Spring Greens

Spring has officially sprung although looking through my window at the moment you might take some convincing!

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Time to start rebuilding the immune system! In times gone by the Aveyronnais spent much of the winter in bed,  travellers passing through in those days are scathing of the Aveyronnais “emerging blinking into the sunlight”. But spending as much time sleeping or at least in bed was a way to conserve body heat, energy and food in a region that; until the arrival of the railways and discovery of coal in the 1800’s, was incredibly poor.

People still hold on to the traditions associated with making the most of the new bounty on offer to “cleanse the blood” and up the vitamins a little!

First to appear is the pissenlit/dandelions, the young shoots are picked to eat raw in a salad with lardons and hardboiled eggs or blanched and added to an omlet.

Next are the points de chou  or tanous as they are called in the local patois. Still offered for sale on the market by local people, tied up with string. These are the flower shoots of various brassicas, which in typical Aveyronnais fashion cannot be allowed to go to waste. The local way to eat them is blanched and served with a vinaigrette as a salad, sometimes with the ubiquitous lardons and hardboiled egg. Personally I love them as a salad tiede either: with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice or with walnut oil, walnuts and local goats cheese.

Tanous

Then if you are ever driving around the country lanes of north Aveyron from mid April to mid May, be very careful not to run over the “répounchou” hunters who are busy examining the hedgerows. Répounchous is considered to be wild asparagus although it is in fact the shoots of wild hops, which are also highly prized in parts of Italy. Very bitter it certainly feels like it must be doing you some good! It’s once again blanched and served in salads or omlettes.

RepontchousRépountchous

Elections, a Brit on the council!

The municipal elections have been the talk of the village for weeks and look set to remain so in the weeks to come. The voting system; particularly in villages as small as ours is full of peculiarities and complications, but basically people vote for lists. A list will usually have the same number of people on it as there are places on the council to fill, for a place the size of our village that is 11.

People featuring on these lists must be registered as eligible with the town hall and through them the prefecture, but the big thing for the smaller “communes” is the ability to “panaché”. Panché means that you can take one list and cross out names and then, if you want, add others, as long as everyone you add is registered. This means that people can vote from for anything from 1 to 11 people.

On polling day as soon as the polls close, people cram into the town hall to watch and listen to the dépouillement. one person opens the envelopes, one person reads out the names and two people record each individual vote on an official spreadsheet, calling out every 10 votes accrued. Meanwhile the bystanders: furiously scribble notes, whisper comments, tut, or smile knowingly. It is certainly true a lot can be read into the pattern of votes.

A person is elected once they achieve 50% of the actual votes cast, which in the case of our village with a standard turnout in the 90%’s means a little under half the adult population, about 115. As a candidate, the two hours wait is certainly long. Although you soon know when the all important level has been met by the nudges and pokes in the back!

It was certainly with a sense of pride that I joined the other new councillors for a drink and dinner afterwards, in the last elections only 18 British people gained seats. Whilst integration may still be a way off, we’re on our way!

 

The Mayor

I often admire how self sufficient the people round here are. It is of course partly due to their hatred of waste and spending money “unnecessarily” and goes back to the fact that this was, until relatively recently, a very poor and isolated area, but there are limits and unfortunately our mayor was recently a victim of this do it yourself attitude: on a sunny Sunday a couple of weeks ago, he had a chat to a neighbour at about 12, left to have lunch, but decided to quickly fix a problem with his roof first. He fell from the roof and after an airlift to Toulouse and a lot of ups and downs, the family had to decide to switch the machines off.

 

I don’t share this tragic event lightly, but it is part of my life here and Gilles Bousquet, maire of Bournazel was quite a part of that, taken away at 49 and leaving two young girls.

 

A funeral in the around here is a very different event to one in Britain. Firstly, they happen very quickly after the event (usually on the third day), this one took slightly longer to organise. Secondly the rules about who goes are different as well. You are expected to go if touched in any way by the person; an example was when a work colleague of mine lost her mother, I was surprised that everyone kept asking if I was going. At first I said no, seeing no reason why I would be going to the funeral of someone I had never met. After being asked for the third time I consulted a local oracle, and discovered that I was expected to go to “support my colleague in her mourning”. There are plenty of other examples of why you should go, not least in my case the fact that I only work until 2 pm so am available!

 

Our village of 300 can certainly be proud of the touching, respectful goodbye we gave to our mayor. The church which is closed for refurbishment was reopened, no easy task given the mountains of paperwork required in France. Chairs were shipped in, the various associations, the members of the council all came together to clean and organize. People started arriving two hours before the service, the population of the village nearly tripled for the afternoon, but near silence prevailed through the village. For the service the church was full to bursting as was the square outside and all that could be heard was the sound of the crows circling the chateau and the church.

 

People don’t wear black, best jeans will do, there’s no pomp, but this was a final farewell that the village can be proud of.

 

Goodbye, god bless you Gilles

 

http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2014/03/25/1847116-bournazel-dernier-hommage-a-gilles-bousquet.html

http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2014/03/18/1841706-la-liste-ensemble-pour-bournazel.html

Foie de Porc

We look forward to the foire de porc, which happens usually in the autumn, after Christmas and in the spring. It’s a throwback to the tradition of killing and preserving the household pig ready for winter, and nice to see it still going, even in the big supermarket chains.

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Most pork is already cheap, but belly pork is sold in small pieces to enrich soup and cassolet and can be quite pricy and spare ribs, used for much the same purpose even more so. So now’s the time to do it!

A trip to Lerclerc yielded three whole bellies of pork complete with ribs at €1.75 a kilo. Each whole “poitrine” can be cut into 7 or 8 large roasts, (with crackling! Very rare around here, they like their skin and fat pretty soggy!) then some little pieces useful for casseroles etc., and most importantly for my son the spare ribs to barbeque. Also plenty of fat to rend down, great for roast potatoes, and the hearty local soups and casseroles, where plenty of fat is essential to keep out the winter cold!

All in all great value and keeps me busy for an afternoon: cutting, boning and rending!

The problem was that there was then so much pork jammed into the freezer, that the temperature rose and everything else already in it defrosted. Not looking such a bargain now!

Anyway, onwards and upwards to the cooking bit. We do a lot of different dishes with these belly of pork joints, one of the favourites is Chinese style.

Score the skin of the pork into slices. Rub the skin with salt. Rub the underneath with; salt, a little sugar, 5 spice. Cook in a very slow oven grill over, but not touching a pan of water, for about three or four hours. When ready to serve, get the grill VERY hot and grill the skin till it’s crispy. Simples!

New year

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Been a funny old year, as they say. Far be it from me to talk weather……but the weather’s been mad. We have gone into 2014 with temperatures more like March. Mind you in March temperatures were more like January, so I suppose there’s some logic there!

So Christmas has come and gone, and we’ve created some of our own traditions. Christmas day is a mixture of French and English, involving amongst other things; oysters, foie gras, christmas pudding, a full English, and croissants, although not normally in that order!

One of the big surprises has been the way that some people have taken to mince pies. True a lot of people in this part of France won’t touch anything with spices (hot or sweet) and some won’t risk anything “Anglo Saxon”, but with some we have got to the stage that they look forward to the beginning of December when I start giving out the mince pies.

Having always used shop-bought mincemeat in the Uk and having tried many variations, here is the recipe I now stick with:

Sweet pastry

Aligot

With the tempertures still well below 0, in Aveyron,  it makes you think about the people who lived here when central heating wasn’t an option. What they used was the “Ready Break” system. eating to keep warm. The traditional recipes  certainly aren’t for the faint hearted! Aligot is one of those recipes, not every day food if you’re not required to tend the livestock in below freezing temperatures,but great comfort food, the food of the gods one of my brothers called it at my birthday celebrations!

Serves 4:
1 kg of floury potatoes -500 g fresh tome-200 gr thick crème fraîche – 3 cloves garlic -30 gr lard or duckfat or butter, salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and garlic cloves. Cut the potatoes into chunks and cook with garlic 20 minutes in boiling water.
Meanwhile, cut the fresh tome into small pieces.
When the potatoes are cooked, mash them adding a little cooking water to increase starch.
Over a low heat, stir in the cream, with a wooden spoon, then quickly add the cheese, stirring vigorously, now add the duckfat and seasoning (some people add a little nutmeg), now you need to keep stirring and lifting until the Aligot comes  away from the side of the pan and forms long ribbons.

Yummy

1 kg of Bintje potatoes – 400 g fresh tome-200 gr thick crème fraîche – 1 or 2 cloves garlic – salt and pepper Peel the potatoes and garlic cloves. Cut the potatoes into chunks and cook with garlic 20 minutes in boiling water.
Meanwhile, cut the fresh tome thinly.
At the end of cooking remove the garlic, place the potatoes in ricer possibly adding a little cooking water for desired consistency.
Stir in the cream, stirring with a wooden spoon, then quickly Volume 400 grams of fresh, stirring vigorously to aerate the aligot that must spin at the end of the spatula to form a ribbon. We can, if desired, flavor still a whole clove of garlic crushed.

Aveyron

Bournazel in Aveyron has been our home for 6 years. Aveyron was known as the lost departement, and even when we bought our house 12 years ago many French people didn’t know where you were talking about.

Aveyron is in the Midi Pyrenées and Bournazel is close to the border with the Lot. We came on a whim, and took a chance. We aren’t middle class or retired, we live an ordinary life. My husband and I work, my son goes to school. It is my plan in this blog to reflect our life in France, which given the above is not the same experience as is most usually written about.

I want to share our experiences, good and bad. The food, good and bad, and maybe give a bit of an insight for those who might do the same in the future.