Five days to Election Day for Les Municipales, in which all of France’s mayors and their councilors are up for reelections. This is a time for polemics, seduction and promises – empty or not. The campaign is hitting its stride. And, of course, my small town is no exception. For the first time in 18 years, the incumbent mayor finds himself running against not one, but two opposition lists. After years of bad management, fiscal irresponsibility, cronyism, and essentially running what once was a lovely village to the ground, this is not surprising. Intrigues and public debates have been all consuming, offering at times plenty of comical colorful moments straight out of a Pagnol novel.

Full disclosure # 1: my father is running as a municipal councilor on the independent list.

My father and his twenty-six running-mates have been plotting this moment for a very long time, and for the past several months regular strategic meetings are being held in great secrecy at my house. While I am not privy to what is being planned, I am always invited to the potluck aperitif that follows. It gives me a chance to catch up on the latest village gossip and sample the homemade hors d’oeuvres often prepared by the wife of the head of the list, who we hope will be our next mayor. But I am most intrigued by the homemade wines and liqueurs assembled by the enthousiast male members of the team. Every meeting brings the opportunity to try a new one. Obviously this is a competitive bunch and everyone love to show off the year’s new batch. Cartagène, the Languedocien answer to Pineau des Charentes, and orange and walnut wines are excellent, but I have developed a fondness for the verbena liqueur served in small brandy glasses and savored slowly. On the other hand, I find the quince wine refreshing and light, which can be trouble if you don’t know how to pace yourself. Trust me on that one!

Full disclosure # 2: I haven’t tested the recipes below. I don’t need to. I’m such an appreciative audience that they feel compelled to leave any leftovers behind. My stash is rapidly growing and should last for at least the first year of the mandate. Now, I’m wondering if these artisanal concoctions qualify as kickbacks!

Verbena Liqueur
Makes 1 liter, about 1 quart

  • 150 g sugar, about 2/3 cup
  • ½ liter water, about 2 cups
  • 50 fresh verbena leaves
  • ½ liter alcohol, about 2 cups (see note)

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool.

Wash and dry the verbena leaves. Place the leaves in a 1 liter bottle. Add the cold syrup and the alcohol. Cover and shake well. Let the bottle sit in a cool place for at least 10 days before using.

Serve this liqueur as an aperitif, after-dinner drink or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

Quince Wine
About 1 liter, about one quart

  • 2 large quinces
  • 1 liter of rosé wine, about 1 quart
  • 10 centiliter alcohol, about 6 tablespoons (see note)
  • 200 grams sugar, about 7/8 cup

Scrub and wash the quinces thoroughly. Cut them into small pieces and place them in a large container.

Add the remaining ingredients; stir well to dissolve the sugar. Cover, and let it sit in a dark cool place for 45 days.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth and store in bottles.

Note: In France you can buy 90% proof alcohol in pharmacies. Unflavored eau de vie or vodka are good substitutes