At the end of February I had the privilege of showing one of my nephew’s and his wife around my little corner of France. They braved the coldest month of the year and gave me a great excuse to show them round and to revisit some places I hadn’t seen for a while.
Marcillac market on Sunday mornings is very busy in the summer months, but on a bright cold morning in February it is still vibrant but calmer and it’s much easier to park!
The produce on sale include local specialities: farçous, tripoux, tête de veau. Some greek treats including keftedhes and baklava. A fabulous cheese stall supplied direct from the producers in the mountains of Cantal (and I have been here long enough to be pretty blazé about local cheeses, so trust me when I say they’re good!) and the local Marcillac wine also direct from the producer, a stall that can get very lively as the tastings get underway.
Just down the road towards Rodez, is the village of Salles la Source. There is a lovely nature trail, a museum of local crafts but we visited the waterfall. One of the advantages of the wet winter is that the “cascade” is at its most dramatic. A truly magical place.
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!
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.
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”.
Aubin and Cransac are two towns so close together that you cannot see the join. But both have a very clear identity. Aubin, with its connection to the mine at Decazeville, it’s musée de la mine and the maison de la memoire resistance, deportation et citoyenneté, has a gritty down to earth atmosphere.
In Cransac, on the other hand, you sense the loss of a more affluent past, an air of tired gentility.
Cransac’s elegant buildings: the huge Hotel Du Parc, the old town hall and above all, literally, les Thermes. Are down to the presence of thermal springs first exploited by the Romans.
As I walk around the village and the surrounding countryside, there’s a song that won’t stop playing in my head, “walking back to happiness”. 2016 was a difficult year, I have no intention of boring anyone with the details, but a walk is good therapy.
There are no shortage of good walks round here and they are kept up to scratch by a small but dedicated band of volunteers. The first “atelier” is next weekend and we will be kept busy for the season.
There is a very Aveyronnaise feel to these workshops. They start slowly with a good half hour of chat to “put things in place”. We are then divided into teams which must be carefully balanced so that there are enough women on each team to clear the debris left by the men with the power tools (the women are outnumbered by about 4 to 1). Then all back to someones house for a drink and a debrief. Nothing is ever done around here without plenty of discussion.