Room with a view

For the past 12 years or so, I have had the view in the photograph below from my bedroom window:

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No, the sky has not always been this blue a colour, and it has not always been sunny, but the buildings have not changed in all those years!  Does that tall building look to you as though it could have been a church?  The buttresses, the window…?

The southern end of the building fronts onto Place Saint Aignan, also called Le Plo in local vernacular.  That facade is pretty nondescript, and doesn’t really give us much of a clue.

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The northern end of the building offers more of a helpful hint:

That arch definitely looks as if it could have been part of an old church, wouldn’t you agree??  Turns out that our hunch is right!  Behind that nondescript facade on Place Saint Aignan is what remains of the Eglise des Recollets, the church of the Recollects.

Four of the members of the historical society of Saint Chinian, Les Richesses du Saint Chinianais, have just published a book called La presence de l’Ordre des Recollets a St Chinian – the presence of the Recollect Order in Saint Chinian.  As part of the “book launch”, a guided visit of the former church had been organised.  Of course I went along – how could I not, after all those years of looking at that building!!  And my trusted camera came along with me, so I would have something to share with you :)!

The Recollect order was a branch of the Franciscan order, following the ideals of poverty and recollection, at a time when many orders had given up ascetic living and were more into decadence.  The Recollects arrived in St Chinian around 1643 to “set up shop”.  The church was built probably between 1643 and 1690, with simple materials such as stone, brick and wood.  For the location, the Recollects chose the faubourg, the suburb of St Chinian, which was a populous and poor part of the village, outside the walls.

Fast forward to the present day – we’ll work our way back in time. Right now the building is used as a municipal works depot. It houses some of the trucks belonging to the village, along with other bits and pieces.

The former choir is currently a workshop:

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Prior to being owned by the village, it was in possession of the departmental works commission (DDE) and used as a depot.  The DDE acquired the building in the 1950s. The original doorway was enlarged during the time of the DDE, and the concrete floors and galleries upstairs were put in. Here is what is left of the original doorway:

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Before the DDE, the church belonged to one of the large estates in St Chinian, presumably being used for storage. During the early part of the 20th century the building was used to show silent movies, and also for theatre performances. The winch is purported to be a remnant from the theatre days, and there are other bits of ironmongery stuck in the walls, which could date from that period.

Now we’ll go back to the Recollects. Since they were a poor order, very little has been found in the archives in the way of records. They monks did not lead a cloistered life, and their convent did not conform with what we mostly know to be a monastery, with a cloister and restricted areas. In St Chinian, the Recollects appear to have owned some, but perhaps not all, of the buildings around Place Saint Aignan. On the north side of the church used to be the cemetery for the village, and to the east were gardens, fields and orchards, which supplied the monks with food. To the west of the church was a small garden, also belonging to the monks, bordered by the houses along rue Saint Laurent.

The church building is similar in size to both the parish church and the church of the Benedictine abbey.  As I mentioned earlier, they used very simple materials for the construction of their church.  Some of the elements have stood the test of time – such as the diaphragm arches, which held up the roof structure.  The round holes were there to help ventilate the roof void.

The roof structure would not have been visible.  Some kind of vaulting would have been added, probably made of brick.  You can still see the lines of where the vaulting would have met the wall, in this picture.  look carefully, and you will be able to see the bricked up window which I can see from my window:

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The church had six chapels, three on each side, built in between the buttresses on the outside walls.  Two of them are still in existence and open to the inside of the building.  The locations of the other chapels are visible in the cracks, which have developed in the plaster over the years. The arches of the chapel roofs seem to have been made from thin bricks, in a somewhat unusual way.  They seem to be almost cantilevered rather than the more usual approach to making brick arches. The chapels had lancet shaped windows, and if you look very carefully at the first picture in this post, you can just about make out the outline on the wall.

Some of the chapels were sold off very early on when the church passed into private hands, and today they are incorporated into houses, which have been built against the church.

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So there we are, back on Place Saint Aignan – our visit to this fascinating building over.  Its history holds more questions than it provides answers.  Here is a little more history for you:

The Recollects ministered to the people of St Chinian until 1768, when their numbers had dwindled to such an extent, that the convent was closed down. The monks stayed on for a little while, but eventually all the buildings were sold off. The large building to the east of the church became a hospital. The church became private property, and was used for services during the years immediately after the French Revolution, when the parish church had been turned over to the cult of the Supreme Being, and the church of the Benedictine abbey had been shut down. After that, decline was steady. The bell tower had to be pulled down before it fell.   The roof of the choir rotted away, and the roof was only replaced by the DDE, on lower walls. Part of the roof over the nave collapsed after 1900, taking with it the upper part of the end wall and the opening which would have held the rose window.   The new roof was built with a metal structure, possibly a much cheaper alternative at the time.

The research done by the historians is fascinating. They must have spent hours and hours in the archives, reading one dusty document after another. I should probably write “decipher” – if the postcards I featured a couple of weeks ago are anything to go by. The project seems to have taken them four years to come to fruition, and there are still a fair few unanswered questions. If you are interested, you can purchase your own copy of the book at the Maison de la Presse in St Chinian, for 10 EUR – a bargain when you consider the many hours spent on gathering all the information.

 

 

Moroccan spice

It’s been a little while since you had a food post, so when I was cooking for a group of friends who were coming for dinner last Sunday night, I thought I would share the recipe with you.  In my heart of hearts I am a fairly lazy cook, and I love dishes which can cook slowly and be prepared ahead of time.  A tagine is just one such dish, and it is infinitely variable.  For my recipe I drew inspiration from a variety of sources:  Nigel Slater’s recipe for Lamb Tagine, The Hairy Biker’s recipe for Chicken Tagine, along with recipes from books in my collection by authors such as Claudia Roden and Sam and Sam Clark (Moro).

While I was revising this post, I found that two of the blogs I follow (www.cookinginsens.wordpress.com and http://www.frugalfeeding.wordpress.com) had also posted tagine recipes recently.  I wonder if this is the effect of a collective psyche?? :D

To cook the dish, I used an earthenware tagine pot, which is a wide, relatively shallow pan, with a conical lid.  Just for the record, the black pot on the right is used to cook rice!

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Once you have assembled all your ingredients the preparation is pretty straightforward.

The spices I used were cinnamon, cumin, ginger, turmeric, paprika, chili and saffron.  For the meat I used chicken – one leg quarter per person, separated into thigh and drumstick.

The meat is browned in some olive oil – I had to do this in batches.  Once brown, the meat is removed and set aside.

The chopped onions were added next along with the remaining olive oil, and the heat turned down to medium/low.  The sliced garlic was added after about five minutes, and both were cooked slowly until softened, but not browned, which took about 10 minutes.

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Once the onions were nice and soft I added the spices and gave it a good stir.  Be careful not to burn the spices – it’s a good idea to have your chopped tomatoes handy so you can add them if it looks as though the spices might get too hot.

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At this point a very heady aroma will fill your kitchen, and you may be feeling somewhat impatient for a taste.  Be patient – delicious things come to those who wait!!

Once you have added the chopped tomatoes, return the chicken pieces to the pan and add the dried apricots.  Add water or stock to barely cover the meat, and add a good pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper.  Don’t be tempted to over-season at this point, you can add more salt later.

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Once the liquid has come to the boil, the lid goes on and you simmer the tagine very slowly for 1 hour – the liquid in the pan should barely move.  Add the dried prunes after an hour, if using Pruneaux d’Agen – they are softer and don’t need to be cooked for a long time.  If you use regular dried prunes, add them after 45 minutes. Continue to simmer the tagine for another 30 minutes, by which time the chicken should be very tender.

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Remove the pulp from the preserved lemon and chop the skin finely.  Add to the tagine and mix in very gently.  Sprinkle with chopped coriander, and serve with couscous or plain rice.  Accompany with harissa paste.

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I served a pumpkin soup to start the meal, made with home-grown pumpkin.  After cheese there was dessert, and for that I had prepared Pecan Pie Cheesecake Squares, found at ChristinaWithCaramel – I think we were all quite full at that point, but everyone cleared their dessert plates all the same!!  ;)

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Chicken Tagine

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

6 chicken leg quarters, separated into drumstick and thigh
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder (vary this according to how hot you like your food)
one good pinch of saffron strands
1 can chopped tomatoes (400g)
250g dried apricots
250g dried prunes (I used Pruneaux d’Agen)
half a preserved lemon, pulp removed and the skin finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Harrisa paste to serve

Assemble your spices and other ingredients.  Brown the chicken pieces all over in half the olive oil.  Remove and add the chopped onion to the pan and the remaining olive oil, over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally.  After five minutes add the sliced garlic and continue to cook until the onions and garlic are soft but not brown – about another five minutes.  Add the spices, stir and cook for a minute, then add the chopped tomato.  Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add the dried apricots.  Add stock to barely cover the meat, season lightly with salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil and then simmer very gently for one hour.  Add the dried prunes and simmer for another 30 minutes, if using Pruneaux d’Agen.  Add regular dried prunes after 45 minutes of cooking and simmer for 45 minutes more.  When the dish is cooked, add the preserved lemon and stir very gently to distribute evenly.

Serve with plain boiled rice or couscous, and sprinkle with chopped coriander.  Don’t forget to pass the harissa!

Postcards from another time

Over the years I have accumulated a small stash of old postcards, showing Saint-Chinian as it once was.  A little while ago I decided it would be fun to try and show you some now and then pictures, so one day, not long ago, I set off with my camera.  The photographers of most of the original images would have had quite a lot of equipment to carry with them.  The camera would have been a large and heavy box on a tripod, with bellows attached to the front, and the negatives would have been on glass plates – you can still see cameras like that in some museums.  I am very thankful that things have evolved :)  I am able to carry my camera without giving myself a hernia, and taking pictures is definitely easier these days! In the early 20th century, postcards were commonly used to send short messages or greetings, much as we use our mobile phones today to send SMS. This first postcard is of Avenue de Cessenon – today called Avenue Raoul Bayou: avenue de cessenon.fw  avenue de cessenon reverse.fw The postcard was sent as a New Year’s card on January 2, 1916 to a Mr Dispens, and it appears to have been sent in an envelope, because of the missing postmark and address.  I’ve not been able to decipher all of the handwriting, but it could have been a wife writing to her husband at the front. It talks about little Michel, who has grown and talks so well, and looks so much like the addressee.  There’s also a bit about “if you don’t have enough to do you could come and paint a few cars”, and it signs off with “we cordially shake your hand”.  Perhaps some of that was coded language? Or perhaps it was not the wife at all but a friend writing to his buddy?  In all likelihood, Mr Dispens was probably a soldier at the time, either in barracks nearby, or fighting somewhere.  Avenue Raoul Bayou has changed over the intervening years, but the houses are pretty much the same as they were then: avenue de cessenon todayThe card below with the view of the river was sent on July 23, 1908 from a son to his father.  The father was staying in Lourdes, and the son was glad that the father had visited Pau on his way to a town whose name I cannot decipher, nor find on google maps.  The son tells his father that the wagon de pierre (I am assuming a cart to transport stones with) would be delivered on Thursday, and he mentions that he is behaving himself very well. vue de la rivere.fw vue de la rivere reverse.fw With the way the access to the riverbank has changed, it has been impossible for me to get the same viewpoint as the photographer in the early 1900’s.  The land where he would have set up his camera has become inaccessible, and trees have grown up in the riverbed, obscuring much of the view, but I had a go at it all the same! vue de la riviere today   The postcard below showing the Mairie, was written by a girl called Evelyne, who was in the first class at school.  She tells Michel and Mme Dispens that everyone is well and that Ponponne and ratonne are having a fun time. la mairie.fw la mairie reverse.fw The trees in the Mairie gardens have grown, the roofs over the towers have been changed, and there are no more horses in the street, but otherwise the view hasn’t changed all that much. la mairie today The postcard below of Grand Rue was written on March 8, 1916 – that’s almost 99 years ago!! The handwriting on the back of this card is a little tricky to read, but I have found that the writer hopes that the war would be over soon and that they would see each other in good health.  So this is possibly another postcard sent to a soldier somewhere. grand rue.fw grand rue reverse.fw Although Grand Rue has undergone a great deal of change during the past 100 years, the buildings are all still there.  The building of the Hotel Bouttes houses today Le Vernazobre restaurant and bar, and the pharmacy.  The building which once housed Au Bon Marche has undergone a fair amount of transformation.  Gone are the ornate cornices above the doors, and the shutters have all disappeared along with the wrought iron railings.  Today the building houses Credit Agricole bank, and the three windows just before Le Vernazobre have become a private house. grand rue today I’ve enjoyed trying to re-create the views!  Since there are more postcards in my stash I will call this a work in progress!  Do let me know if you find any old postcards of St Chinian!  And don’t forget, today’s postcards will be tomorrow’s heirlooms…

Frozen in time

At the beginning of November last year, I visited the Fete de la Chataigne in Olargues.  Whilst walking around the village, to see what was happening where, I discovered a gem of a place:  the Taillanderie Galibert or the Galibert Forge!

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I had walked down this street many times before, and admired the ancient, timeworn doors and shop fronts, but nothing had hinted at what lay hidden behind some of these shutters.

Outside the door stood an old bicycle and a few pieces of old equipment, as well as a storyboard.  My curiosity was piqued when I saw the open doors – I couldn’t resist having a look!

To step inside is to step back in time – to a time when mobile phones and internet were totally unknown, and when colour TV was still in its infancy!  The Galibert forge closed its doors in the 1970s.  After the last blacksmith died, the workshop was shut up and left as it was – since then almost nothing has been sold or removed.  The house still belongs to one of the descendants, and it was one of the grandsons of the last blacksmith who was demonstrating the machinery and giving the visitors some insights.  Here is the video I took of the machinery in action (e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog site to view the video):

This grandson created an association last year, with the aim of bringing his grandfather’s workshop back to life.  It will be open for educational visits (school classes) and prearranged groups, and to the general public on special days, such as the Fete de la Chataigne.

Have a look at this Aladdin’s Cave of amazing stuff:

All the machinery is driven by a belt and pulley transmission – every health and safety inspector’s nightmare!  But the electric motor still works, and so do the machines – they were built to last!!

It’s a fascinating visit – well worth the trip to Olargues.  For details of opening hours please contact the Tourist office in Olargues: avenue de la gare, 34390 Olargues, Tel +33 (0)4 67 23 02 21, e-mail olargues@ot-caroux.fr

Through the vineyards…

This post was kindly written by Margaret Smythe, a long time friend and resident of St Chinian, as well as a dedicated walker!

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It started as a daily exercise routine and has become much more; the exercise part is now almost incidental and the routine is one of pleasure, mostly. So what is this exercise? Well, we are talking about the early morning walk through the vines and gardens of our village, a brisk-ish 45 minute circuit which takes us through history and nature and seasons from equinox to equinox. The route is the same, with minor variations; the routine is the same unless it’s raining: up at 7-ish, out by 7:30, back around 8:15 for much-needed coffee. It’s not an iron discipline; we are not trying to prove anything, but have grown to enjoy it so much that we miss it when it doesn’t happen.

I am going to lead you through our walk on a beautiful spring morning in late May or early June, when these photos were taken. When we begin in March the cold air stings our faces and ears and fingertips but we want to be ready to savor the first signs of spring: slowly day by day buds appear and open, birds begin to chatter and the sun is more than just a lamp in the sky. By the end of April spring has exploded and we have exchanged our hats, gloves, scarves, and heavy coats for sunglasses and jackets.

We set off down Rue de la Digue, towards the Vernazobres river and the scene of a tragic disaster for the village. In 1873 there was a terrible flood which swept away a lot of houses and killed more than 100 people. The ruins of some of the houses remain, now incorporated into gardens. The Digue (a flood protection dyke) was built to prevent this ever happening again. In fact the river was canalized for the part that runs through the village. Now the river is well-behaved and is a peaceful place for swimming and fishing.

Before we get to the ford we stop to look at the three ancient mulberry trees, one of the few remaining signs of the silk industry that went on here until the early 19th century. They still sprout leaves in their ruined condition, but no fruit. Read the plaque.

Here are inaccessible peaches – too bad some are rotting on the ground already – and unripe figs.

After passing the ford and the swimming hole, known as Les Platanettes for its sheltering plane trees, we emerge into the open spaces of the vineyards. Ahead we see the rocky outcrop “la Corne” an important landmark for the village. Wild flowers, olives, a sloping wheat field and vines and more vines. As we tramp along we listen out for the birds: I cannot claim to recognize them all but the cuckoo is obvious and so is the hoopoe with its distinctive four tooting notes. I saw one once, years ago, and long to see another. They are shy and getting rarer to see, they say. We hear nightingales and larks, and sometimes ducks flying over. Photos do not capture too well the beauty of the wild flowers, different ones coming out every week. Have a look at the last lingering poppies struggling to stay red but fading fast.

Soon we are back at the river, this time crossing by a metal bridge, a “passerelle.” At one time I used to drag a bicycle over it with not too much difficulty and there are signs for the routes of rallies for heavy 2-wheelers, mountain bikes and the like, to cross over too. On the other side we come to a group of houses, site of an old woollen mill known as la Rive. Here we meet the first of the dogs – these ones are ferocious barkers and not friendly. La Rive lies at the foot of the Corne which is now very close – we are almost underneath and able to make out the cross on its summit. On the west side, not visible from here, there is a chapel, Notre Dame de Nazareth, with a steep Way of the Cross leading up to it, where people make an annual pilgrimage followed by the habitual feast and verres d’amitie.

Our route is flat however, no harm first thing in the morning. We are now on a paved road for a short stretch until we swerve into the vines again and say hello to the other dogs, the friendly ones – caged for hunting. They always greet us leaping up with wagging tails as if to say let us out to play. The meeting of the waters comes next, that is a place where the canal and the stream meet. The canal disappears into some trees and when we see it again it has started its course along the many gardens leading into the village. It’s a very important feature of the village, which in the late middle ages (1460s) was tamed by the abbot (Abbe) of the local Benedictine monastery to irrigate his vegetable gardens in the center of the village. The monastery now houses the municipal buildings. Today for an annual 32 euro fee owners of the gardens all along its length can join the Association and water their crops. The flow of water is controlled by a number of vannes (sluices) which we show in the photos. For the rest of our walk we are more or less following the course of the canal.

After another stretch of tarmac we take a short cut and say hello to the donkeys who live with some ponies in a field bordering our path. This short cut between the canal and a damp-ish hedge – being near the water — is lined with different kinds of flowers. There are myriads of the wild pink pyramid orchids, wild garlic and earlier in the season yellow irises and kingcups.

Back on the road again we are nearing the village. We turn into the Martinet and pass a row of houses built almost on top of the canal. The machinery at the entrance to Le Martinet was taken from a sulphur mill before it was converted into a modern dwelling. We pass the vegetable gardens and wave to some of the gardeners and then join the top of the digue to view even more gardens.

The plane trees along here have been infected with an unusual canker. You can see the ones destined for the chop. Many have already been felled. The canker apparently came from wooden pallets containing ammunition brought over to France by the US Army at the end of WW2. It has taken all this time, more than 60 years, to destroy the plane trees. The fate of the plane trees along the Canal du Midi is the most disastrous: all 40,000 of them have to go. The trees were originally planted for shade for the horses and people who worked along the canal through the centuries, and also to secure the banks. Today, classified as a UN World Heritage site, it is extra important to replace them, and this work has begun. We see places along the canal now which are bare, bereft of their welcome shade, but with new trees already growing. The replacements are of varied species so as not to risk the same danger another time. Our village is just one of many who have been dealt this blow.

At the top of the Rue de la Digue we take a right down Rue des Jardins, wide enough for only one car at a time, and then a left into Rue du Canal de l’Abbe, nearly home. If you think life before washing machines was too tough, take a look at this ‘washing machine’ – le lavoir, on the edge of the canal. Some French villages have really elaborate lavoirs, washing places, with wonderful architecture. But the best that we can say about this one is that it is unpretentious. I’m told it was used in living memory. It is hard to imagine being on one’s knees, bending over scrubbing at some garment here without falling into the canal. Actually the olden days were not all bad; for example, there was a law on the books of the village that the mill owners could not discharge their effluent into the canal between certain specific hours of the day, which means a definite awareness of taking care of the planet, and/or consideration for the washerwomen.

And so around the next corner we are back at home.

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When you follow the same route every day, naturally you barely notice what has changed from day-to-day. On the other hand a month later it all looks different. Later on in early autumn when the grapes have been picked and the green vine leaves have turned a rainbow of colors from yellow to orange to deep purple, the end of our walking season is signalled by the low autumn sun which transforms the early morning scene into a land of sloping shadows and sudden flashes of light on the hilltops.

Potting away

After I visited Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert last fall, I stopped off in the village of Saint-Jean-de-Fos – it was on my way home, so how could I not! :)

Saint-Jean-de-Fos has been famous for its pottery workshops since the Middle Ages.  In days gone past, these workshops produced a huge range of everyday items for use inside and outside the home.  Think of items we take for granted today, such as cooking pots and pans.  Until not that long ago, a lot of people in France used terracotta cooking vessels, just as people in parts of India and Africa still do to this day.  Clay is very versatile, and objects were cheap and easy to produce.

In recent years the production of pottery in Saint-Jean-de-Fos has been revived, and one of the former factories has beentransformed into a museum, aptly named Argileum, “argile” being the French word for clay.

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The part of the building with the rusted exterior/roof is the new addition to the old factory, and it houses the visitors centre and reception area, as well as a gallery.  Looking at the main picture above I feel as though the building could be somewhere in Colorado or New Mexico…

The visit of the museum starts in a gallery which was added to the old building.  Just outside the door into the gallery is an installation of sculptures, which sit on a bed of broken terracotta.

The display in the gallery charts the history of this particular factory, as well as the history of ceramics production in the village.

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Here are some examples of items produced in Saint-Jean-de-Fos:

Pitchers, jars, jugs, bowls, plumbing pipes, roof tiles, sugar-loaf moulds, roof decorations, strainers…  There’s much more on display in the gallery than I am showing you in my pictures!

Here is a model of the old factory – the new additions are not shown.  The red dot (if you enlarge the picture) marks the location of the model in the gallery building, which was added to the old factory.

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Also in the gallery are cuttings from a clay pit – this is what clay looks like when it is extracted from the ground:

The first room in the old factory is the throwing room, where the lumps of clay would be turned into pots and other objects – not by throwing the clay around, but by throwing it on a wheel. :D

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The wheel shown here is a “kick wheel” so-called because the potter kicks the weight at the bottom to turn it.  In this room there was also a video explaining how clay is prepared: once it is dug from the ground it is mixed with water, then sieved to remove impurities such as stones.  The sieved liquid was then left to settle and dry in large basins outside.  You can see the basins on the model above.

When the clay was the right texture it was cut into squares, and the squares stacked inside and left to mature.  Heavy work!!

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In the yard outside, where the basins were located, an exhibition of Raku pottery had been installed.

Raku is a particular technique of firing, where the red-hot objects are pulled from the kiln and put into sawdust, which results in the black surfaces.

Back inside the museum we came to the drying room, where the pots would be left to dry before being fired.  A video in this room explained the decoration particular to pots from Saint-Jean-de-Fos, where different oxides are applied to the clay before being glazed.

The final room was where the big kiln was located – an important part of every pottery!  In days gone by, pottery kilns were always wood fired.  Modern factory kilns can be gas or oil-fired, or powered by electricity.  Some potters still use wood, and the results from a wood fired kiln are very different from what is fired in other kilns.  In the picture below you see the upper level of the kiln, where the pots were stacked.  The hole would be walled up for each firing, and the wood was burned in a chamber beneath.

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If you want to know how an artisan pottery such as this would work in modern days, here is a video for you.  The workshops of the Not brothers are located close to Castelnaudary, and I will get there one of these days!

After the visit to the museum I wanted to see some of the modern-day potters and their wares.  The village itself is very nice for a stroll: narrow roads, squares, fountains…

… and then there were the shops :) – very tempting and subversive to ever-diminishing cupboard space!!

If you visit St Guilhelm le Desert, be sure to leave some time to stop off at Saint-Jean-de-Fos, especially if you enjoy pottery!!

Fit for kings

For those of you who have been following my blog for a few years, I’ll confess now:  I have written about this topic before.  I had planned to re-run that post again.  In the end I decided to write a new post altogether, and I hope you’ll enjoy it just as much.

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In France, Twelfth Night is celebrated with the galette des rois – a wonderful confection of buttery puff pastry, which is filled with almond frangipane.  The galette is usually eaten with friends and/or family, and can be found for sale in French bakeries throughout the month of January.  A small feve (bean or charm) is usually hidden in the filling, and the person who finds the feve in his or her slice is crowned king or queen for the day.  The feve can take all sorts of forms, from a simple dried bean to a porcelain figure such as this:

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If you don’t live anywhere near a bakery where you can buy a ready-made galette des rois, here is how to make your own.  The basic ingredients are very simple, especially if you buy the puff pastry ready-rolled: butter, almonds, sugar, cornflour, eggs.  I’ll be listing quantities at the end of this post as a printable recipe.  I had planned to add some dried yuzu (Japanese citrus) peel to the filling, which is in the yellow packet.  In the end I decided against it.

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To make the frangipane filling, beat the soft butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.

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Add the eggs and beat until incorporated.

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Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet.  I used the bottom of a cake pan (25cm diam) to cut a neat circle, as the rolled sheets are always slightly oval.  Spread the apricot jam on the base to within 2 cm from the edges…

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…and top with the frangipane mixture.  Don’t forget to put the feve into the frangipane filling!

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Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zigzags or diamonds – whatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

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Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven (200C, 185C fan, gas 6) for 25 to 30 minutes.  When it comes out of the oven it should look somewhat like this:

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Leave the galette to cool to lukewarm, before you cut it!

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A few notes on the recipe:  I’m not sure whether I’ll be using the apricot jam the next time I make this.  I thought the tartness would complement the rich filling, but having tasted it, I’m not sure that it does.  You could roast the almonds before grinding them.  If you prefer a more pronounced almond flavour, you could add almond essence to the frangipane.  I brushed on too much of the beaten egg so that it went over the edges of the pastry, which stopped it from rising correctly.

 

Galette des Rois

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 45mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
2 rounds of ready rolled puff pastry
2 tbsp apricot jam
100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
125g ground almonds
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp amaretto or brandy
1 beaten egg for glazing

Pre-heat the oven to 200C – fan 185C – gas mark 6

To make the frangipane filling, beat the softened butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.  Add the egg and egg yolk and beat until incorporated.  Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet.  I used the bottom of a cake pan to cut a neat round (the rolled sheets are always slightly oval).  Spread the apricot jam on the base, to within 2 cm of the edges, and top with the frangipane mixture.

Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zig-zags or diamonds – whatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  Leave to cool to lukewarm before cutting.