Normandy is like Hereford. Apple trees everywhere, hemmed in by tall hedges. Black and white houses. Tractors that lumber past, farmers that raise a hand curtly to thank you for waiting. Bed and breakfasts on every corner.
Normandy is also like Mongolia. One particular bed and breakfast boasts four authentic Mongolian yurts, decorated with traditional rugs and even a fur hat. But the fur is unnecessary – the gas heater made the round tent stifling hot. All the novelties of camping in greenery, complete with genuine rooster alarm, but with a bed and a duvet and a picture of a camel.
Normandy is a piece of England, whence William the Conqueror, the first king to really organise our tribal country and to record our history, our defeat colourfully embroidered along 70m of the Bayeux tapestry. It is also a little piece of the war, the second, in a way that England will never be. Concrete bunkers and lookout points pockmark the countryside, intrude on the flat empty beaches.
For me, it was a lot of apples. The little homely ones in huge piles waiting to be made into cider or calvados (apple liqueur). Also the tarte normande, a simple apple tart with as much variation as the region itself. Neat slices overlay a crème pâtissière base. Or great chunks of apple under a light almond crumble. Or my favourite, the tarte fine: wafer thin slices snake across buttery puff pastry, just dusted with brown sugar.
This is the pastry school version: to start, all you need is good, light pastry. Then delicious apples – not flabby, floury ones. Not supermarket ones. Interesting ones.
Cook one of them with sugar and lemon juice to a perfumed mush and spread over the bottom of the uncoooked pastry. Slice the rest thin and overlap them closely – they will shrink a little in the oven.
Sprinkle with just a little crunchy granulated sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes at 180C. Serve with cider, whipped cream and a real fire. (Or a gas fire – in your yurt!)