Three French Hens
Carmen knew that soon her husband would be back, and she wanted to prepare him a surprise festive dinner. She asked Cathy about French specialties, and she got the following advice:
“I’d recommend you a chicken country soup, a Provensal chicken stew, since Baptiste is from there, and the leftovers can be combined into a cassoulet afterwards for the next meal. Take three hens, pluck, clean and chop them accordingly, then put the pieces to boil in a pot… for the start not until completely boiled. Cut potatoes, carrots and celery into medium pieces and add to boil together. Add tomatoes only if you don’t want the soup too sweet. Add a teaspoonful of dried tarragon, half a teaspoonful of nutmeg, pepper and salt according to your taste, parsley, thyme, 1 bay leaf and up to five peppercorns. When the chicken is almost done, take it out, let it dry and cool, and separate the pieces. Leave the breasts aside for the chicken stew, and some thighs for the cassoulet or what else you want to cook for the next meal. Two thighs, though, and the little meat you can find on the remaining pieces, are to be kept for the soup. Remove meat from bones, then cut it in small pieces and put it back for a little while to boil again.”
The older woman looked at the young wife, who had helped her in the kitchen several times, and continued the explanation:
“The breasts are to be used for the Provensal chicken. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Mix 2 tablespoons vinegar, Dijon mustard and garlic in a bowl and stir the chicken breast halves into the mixture to marinade, then cook them in the skillet until browning a little on the outside. Given that they were already more than half-boiled, they aren’t pink on the inside anymore, this is just for the taste. Take the chicken breasts out, on a plate. Afterwards, add some broth into the skillet, add two cups of chopped mushrooms and a large shallot, chopped into little rondels. Cook and stir until mushrooms are tender. Season with a mix of savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage, adding as well pepper and salt.Then put back the chicken breasts in the pan with the mushroom sauce, and top each breast slice with a thin slice of cheese, to melt before serving.”
Carmen listened and took notes in her notebook – in Spanish, of course, as it was the only language she could write in.
„Do you want the recipe for cassoulet now, or would you use the thighs and legs in a different way?”
„Given that I don’t start cooking tomorrow, but when he’ll be back, I think our cooking lesson can continue tomorrow. Thank you very much for the soup and Provensal stew recipes.”
As Carmen wasn’t entirely fluent in French, she might have misunderstood something of the explanation when transcribing it. The recipes weren’t difficult, and she generally could cook. The soup was similar with what she used to cook, except the idea of having meat back into the soup. Just that… she cooked like at home in Matanzas, and she was nervous about her first attempt at French specialties.
She read the notices again in the evening, before going to sleep, deciding to buy the hens the next morning in the market.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door… and when she ran to open the door, wondering how it was already high morning, she found on her doorstep… nothing else than three French hens. How had they arrived there?
„Is anybody here?” Carmen asked, unsure who could have made her this gift.
Cathy and Honey were the only ones who knew about her intentions, but they surely had no material possibility to give her three French hens…
„Mais oui, we are here, can’t you see us?” one of the hens answered in fluent French, with Baptiste’s Provensal accent. „I am Paulette, ready to serve you, and these are my sisters Pierrette and Corinne! We are from the same litter… ah… eggs batch.”
Carmen was shocked to find out that hens could talk. Yes, they had French names, they wore French bonnets, to her surprise, and fine lace round their necks… And they were able to express this well.
”I am Carmen, and I haven’t seen talking hens before,” the woman said with a trembling voice.
”We brought you gifts,” the one named Corinne said, pointing with her wing to a pile of packed goods next to them. ”Please, have a baguette from me. I can give you a recipe what to spread on it… but I don’t want to boil in your soup.”
”I brought you some wine from Bordeaux, and I have plenty of stories to tell you, if you want to allow me in your yard. But I don’t want to become a Provensal stew,” Paulette continued.
”And I brought you French cheese. It is tasty, special… and I can give you recipes for it. Only if this keeps me and my sisters away from your cassoulet,” Pierette stated. ”And all three of us promise to give you tasty eggs if you keep us in your yard and out of your cooking pots!”
”Well, I hope you don’t have any Cornish hens in your yard,” Corinne added. ”These limeys, even if now they are our allies in theory, are not to be trusted.”
Carmen wanted to reply that she had heard this before, but nobody should hate based on nationality. Ultimately, she was Spanish and Mulatto and she married legally a Frenchman who loved her, despite the provisions of the Code Noir about which she had heard. But right then, a hawk appeared from the blue sky, trying to take one of the hens. Carmen defended her, losing the baguette to the hawk and getting caught by its claws on the wrist.
Carmen’s wrist was in pain, she wrestled to escape… and she opened the eyes in her bedroom. During the dream, her wrist had hit the bedpost. Dawn was breaking. Now she was sure that she’d buy the three French hens, but she’d keep them to lay eggs. She’d name them like the ones in the dream – Corinne, Paulette and Pierrette. And she’d take what Cathy cooked, instead of trying for herself anything fancy.