Heroes and Liqueurs of France

This week I’m reviewing “Fighters in the Shadows,” Robert Gildea’s new and excellent history of the French Resistance, so I did some thinking on French liqueurs and cocktails. One liqueur that always catches my eye is Chambord, a raspberry-blackberry flavored liqueur that comes in a cute little hand grenade-shaped bottle. Manufactured in the Loire Valley, the liqueur attracted praise from the Sun King himself Louis XIV during a 17th-century visit to the historic Chateau de Chambord. Flash forward a few centuries and the resonant, fruity liqueur is still being produced in scenic settings at the chateau La Sistiere, just a few kilometers from Chambord. You have to hand it to the French, even their mass-production alcohol facilities have style.

My first drink was the “French Martini” – what a delicious drink, the dark fruit of the Chambord comes in a little late but serves as a great chaser to the pineapple, which lends some subtle weight and froth to the drink. A great flavor handoff from the brighter, citrus flavor to the darker, richer Chambord. Easy to make and even better to drink!

French Martini

  • .5 oz Chambord liqueur
  • 1.5 oz Reyka vodka
  • 2 oz pineapple juice

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Next up was the “French Horn” – this is decent, I loved the Chambord which shines strong and bright here, but the lemon felt a little muddled and clashed with the raspberry flavor. There is a nice lemony aftertaste, though, for this super sweet drink. Not bad.

French Horn

  •  1.5 oz vodka
  •  1 oz lemon juice
  •  1.5 oz Chambord

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My favorite drink was the last, the romantically rich “French Kiss” which lends a great subtly chocolatey, savory flavor. Not candy-ish or overwhelming, just a nice, measured, rich, dark chocolate and raspberry taste. Wonderful, perfect for a quiet winter evening.

French Kiss

  • 1 oz Chambord
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz dark crème de cacao
  • 1.5 ozs half & half

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Robert Gildea’s “Fighters in the Shadows” is a powerful and superbly well-researched study of the French Resistance; it’s a must read for students of modern European history and admirers of those willing to sacrifice everything in the fight against tyranny. As Gildea writes in his introduction, the legacy of the Resistance has long been hostage to political forces that warped it to align with their favored interpretations of the French state. Throughout this phenomenal book, those classic, artificial narratives are shattered, most notably the idea that the resistance was a broad popular movement. Large segments of French society, stunned by the speed of Nazi conquest and its use of savage violence, made peace with the occupation and the Vichy regime. The resistance, particularly in its earliest manifestation, was peopled by those on the edges of society.

However, Gildea’s critical examination does nothing to minimize the impossible bravery of so many French citizens, who risked torture and murder to carry out  dangerous missions on a daily basis. Many of their stories, detailed brilliantly, have to be read to be believed. From the seasoned communist insurgent smuggling explosives to the French housewife hiding Jews, resistance took on many different forms, none less dangerous than the other given the ferocity of the German response.

Rather than a vehicle for a unified, national rejection of German occupation, the resistance consisted of dozens, even hundreds of groups divided by politics, creed, and personalities. These networks regularly conducted their operations in isolation and received only sporadic support from the Allies, who were themselves divided over which French elements to back. This endemic disunity was partially overcome through the extraordinary efforts of the courageous Jean Moulin, who was betrayed and eventually executed by the Gestapo in 1943. Grand strategy also divided the resistance, as some powerful factions pushed for aggressive warfare meant to spark a popular uprising, while others preferred to husband their resources in preparation for the Allied invasion.

We also learn the French Resistance was not entirely French, as a stunningly diverse coalition of anti-fascists and revolutionaries including thousands of Spanish Republicans, German anti-Nazis, and Zionists contributed to the fight. Sadly, these divisions were carried over in the post-war period, where the narrative of the resistance and the fighters themselves often fell victim to the political contests that marked the early Fourth Republic.

The only fault I found with Gildea’s work is his sporadic overuse of personal narratives; some of the chapters were somewhat difficult to read because of the stringing of one autobiographical snippet after another, which also muddied the broader strategic narrative. This is a minor nit, however, and overall I loved Fighters and appreciated the depth of research and Gildea’s dedication to a serious, even-handed historical approach.

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