Letter from Bern 2: Day trip to Colmar

Susan Jessup

Blog LfB2 street

It’s Saturday and Gerard, a colleague of Summer’s, has invited me to join him for a day trip to Colmar, France. An opportunity for me to reacquaint with Alsace, and for Summer to have a quiet day to herself. I’ve been feeling a little off since Friday morning…a migraine is trying to sneak up on me. Summer asks if a day of traveling is a good plan. But I’m not missing out! I pack snacks, sunglasses and high-test Advil. Gerard is waiting in the car, having arrived precisely at the prearranged time of 8:30. Of course he did. I am in Switzerland after all.

Colmar is charming with what you would expect…typical Alsatian character barely
touched by time. I am stunned by the beauty. It’s sensorially familiar as I’m pulled back intoBlog LfB2 stork in nest the memory of another time. The smells, the language, the architecture, the colour palette and the quality of light. I mention this to Gerard a few times! He nods, smiles, providing the commentary on the region with robust enthusiasm. This is one of his favoured places for weekend escapes. Colmar is situated in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards, although many of the residents believe that Colmar is the heart of the vineyards and of Alsace itself. The slipping away of the knowledge of the old ways, and the rich yet unwritten language, is grievous to even the younger generations. Evidence of this is passionately expressed by an Alsatian version of Kevin Kline (sharp wit and all), who is managing one of the wine distribution shops. He is attempting a quiet early lunch, but allows us to enter for conversation. We are keeping it brief and promise to return after ourBlog LfB2 stained-glass window lunch and a market visit.

This town hosts an international gastronomic event known as Festiga, drawing serious  talent and unique food products from everywhere in the world. The town also boasts significant military achievement in the defense of this rich and productive land. And like many places of natural beauty in the world, it boasts several famous artists. The most notable during our time is Auguste Bartholdi, known for the Statue of Liberty. As we’re winding our way through cobbled streets and into a cathedral, I realize the migraine is upgrading to a psychedelic beast. I’m suggesting strong coffee upon leaving the cathedral. I am keeping the nausea, Blog LfB2 migraine viewdizziness, vision apparently through streams of water and thought-scrambling pretty much to myself (I think). But the pain and Gerard’s fractured face are disconcerting and aggravating. I choose a quiet dark  corner in the little café, and with the sunglasses on, gulp water, coffee, too much Advil and nibble on my take-with food. Gerard is quietly continuing with the history of Colmar, while I’m coming back to myself at the café and during a slow walk to the market. I’m giddy with delight, or Advil, while purchasing fresh cheese, duck paté and just-picked apples. The dried-sausage stall is next, where the vendor tells us we can get one more at no added cost if we purchase four. No problem! A hasty conference of choosing and we have hazelnut, blueberry, two kinds of cheese sausage and a plain one (but not really), which is the runner-up for the sold-out venison. And for Gerard…the pastries that he holds dear. The pastries that will smooth rough-edged workweeks.

We put the food in the cooler and decide to have a traditional lunch of tarte flambée (an Alsatian-style pizza that is finished with crème fraiche). And throwing caution away, I sip a  small glass of Riesling. Wines are often served in the Alsace region in a green-stemmed small bowl glass, which is a perfect little glass for an aperitif or white wine (rosé too). Everyday glasses that Summer should have in her collection.

Blog LfB2 bike and flower viewWe leave the café looking for the signature glasses that a few of the little shops sell for a modest price. We purchase six each and head over to the wine distributor. The timing is perfect! There are several other English-speaking people in the shop and they all want wine knowledge of the region. And so our Kevin Kline lookalike puts on the sommelier hat and begins a spur-of-the-moment wine facts and wine-tasting class. And I won’t miss a word of it. His English is as fluent as his French and Alsatian German. Europeans amaze me, with the number of languages they can typically use to express themselves. This group consists of two Danes, three Americans and two Canadians. The shop glows with lovely wine, good conversation and bursts of laughter. A surprise party! All while the back history of the region’s wines and vineyards was being delivered by our multilinguist with such heartfelt pride and care.

The day’s adventures finish with a trip across to the Autobahn side for a brief period at a leisurely 228 km per hour. Gerard’s testing his car, some video thing that he’s installed on the dash, and quite possibly my nerve. I participated in the wine tasting. Gerard did Blog LfB2 Colmar winenot. I’m grateful on both counts. And the heavy traffic begins…….. before the wine glow ends.  Perfect.

I have included a few photos of Colmar (including a psychedelic vision to match my  migraine view) and one photo of the Gewurtztraminer we had later that week. We drank this wine with a salad of butter lettuce and melon, along with fresh cheese, dried sausage and paté. A perfect little feast of lightly sweet, salt and tang. The Riesling is in the cellar maturing for a further 6 to 12 months, and I’m sure we’ll get to the Muscat and the Cremant d’Alsace soon. I’ll send along menu ideas and techniques after we do.

Blog LfB2 market and cafe


Susan is a culinary arts instructor, Cordon Bleu- trained chef, and back-to-the-dirt food activist in the Ottawa/Outaouais region, currently on a short sabbatical in Switzerland, where she is following another of her passions, painting.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

    After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance


Letter from Bern 1: The market

Susan Jessup

Blog LfB1 beans

It’s 11:30 on Tuesday morning. I am meeting Summer at the neighbourhood Migros (grocery store) across from the farmers’ market for 11:45, and I am supposed to have the marketing done. The market closes at noon and, in Switzerland, that means 12:00 Blog LfB1 Market viewsharp. I’m late leaving because I’m drinking enough coffee to neutralize the jet lag, maybe, and I’m fidgeting about with her balcony garden. Her garden is in pots, providing flowers, a variety of fresh herbs, chives, green garlic and, very soon, tiny heirloom tomatoes. It’s the little garden that I call The Bees’ Garden, which supports the critically-important bees. It’s also on the right side in the David and Goliath battle of tiny harmless wasps versus the ash borer beetle.

Blog LfB1 celerySummer and I do the marketing together, filling her shopping bags with helda beans (aka flat beans), broad beans, summer squash, eggplant, meaty heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, new potatoes, a melon, leeks, greens, and free-range eggs. I’m feeling the unique kind of joy that comes with holding a wealth of farm-fresh produce. I can hear the creative gears in my head picking up the pace as Blog LfB1 fruitwe hit the Migros for a few routine grocery items. We grab and go. She’s heading back to the office and I’m back to the lab for the relentless culinary experimenting.

Summer is craving ratatouille, and so the eggplant, squash, peppers, onion and garlic will be cleaned, cut and roasted with some cold-pressed olive oil and sea salt. The beans are calling to me, and those will be sautéed in olive oil with thyme, oregano, and lemon peel julienne, and then finished with a splash of Martini Bianco. Below are the methods for preparing the ratatouille (referred to with affection as “the rat” by the Chez Eric crew) and the green beans.

The Rat


  • Equal parts eggplant, summer squash (there are several varieties) and sweet peppers
  • Onion and garlic according to preference
  • 2 to 6 large meaty tomatoes such as field, beefsteak, coeur de boeuf (according to the amount of other vegetable)
  • Fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram (or all)
  • Basil leaves or smoked paprika for the finish (optional)
  • Enough olive oil to anoint the vegetables before cooking, reserving a few drops or so at the end to finish
  • Half a glass or so of red wine (or a little splash of red wine vinegar)
  • Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper


  1. Set your oven to 375 F.
  2. Roast pieces of eggplant and squash together until tender and caramelized (separate the two on the cooking tray, because your eggplant may need to be taken out before the squash).
  3. Roast a whole head of garlic and coarsely chop onions. The onions, peppers and garlic typically take about the same amount of time.
  4. While the vegetables are roasting, sauté the tomato pieces in olive oil until tender.
  5. Add the fresh herbs, roasted garlic, wine or vinegar to sautéed tomatoes.
  6. Season with salt, pepper and the optional smoked paprika.
  7. Remove from the heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.
  8. Toss in the roasted vegetables and finish with a little olive oil.
  9. Adjust the seasoning, add the basil leaves and serve.

blog LfB1 market to home

The Beans


*Use beans you like that are available.

  1. I used 1.5 litres of helda beans and 3/4 of a litre of broad beans
  2. Leeks (according to preference)
  3. Lemon peel (use the peel from 1 lemon per 1.5 litres of beans
  4. Fresh thyme and sage
  5. Olive oil
  6. A splash of Martini Bianco
  7. Sea salt and pepper


  1. Starting at medium heat, sauté the beans in olive oil, with a sprinkle of salt, using a large sauté pan or braising pot (start with the tougher bean if you use more than one variety).
  2. Add the lemon peel, herbs and Martini Bianco.
  3. Reduce heat to low and cover; this allows the beans to steam until they have almost reached the desired tenderness.
  4. Add the julienne of leeks and leave the pan uncovered.
  5. Turn heat to medium-high and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes.
  6. Serve.

Blog LfB1 lettuce

Cook’s note

I also roasted new potatoes and cooked du puy lentils with leeks, thyme and a little beer that we didn’t find so appealing in the glass. The beer was greatly improved with the addition of the other ingredients.

And after all that….A farm- and garden-to-table feast at dinner, with options for the rest of the week.


Susan is a culinary arts instructor, Cordon Bleu- trained chef, and back-to-the-dirt food activist in the Ottawa/Outaouais region, currently on a short sabbatical in Switzerland, where she is following another of her passions, painting.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

    After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance