Autumn song - Ann Mah | Ann Mah

« | Home | »

Autumn song

By Ann | September 4, 2012

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
des violons
de l’automne
blessent mon coeur
d’une langueur

(Translation: The long sobs of autumn’s violins wound my heart with a dreary lethargy.)

Tout suffocant
et blême, quand
sonne l’heure
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
qui m’emporte
decà, delà
pareil à la
feuille morte

(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).

Topics: A year in a French market: Autumn, Paris, Recettes | 21 Comments »

21 Responses to “Autumn song”

  1. Jenny Beaumont Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Oh Ann! What a beautiful and inspired post! I’m missing you already. Look forward to trying the recipe…
    (see, I lied when I said I didn’t read blogs. silly me.)

  2. Marika Ujvari Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Any recipe for all the plums??

  3. Lindsey Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    The perfect send-off and transition into Autumn. Quiche is a staple in our house so I’m eager to try your recipe (after all, it contains two of my very favorite ingredients!)

  4. Heather in Arles Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I have always loved that poem–what does that say about me? :O Just as I adore your evocative writing, Ann–I’ll follow you anywhere!

    Bon courage, comme même…

  5. Amelia Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Bon voyage!

  6. Amy Kim Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I can’t wait for the cooler weather. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons.

    You’re moving to DC? How long were you abroad?

  7. Kim Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    And the Gillens are very excited to have you in DC too! Sounds like your fabulous husband is whipping things into shape here. Looking forward to seeing your new place and catching up once you catch your breath. Hooray for autumn, also my favorite!

  8. Shannon Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 4:52 pm


    Your quiche is gorgeous! I am terrified of pate brise and am so admiring of those of you who have mastered it.

  9. Adeline Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    We ate lunch at Partirdge’s in Chelsea today. Dad had a spinach quiche and I ate a chicken pasty. Accompanied by an arugula and tomato salad. Followed by coffee ice-cream. Then went shopping at Marks and Spencers. London was gorgeous. Bright blue sky! Wispy clouds. And just a nip of autumn in the air.

  10. Voie de Vie Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Since I just used up the last summer berries in a trifle, I feel your turn toward autumn. We’re still having perfectly wonderful summer weather here in the Pacific Northwest, so I won’t hurry anything along. :)

    Have a safe and uneventful trip to your new home. Don’t want the bad tv too much; there’s plenty of it to go around. Do want autumn in DC – my favorite season as well. It seems you’re coming back stateside at quite the perfect moment. :)

  11. Loulou in France Says:
    September 4th, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Oh Ann…reading your beautiful words is making me wish you weren’t going so soon. I’m going to miss you!

  12. Shut Up & Cook Says:
    September 5th, 2012 at 4:32 am

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

    And delicious looking to boot!

    I think I need to get a tart pan…I also just use a plain pie dish and this definitely looks like more fun.

  13. Ann Says:
    September 5th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Jenny B — Thank you for stopping by and for trying out the quiche recipe! I won’t say au revoir, but à bientôt. xo

    Marika — Ha! I can barely keep up with my regular meals, let alone dessert! But I wrote about a mirabelle tart two years ago that you might enjoy:

    Lindsey — And one of my favorite things about quiche is how adaptable it is to the seasons! Thanks for your sweet wishes and see you soon!

    Heather in Arles — I love it, too. And its lines pop into my head at the oddest moments. Thank you for your kind words. I’m relying on your Provence dispatches to keep me from getting too homesick.

    Amelia — Thank you — and same to you! Looking forward to following your adventures in Oz!

    Amy — Isn’t the fall an invigorating season? Yes, we’re moving to DC for at least two years (husband is a diplomat). I’m excited and a little nervous about repatriation!

  14. Ann Says:
    September 5th, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Kim — I can’t wait to see our new apartment, too! And I’m already eager to get my hands on some Eastern Market farmer’s produce.

    Shannon — After all those toothsome cookies and cakes you blog about, I feel sure pâte brisée would be a snap for you. But don’t let it hold you back from making quiche — you can always buy it prepared. There’s no shame in it!

    Mom — Sounds like a lovely afternoon!

    Voie de Vie — Many thanks and enjoy those last shiny moments of summer!

    Loulou — I’ll miss you, too! But shared adventures in cheese and France await us, I feel sure of it.

    Shut Up & Cook — Merci, ma poule. I love my tart pans — the 10-inch is my favorite and, I think, the perfect size.

  15. CK Says:
    September 5th, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    The quiche looks fabulous! I sure hope you bring some of that autumn weather to Washington with you … I can’t wait for you to get here; plenty of bad TV to be had, don’t fret!

  16. Marie (Food Nouveau) Says:
    September 6th, 2012 at 3:06 am

    That is a very haunting poem — how fascinating that it was used during the war as a code in anticipation for D-Day! Reading it reminds of Normandy: visiting the D-Day beaches and bombing sites filled me with a deep melancholia that is not unlike the feelings expressed by Verlaine. Oh internet, what would we become without you? I love stumbling on such priceless nuggets of information – thanks for sharing your discovery with us!

  17. katy Says:
    September 6th, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Despite the gloom of Verlaine’s poem, this post makes me happy; you’ve reminded me, Ann, that autumn is as much a time for new beginnings as summer and spring are. I shouldn’t dread it; instead, I should celebrate the apples and pears that will be coming my way, the lentil soup that will simmer on the stove and the pumpkins that will decorate everything!

    Looking forward to hearing about the new projects and bon voyage! May you have a happy reunion with your cookbooks and bad TV!

    P.S. About shrinking tart dough, after a few bad experiences, I’ve found that setting a pie plate on top of the covered dough (I usually use wax paper to cover it) will prevent shrinking.

  18. Emma Says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 12:19 am

    “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.”

    ^ love.

    Autumn is actually my favourite season – it reminds me of university for some reason and happy memories. Good luck with everything and looking forward to hearing about new beginnings!

  19. parisbreakfast Says:
    September 8th, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Curious Cook, Harold McGee must know why the crust comes away from the pan but your tarte looks fab anyway.
    Odd that they used a Fall poem for a June landing
    Or maybe not..
    Espionage ain’t what it used to be that’s for sure.

  20. Ann Says:
    September 9th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Marie — What a beautiful but sad connection between the poem, the D-Day beaches, and the loss. I hope to visit Normandy one day and when I do, I’m sure Verlaine’s stanzas and your insights will be in my mind.

    Katy — My favorite season is winter, and the autumn’s cooler temps put a spring in my step. But I realize not everyone shares my weird passion for cold weather. I hope your transition is smooth!

    Emma — And, as we head into autumn, you’re beginning spring, right? I wish you a fruitful planting season! Thanks for your kind wishes.

    Paris Breakfast — I will have to check Harold McGee’s brilliant book for an answer — great idea!

  21. Holly | Beyond Kimchee Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 3:27 am

    I don’t speak a single French but that poem sounds beautiful. Your wording is so great.
    I will be honest. I don’t like quiches because I don’t think I had any good one yet. Your spinach cheese looks really good and I need to overcome my fear on the quiches, soon.

« | Home | »