafe because it was the closest thing to a Swiss restaurant I could find.
You can read about it here.

But the other day, I realised, that I have the best source of all right at hand. 
I have Swiss friends.
Real live Swiss friends.

I was feeling a little detached from the food in my story.
I like to feel a connection with everything about which I write.

Feeling connected to the raspberry gelato and the pizza and Vivi's delicious macarons in the first book, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome, was a breeze.

Embracing croissants and baguettes and Camembert and olives while writing the second book, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Provence, was a pleasure. (It will be out in October, by the way - YAY!)

And dabbling in Swiss chocolate (Toblerone and Lindt) and holey cheese and schnitzels and sausages for this third book, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Lucerne has been just dandy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I took to the chocolate like a duck to water.
It's a gift!

But melted cheese dishes - fondue and raclette - are also an important part of the Swiss diet and I didn't feel like I had the experience to write about it with authenticity.

Enter my Swiss friends, Adelheid and Wolfgang. (Not their real names for privacy reasons.)

'Adelheid,' I said, 'could I please borrow some Swiss recipe books.'
'Ja! Ja!' she answered.
Actually, she said, 'Sure. No worries.' Because it's Wolfgang who's Swiss, not Adelheid. Adelheid is  Australian, but she has lived in Switzerland and has embraced the culture for Wolfgang's sake - and, I suspect, because she likes the chocolate and the melty cheese delights.

However I digress.

'Ja! Ja!' said Adelheid, with her Germanic-Swiss-Aussie accent.
'Danke! Danke!' I replied, getting into the swing of things. (Immersion is great for writing novels.)
But then, I realised that the Swiss cookbooks would be written in German or Italian or French or some mystical Swiss combination of all three.
'I'm such a hanswurst!' I cried. 'I won't be able to read the recipes.'
'Never fear!' cried Adelheid and Wolfgang in unison. 'We will cook for you so that you can embrace the melted cheese that forms the basis of Swiss cheese and, indeed,  the Swiss culture.'

And so they did.

And so came about Swiss Saturday.

I got up early and stoked the fire because the day was chilly, the wind icy. It felt like a good sign. Sedgwick was putting on the closest thing possible to Swiss alpine weather.

I donned an apron, chopped apples, threw around some cinnamon and sugar and sultanas, rolled some pastry and baked some apple strudel.

My first attempt at apple strudel so
I was feeling quite chuffed.
I picked out my best potatoes and arranged my small goods in a pretty pattern.

I hid chocolate in strange and pleasing nooks around the house for Adelheid and Wolfgang's children. *

And then the Swiss folk arrived.

We started by doing the really Swiss thing of eating chocolate and gherkins (not together!) and going for a hike around the Alps. Of course, we compromised a little and hiked for an hour or two around the hills, but the wind blew with a negative windchill factor and our noses turned blue so it wasn't too far from the real Swiss deal. I'm sad to say that we forgot to yodel. 

Then, returning to the house, we got down to brass tacks. Or, as the Swiss might say, returning to the chalet, we got down to melted cheese.
We ate Raclette for lunch.

Raclette is peasant food that, traditionally, consists of melted Raclette cheese on boiled potatoes. In the good old days,  a shepherd would have carried his large wheel of Raclette under his arm as he wandered from one mountain pasture to the next with his flock. Sounds a bit arm-pitty but perhaps it added to the flavour. 

When the sheep (or perhaps goats) were hunkered down beside a sheltered rock-face for the night, the shepherd would light a fire, boil some potatoes and sit his wheel of Raclette cheese to melt by the naked flames. The potatoes boiled and on his plate, he'd scrape the melty surface of the Raclette on top and gobble it all up. In times of plenty, a few pickles might have been added as well. 

In the 21st century,  when one eats Raclette with Adelheid and Wolfgang, an electric grill sits in the middle of the table and everyone has their own little grilling tray to fill with slices of Raclette cheese. The Raclette has not been carried around, tucked beneath Wolfgang's arm for weeks on end. Rather, it has been purchased from a fancy delicatessen and sliced into precise squares in the comfort of one's kitchen. When one's personal tray of Raclette is melted beneath the grill, one scrapes it over one's boiled potatoes and fills the rest of the plate with pickle onions, gherkins, small-goods, capsicum and fresh pear. One might also aid one's digestion by sipping a little bit of dry white wine or kirschwasser. And to finish up, one eats apple strudel and ice-cream, and drink strong black coffee while discussing cheese fondue.

Notice the little cheese melting tray
and scraper to the right of the grill. 

A little more variety than the humble shepherd
was able to include in his evening meal.

It's tough, but a writer has to do her research.
And, being dedicated, I did mine with gusto.

By the time my research was done, I felt tight of belly and Swiss of heart.
I had finally embraced the concept of melted cheese as a staple food and could continue to write my Swiss novel with authenticity.

Thank you, Adelheid and Wolfgang and little Swiss children - for the culture, the cuisine and the fabulous company.
I feel richer for having included this meal in my life.

I also feel a little broader of girth.

* Let's face it, any place you find chocolate is pleasing, no matter how strange. 

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