Fall is a time for festivals, and many of them have a harvest theme. In St Nazaire de Ladarez the festival is called Fete de la Noisette, celebrating the hazelnuts which are locally grown. A bit of history to start with: during the winter of 1709 temperatures dropped very low, and the olive trees froze. The farmers decided to diversify and planted hazel trees to provide a cash crop, and from 1722 organised the sale of the totality of their crop in one lot, in order to get the best price. In 1833 a total of 137 farmers founded a company for the sale of their hazelnuts.
Fast forward to today: hazelnuts are no longer a cash crop, but there are still a good number of trees, and the Fete de la Noisette is keeping traditions alive – not least the tradition of the Pastis. No, not the drink but a kind of cake, made of puff pastry and filled with hazelnuts. Pastis is an Occitan word, meaning “mixture”, and in this case a secret mixture is sandwiched between two sheets of puff pastry. Generally a Pastis was a cake prepared for special occasions and festivals, and different villages have their own recipes, all kept secret and usually passed from one generation to another. In Thezan les Beziers the Pastis is prepared with almonds, in Laurens with walnuts, and in Pailhes with almonds and apples, but we are in St Nazaire, so it’s with hazelnuts.
If you want to try your hand at it, my recommendation is to use a recipe along the lines of a Galette des Rois, substitute hazelnuts for almonds, and use less butter. The top of the Pastis was brushed with something tasting of orange, or perhaps the sugar used for the dusting was orange flavoured. In any case I’m sure you’ll have a delicious tasting cake!!
When I arrived at the fete, everyone was still in church for the blessing of the harvest and the Pastis of course. Even so, a good many people were about and some of the stalls were doing brisk trade.
There was a fair amount of hazelnut related food, such as the hazelnut pastries made by one of the local associations.
And there were chestnuts of course – freshly roasted, of course, and to be enjoyed with a glass of wine.
Once everyone had left church I took a quick look – from the outside it looked rather austere, and I am guessing that it was re-built during a prosperous period in the 19th century.
The cafe Aux Acacias just across the road from the church was humming; they had set up a bar outside and were selling drinks and plates of grilled sausages with fries. Guess what I had for lunch?? 🙂 A band was entertaining us with jazz music and the sun was shining – what could be better?
After lunch a walk around the village was called for and there were many interesting things to discover. La Ruche du Midi was a cooperative society based in Beziers, which once operated 250+ grocery stores in the area.
At some point St Nazaire must have been quite prosperous, judging by the beautiful ironwork on many facades.
The tower is the best preserved part of the medieval castle of the village.
I think I surprised kitty at first, but he/she was very patient with me!
Back at the fete the children were entertained with rides around the village.
Before heading back to the car I bought some apples from Mr Hortala, who has his orchards in Plaussenous (you try and pronounce that!!). They were delicious!
My car was parked just next door to the cemetery. Whenever I have the time I will always have a look around a cemetery. There’s always so much to discover, and the graveyard in St Nazaire was no exception. It is arranged on several levels because of the hilly terrain, and there were beautiful flowers and some interesting monuments.
And just before I left I discovered this little creature. It was sitting on a Chrysanthemum flower and had a kind of triumphant look on its face, or was that a look of relief? 😉