Les Rapounchous

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Spring is the season when traditionally people went out gathering what they could find to help boost the system after a winter of eating preserved meats and a distinct lack of vitamins in the diet. Two foraged plants which feature heavily on the spring menu are; the fresh young dandelion (pissenlit) leaves that can be used in a salad and rapountchou.

The collection of rapountchou is still very popular in Aveyron (as well as the Tarn and the Gers) and sometimes it seems that around every corner you come across people standing in ditches and examining the hedgerows.

Also known as “L’herbe des femmes battues”  because the root was used as a treatment for bruises. The method of cooking is a subject for much debate or should I say many conflicting categorical statements!

Repountchou is very bitter and the method of cooking often varies according to how much bitterness you can stand. Cook it for an age, cook it as briefly as possible, don’t change the water, change the water 3 times. Some would  say “confit” it in oil and serve it as a salad dressed with lardons and vinegar. I’ve also been told cooking it in milk takes away some of the bitterness.

Below is the Claude Izard’s recipe, a local chef and author of a book on the subject!

  • blanch in boiling water for up to 3 minutes
  • Serve in a salad with hard boiled eggs and grilled streaky bacon

He also suggests coking the tips in the same way as they cook all there spring hedgerow greens in Cyprus, in a sort of scrambled egg/omelette.

 

 

 

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The Burning mountain and the Acacia forest. Part 2

The spa in Cransac, made from acacia wood, and sitting above the town on “la montagne qui brule” is surrounded by the largest acacia forest in Europe. If you  visit “La forêt de la Vaysse” in May  the air is full of the smell of acacia blossom (a glorious mixture of the smell of honey and jasmine) and the sound of the bees working away on the early summer treat acacia honey. Go on a Saturday and you can also treat yourself to some acacia fritters or buy a bottle of the syrup at the local market.

 

 

The thermal springs, that have been know since antiquity, became famous throughout France in the 17th century and people still come to take the water, a “cure” can legitimately be prescribed by your doctor.  The “curists” are a much sort after section of the tourist market. Walking through the forest you sometimes see the pipes weaving through the trees taking the precious waters to the spa and even the ground steaming as the mountain “burns”.

The burning mountain

http://www.cransac-les-thermes.fr/en/explore/natural-heritage/spa-park.php



			
					

Shopping

Yes I know, shopping , not the most interesting of subjects, but for me , people watcher/nosy bugger, quite a lot of clues to lifestyles and attitudes can be gleaned from shoppers and the shops themselves. I’m not talking clothes etc here, just day to day shopping, and in fact that’s the first difference between where we were in the UK and here; there’s no such thing as just shopping. In the Uk the food shopping is a chore (I am of course generalising here), you arrive at the supermarket clutching your list, head down determined to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Here people arrive, head up, on a mission, convinced of the importance of their duty to provide for the family.

Food shopping is an honourable pastime, an important part of the quality of life. Discussion must be had, the pluses and minuses of each product carefully weighed up.

Another interesting phenomenon is the chair. In lot of local shops (particularly butcher’s and post offices for some reason) there are chairs, you are encouraged to sit, to take you time (in fact in one of the local post offices one of the chairs is taken pretty permanently by an older lady who just likes to watch the coming and going).

Even in supermarkets nobody expects you to pay until everything has been properly packed away, and possibly discussed. the cashier enquiring into your purchases, quality, uses, showing an interest in a new line etc.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter-Not!

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So I know I’m not the first to say it, but this these last two months have been incredibly mild. The sun has shone and there has been much talk of the dangers of late sun. The clear skies have meant a succession of the most gorgeous sunsets. The day time temperatures reaching, on a fairly regular basis 20 degrees and certainly often 17. Although just as often falling rapidly at night and we have had a good few night time frosts.

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Processionary Caterpillars

We have made the most of it with plenty of country walks, because, as the local “paysanne” never tire of saying “we will pay later.” The cows and calves and the sheep are still out in the fields when it’s long past the time when they would have been taken indoors to protect them from the extremes of the weather. The catkins (chatons i French, sweet huh?) are hanging like fat hairy caterpillars on the branches and the fat hairy caterpillars (processionary caterpillars) are still marching when they should be sleeping.

 

 

The Ransomes is already well above ground, the daisies are out and the gorse is in flower.

Ransomes
Ransomes

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I can remember years when by December it was already so cold that the rain froze as it hit the ground turning the ground into sheets of ice and as evening fell you could see the fingers of thick frost creeping across the road from the frozen gulleys. When the waterfalls stood frozen in mid flow. I have never on the other hand known a year when we have been able to celebrate Guy Fawkes night outside coatless, or in the case of my son, in a T-shirt.( but the habits of 14 year old boys are not of course those of the rest of the population!)

I look forward to continuing to make the most of it, but snow can be seen on the higher mountains in the distance and a wind came up today that hinted at the possibility of an approaching chill. We shall see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May

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The weather in May here usually seems designed to enable us to make the most of the ridiculous number of  bank holidays (4 this year, a mere 2 next year!) but this year despite having had barbecues in April, May has hardly been full of opportunities for al fresco dining. What’s more it has been even more capricious than usual. Given where we are, at the crossroads of  several geographical features and weather fronts, we are pretty used to sudden variations, but this month has been spectacular that way: the most extreme being a daytime high of 32 turning into a night time low 24 hours later of 4!

Despite, or maybe because of, that I have never seen such an incredible display of spring blossom or so much noise from baby birds, nature seems to have really thrived on the mild winter and changeable spring climate. The eves of every house have swallows nests, the trees droop under the weight of acacia flowers, the night is alive with the sound of baby owls. May is often a lovely month here and in the UK. but this year has been really special, now if only the rain would stop so I could go out and enjoy it!

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Food in Aveyron

logo MPPAs I have often in the past been quite rude about the local food, perhaps the time is right to redress the balance a little, after all credit is due to an area where people have always managed to make much out of very little (sometimes in more ways than one!)
I have already mentioned aligot, “the king of foods” as my brother has called it, a rib clinging mashed potato dish certainly designed to keep you going through a cold winters day. But the great advantage in Aveyron is the care and “heart” obvious in so much of the produce.

There are many small scale producers, the landscape, tradition and the shallow soil, has meant that large scale production has always been difficult and the lack of an efficient transport network led to a certain amount of insulation from the rest of France. This means that now there are lots of small producers still sticking to traditional methods and producing some great quality products.

There is a proliferation of “bio” (organic) suppliers and small farms producing local duck, goose and pork to make the traditional local dishes, all found at the “Marchés des Producters de  Pays”

Some enterprises have also got together to form  “Drive-Fermier”, where a variety of foods (pork, duck, ice cream, cheese…..) can be ordered on line direct from the producer and then picked up from a central point.

Specialities include Goose and duck confit, foie gras,  Estofinado, made with salted and dried cod “stockfish” Cheeses such as Bleu des Causses Laguiole,  Roquefort cheese or Cabecou (goat’s milk cheese) local wines, local honey,

En haut, Cyril Lignac à Villefranche l'an passé. À gauche : le fameux gâteau fabriqué au feu de bois.  Ci-dessus, la hauteur des pics fait la différence. /photos DDM, archivesCakes include Fouance, a bit like Madeira cake, gateau à la broche, a batter based cake cooked on a spit in front of the fire.

As well as an abundance of walnuts, chestnuts and mushrooms.

http://tourismemidipy.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/gaillac-vin-sur-vin-pour-laccueil/

http://www.drive-fermier.fr/centre-aveyron

http://www.marches-producteurs.com/aveyron

http://www.vin-vigne.com/region/vin-aveyron.html

http://www.tourisme-aveyron.com/en/discover/gastronomy.php

A Walk in the Woods

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The wonderful weather continues, even if it is a little late in the day for the local tourist industry.


A walk in the woods is a delight. This time of year is always great for wild food but I have never seen so many medlars.

It appears to have been  bumper year for he wildlife as well and there is a group of 17 wild boar (a sounder apparently) at large, who have already severely injured 3 hunting dogs. (Although I do wonder which hunter had time to count them and still not succeed in shooting any!) Hunters are behind every tree, it can certainly make you jump when strolling thorough the woods to hear someone calling your name and then suddenly appear from behind a tree wielding a gun…


It also makes me smile when you’re driving to the baker’s on Sunday morning and greeted along the way by more gun-wielding men dressed in fluorescent jackets, certainly wouldn’t have happende in St Albans!



Another bonus at the moment are the glorious sunrises and sunsets, I am taking my camera with me everywhere, don’t want to miss another beautiful moment.