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Records detailing the use of saffron go back to ancient Egypt and Rome where it was used as a dye, in perfumes, and as a drug, as well as for culinary purposes. It reached China in the 7th century and spread through Europe in the Middle Ages. The town of Saffron Walden, where it was once grown commercially, takes its name from the plant. Now, however, most saffron is imported from Iran and Spain which is recognized as producing the best quality. ‘’We came up with the name L’Or des Anges (angel’s gold) because the Romans dubbed saffron ‘red gold’ and, with my love of wine,’’ says Alexandra, ‘’I knew that vintners have a poetic expression for the percentage of alcohol that is given off during the fermentation process. They call it ‘the angel’s share’ in the belief that the guardian angels, when a bit squiffy, will look over them and give a good vintage. It's quite romantic.'' Jam Packed luxury Saffron has long been a key ingredient in Mediterrannean cuisine and in addition to selling the pure spice, Alex uses it in her range of homemade jams. These luxury confitures are created in her state of the art atelier, based on closely guarded family recipes from her maternal grandmother. ‘’I have a passion for jam,’’ says Alexandra, ‘’and I always work with 2 kgs of fruit, no more, as I want to make it à l'ancienne without pectin, just citron, the traditional way. Sometimes with a base of pear and apple, I add a little orange and lemon or dried sultanas, apricots, dates, plum, pruno, raisin de currant, walnuts, figs, and of course, some of our lovely saffron.’’ France is rightly known for its gourmandism, with each region promoting its unique specialities. The Périgord Vert is no exception with a diverse cultural heritage, fantastic cuisine, lovely rolling countryside and beautiful scenery. ‘‘We value le terroir and a focus on the traditional local seasonal produce. I buy all my ingredients from local markets, I don’t add pectin, gelling agents or preservatives, and I cook with copper saucepans, this gives a unique taste of traditional jam,’’ Alexandra tells me.
There is an ancient Greek story that goes… Krokos, a mortal youth and companion of the messenger god, Hermes were practicing their discus throwing when Hermes accidentally hit Krokos on the head, fatally wounding him. On the very spot where he was felled, a beautiful purple flower sprang up, the Crocus sativus, or saffron crocus. Three drops of blood from Krokos’s head fell on the flower, from which three vivid crimson stigmas grew. As a connoisseur, everything that Alexandra makes is luxurious and quite fancy. Her repertoire of jams reflects a love of French literature as shown in her new range of haute couture Confiture des Anges such as the highly decadent Memoires de Vignes. I can only reveal that it involves burning off the alcohol from a bottle of Monbazillac wine, a lot of stirring, adding sugar, saffron and gold. The farm with its walls of sandstone and lauze roofs called Le Repaire near Verteillac, has been in Alexandra’s family for three hundred years. Set back off the beaten track in an ancient Périgordine hamlet, she watched as her grandparents grew every vegetable and fruit possible in their potager and crucially learnt about respect for the land which left a deep and lasting impression on Alexandra. Four years after it was started, L’Or des Anges is making waves. The safranière is thriving and this year the couple have diversified and planted 1,200 truffle oak saplings and the power and prestige of the mighty truffle is as much as saffron. Not content with selling just one high end product, the Simonoff-Arpels are truly pushing the boat out in terms of producing authentic quality products from the produce of the land that they love and respect. Find out more at: lordesanges.com See Alex's delicious saffron rice pudding and scallop recipes on pages: 114-115
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