Archive for the ‘languedoc’ Tag

where this weblog has gone   1 comment

It’s gone here :

Its owner has got all fired up about the protohistoric vestiges littered around this corner of Languedoc. And has taken upon himself the pleasurable task of unearthing what still remains.

It’s a week-by-week stumble  through the garrigues of the Corbieres and the Minervois, in search of a few humble prehistoric stones.


Shrub – it might grow on you.   Leave a comment


We get seasons here. We may be 40 minutes from the Mediterranean but the pool has already had its first thin sheet of ice. The fruit and vegetables follow the seasons too : right now it’s the orange that rules. This New Year’s Eve we’re going to open up the Big House for the occasion : but even with log fires in all the rooms the guests will need further warming, so I shall try this old winter recipe – though I’ll probably save the Eau de Vie de Marc de Languedoc and stick with the brandy. I found this bottle in the cave beneath the house and judging by the label, it was made by the local distillary for the previous owner Monsieur de Longueval, from the skins and pips of his own grapes.

by Tom Bullock 1917

Dedicated to those who enjoy snug club rooms, that they may learn the art of preparing for themselves what is good. sepia-tom-bullock.jpg

Is it any wonder that Mankind stands open-mouthed before the Bartender, considering the Mysteries & Marvels of an Art that borders on Magic?

Recipes found in this Book have been composed & collected, tried & tested, in a quarter-century of experience, by Tom Bullock of the St. Louis Country Club.

BRANDY SHRUB (2-gallon mixture for 40 people)

Into a Punch bowl put the Peeled Rinds of 5 Lemons and the Juice of 12 Lemons and add 5 quarts of Brandy. Make the bowl airtight and set it aside. At the expiration of 6 days add 3 quarts of Sherry wine and 6 pounds of Loaf Sugar, which has been dissolved in 1 quart of plain Soda. Strain through a bag and bottle.

The English Housekeeper, 1851 Anne Cobbett who wrote ‘for the person of moderate income’ is well worth reading for contemporary values and ideals, and her belief that the daughters of ‘the poor’ should be taught domestic skills rather than to read and write. From the 1850s onwards, cookery books proliferated as part of the huge expansion in book publishing that followed the removal of the tax on paper, and improvements in production technology. Eighteenth-century cookery and household books were issued in short print-runs of 1000 – 2500 copies. Such books in the later nineteenth century sold in tens of thousands.

Shrub Serves 6

This was a popular drink among the ladies as it is ‘dangerously pleasant to drink’. The original recipe suggests preparing the drink at least five days in advance. But you will find that it is quite a tasty punch almost immediately after it is mixed. It is likely that oranges were less sweet in those days, and you may wish to reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe.

5-6 juice oranges
2 cups (or less) sugar
1 quart rum or brandy
Squeeze the oranges until you have 2 cups of juice. Reserve half of the skins. Strain the juice to remove the pith and pits.
Combine the juice, sugar and liquor in a large bottle. Coarsely chop the orange peels and add them. Cover and shake the mixture.
About 8 hours later, strain out the peels. Cover and shake the mixture about 4 times daily for the next 4 days. Reserve for use.
To serve, pour into a small punch bowl and chill with ice either in the bowl or in individual glasses.
To 1 quart of strained orange juice, put 2 lbs. loaf sugar, and 9 pints of rum or brandy; also the peels of half the oranges. Let it stand one night, then strain, pour into a cask, and shake it four times a day for four days. Let it stand till fine, then bottle it.

Arabic shurb ‘beverage’

Posted December 27, 2007 by Richard Williams in food & drink

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

Wind, salt, love and madness   Leave a comment

The weather has been praeternaturally dry for a long while, and there’s been more outside activity (than internal). Now at last we’re getting some rain to go with the winds : gusts of 100 kph means more time at the keyboard.
O we have winds here – and they have names. L’ Autan blanc and l’ Autan noir (one dry, one wet blowing up from Spain); le Nord; le Grec; le Marin (a mild, damp and depressing wind from the Med), le Ponant (from the west); and lastly our predominant wind (that used to blow for 230 days a year, went away this summer but has now been with us for over a month) la Tramontane – in occitan: lo tramontanto alto (N.N-W), lo tramontano basso (W.N-W). It’s related to le Mistral – born out in the Atlantic, becoming ungovernable youngsters in the Bay of Biscay, then wild teenagers rampaging down the Rhone valley or in our case, over the last mountains of the Massif and down the plain to Narbonne. Here it has a local name, le Cers. Say it hard, with a growl, with a hiss: Serrsss! The summer windsurfers love it – but out there today les p’tits vignerons pruning their vines are swaddled like Inuits. It’s bending the trees and driving me indoors.
But what’s all this got to do with the price of fish? Very little at all.
Except I saw the following flight of fancy on the label attached to a pretty (pretty expensive) embossed glass tub of sea-salt at the supermarché today.

I have been wilfully literal in my translation :-

The Tramontane wind, predominant element of the Aude coast, influences our culture and our passions. It is its force which in summer overwhelms (makes fecund??) the expanses of water over our salt pans.
Come the dawn, when as if by magic the tempest abates, a salt is born – so light it is reluctant to sink.
The Flakes of Salt of the the Aude Country, fruit of the duality of the winds, will bewitch your palate with its typical flavours, for the greatest benefit to your health.

And what has this collage got to do with the price of chips, you may ask:-

Well – Gruissan is where the salt is born. It’s a pretty little old village with a pretty large and ugly salt works, and a pretty amazing collection of fisherman’s chalets-on-stilts that stand clear of the sea when it’s running high up the beach. And it’s where a pretty steamy film was made back in the mid-80’s that got quite a cult following in Europe. It’s a passionate-but-doomed love affair between Betty, a waitress and Zorg her writer boyfriend (the torrid Béatrice Dalle & the tortured Jean-Hugues Anglade). It doesn’t end well. It’s how the French like it.
It’s still hot after all these years – and is in fact called ’37°2 le matin’ or (99 F. in the morning) – the English version : Betty Blue.

Posted December 9, 2007 by Richard Williams in france

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

Interesting vintages   Leave a comment

I found this the other day, and took it up to our vigneron friends in the village. I expected it to be vinegar – but with a hard wax seal around the cork, Charles was hopeful. It was bliss. Delicate nectar – smooth with a faint sweet/sour finish.
It simply says on the ‘etiquette‘ Tokay, and vin de pays de l’Aude. Tokay is known as a sweet white wine from Hungary‘s Tokay region, which is made primarily from the Furmint grape, in a similar style to Sauternes. Wineries make Tokaji with semi-dry grapes that have had ‘noble rot’ take hold. The grapes in this state are called Aszu. Charles had never heard of this stuff having been made in the region – but Monsieur de Longueval had a reputation for eccentricity.

The house had stood empy for 30 years when we bought it in 1999 – so we reckoned it was 40 years old. They came from the cellars which extend the fullsize of the house. There are four ‘tonneaux’ or ‘foudres’ on each side. They contained over 2000 litres each, and must have been constructed in situ, when the Maison de Maitre was built in 1863 – as the doorways are too low & narrow.

Next is a 1943 vintage. Charles had heard of similar finds – usually bricked into walls. What better place for la résistance to hide its ammunition – in this case, rifle bullets – than in among the Boss’s wine?
The German army did in fact occupy the village – and spent many an evening enjoying Pierre de Longueval’s hospitality.

However two young maquisards from the village were shot in reprisal for an ambush, in the last days of the war.

German reprisals

The bells of Moux   Leave a comment

The bells sound three times a day: at 7am to signal the start of the working day – at noon to tell the vineyard workers that it was time for lunch – and again at pm to let us all know the working day is over, and that quiet should reign.

The concept is simple and effective – I no longer wear a watch – but is unique among the villages around. The carillon however is quite complex – try it yourself.

Moux bell tower

Next are the same three church bells, ringing the carillon known in French as ‘le glas’ The knell rang out this week for Huguette Durand, ‘vieille-fille’ or spinster of 86 on an extaordinarily dark, still evening. Or the lens cap was left on.

‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.’

Click to hear Le Glas

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

The train arrives in Moux   Leave a comment

Vendangeuses – Paul Sibra. Text J. Lebrau ‘Ceux du Languedoc’ 1946

Moux looks north out over the valley between two ranges of mountains : the Montagnes Noires which are the last slopes of the great raised upland of France’s Massif Central – and the Corbières range which run south until they form the foothills of the Pyrenées.

I’m giving this geography to explain why the village has at various times in its history offered lodging to kings and queens of France, and a pope, at its inn. The valley is the only route possible for transport. Road and motorway, river and Canal – all had to squeeze past Moux.
Moux is situated on the voie Aquitaine (or voie Royale) – a comfortable day’s ride exactly halfway between Carcassonne (mediaeval centre of the wool-trade) and the erstwhile Roman port of Narbonne. Thus it was that during a relatively peaceful period in the Wars of Religion – between 1563 and 1567 – Catherine de Médicis undertook a voyage in Languedoc at the end of 1564 – start of 1565. The cortège was impressive: the queenmother was accompagned not only by the young king Charles IX (13 years old), but also by the future kings François II and Henri III, Marguerite de Valois, (the future queen Margot) plus Ronsard, official poet of the court. ‘Tout cet équipage passa donc la nuit à Moux, le 11 janvier 1565.’
That was quite enough excitement for one century. Eighty years later the village gave the next VIP a warm welcome. In October 1632 Louis XIII passed the night at Mous (Moux). During the night a fire – started possibly by enemies – threatened the chambers where he lay sleeping. The king, his daughters and the queen, were all forced to run from the building at midnight, and take shelter with a neighbour.
Then in December of 1664 experts working for Pierre Paul Riquet, Baron de Bonrepos, stayed in Moux while surveying possible routes for the Canal du Midi, to link Bordeaux on the west coast to Narbonne on the Mediterranean. Their study found however that there was too great a rise to overcome here, and the channel was cut a few kilometers away. The whole project nearly bankrupted the visionary Baron, who died shortly before the canal opened, in 1681. It remains a masterpiece of construction, has needed very few repairs in 250 years – and is rightly a World Heritage site.
Next along comes the Pope. On February 2nd 1814 Pope Pious VII passed one night at Moux. ‘ Qu’on se figure un vieillard de 72 ans, d’une taille élevée, un peu courbé, le teint pâle, mais animé d’un regard le plus doux, par la physionomie la plus vénérable.’
‘ Picture then an old man of 72, tall but slightly stooped, with a pale complexion – enlivened however by the most gentle expression, in the most venerable of faces. (my own rather creaky translation). He had been encountered, on his way to Moux, by the Innkeeper – who hadn’t recognised him.
It was the arrival of the Voie Ferrée that had the greatest effect on the village. The line linking Bordeaux and Marseille was the brainchild of two brothers: Emile and Isaac Pereire. The inauguration took place on 22 April 1857 of the line joining ‘ l’Océan à la Méditerranée’ – with the brothers travelling from opposite directions to shake hands. Fortunately not at Moux – there might well have been a head-on crash.
Jean Lebrau, one of our village’s many poets, wrote in Images de Moux: ‘Sur la page d’un vieux dictionnaire, mon grand père avait consigné en une ronde impressionnante (set down, in impressive script) : “La locomotive est passée à Moux pour la première fois le 18 fèvrier de l’année 1857 à 9 heures du matin et à 3 heures de demie du soir”.’

Moux station 1900

All over europe Steam was driving the industrial revolution, powering factories, conveying goods and people to cities and ports. This train would make the fortunes of some farmers : traditional crops such as olives (Moux was one of the major suppliers of plants for export to South America), wheat, mulberries and lucerne, were progressively abandonned in favour of vines. By 1900 small farmers had become rich – rich ones, millionaires.

And the sons and daughters of the rich were sent out from their little villages to boarding-schools in nearby towns. Thus we would find, on Sunday afternoons on the platform at Moux : Jean Lebrau, sensitive schoolboy poet and Claire Escourrou, whose mother had just died, waiting together for the train that would take them away to their schools in Carcassonne.

Trains don’t stop here anymore.

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

Tagged with , , , , ,

Une soirée musicale-apéro-dinatoire or early drinking with music and food   Leave a comment

Something of the spirit of ‘ 68 inhabits Domaine Isabelle. When we first came to the village we’d pass Charles & Isabelle’s house on the main street and wonder who might be the owners of the stacked bookshelves and the sculptures, who was it within who liked their jazz to flow, of a warm evening, out through the open window. We didn’t have to wait long.
A small group had been meeting through the winter with the aim of awakening the village from its slumber of decades by organising a celebration of the poets that Moux had produced over the centuries (eh oui – more than any other village in France – nous ne sommes pas des sauvages ici, tu sais!). At the fore were Charles and Isabelle.
As mosaic designers and a painter we were invited to take part in this Portes-Ouvertes weekend. Readings and plays, music and dance were performed in courtyards and parcs that had been closed to the general eye. Our own Maison de Maitre, closed up and empty for 30 years, was an ideal venue with its pillared barn – le hangar or auprès – and closed courtyard – to host musicians and actors and flamenco dancers.

Charles & Isabelle are well-known in the small community of vignerons des Corbières for the warmth of welcome at their house and the gaiety of the evenings during le vendange. They are among the few now who cook and eat with their grapepicking team. They make room for all at the long table in le petit caveau, where the music and stories and wine flows freely late into the night. And not just at harvest-time.
Evenings chez Charles et Isabelle start at the door of what to most would seem a shabby lock-up. On the corner of a dismal street in the middle of a dull village in le Midi. But inside –

This particular evening was something of a one-off. André, an adult-education teacher friend of Charles’ from the nearby market town had been working on some compositions with his friend Serge, a small farmer from Indre-et-Loire many hours north. Was there a possibility that a few people could be rounded-up to lend a critical ear? There was. And there was food with it, and wine on tap – literally : from a spigot right behind where they set up their amps.

André brought a collection of instruments : guitar, flute and an alto sax, which proved too loud for the occasion – the songs were from Serge : a surprisingly eclectic mix with a core of sadness in all of them. The longest ( twenty strophes or verses) was a valediction to his daughter leaving the farm to work abroad – an affective drama with Marco Polo showing her a world of wonders and dangers.
The song I recorded has all their weaknesses and their strengths : I still can’t follow all of it, but it concerns the pain of the small farmer in a land less recognisable, where a simple man with sensibilities is increasingly at odds with the world around him – and the way wine can drown these woes.
He hasn’t got a voice, it’s plainly true – but he has a song that after a couple of plays will stay with you. It’s plaintive without being mawkish, and hard without bitterness. Never going to make the charts – but then I’m never going to make the best-seller list. These were intense pieces of his life – his journal. There were only as many listening to him as are reading this.

Noyer dans le vin – Drowning in wine