A firm favourite

In our area, autumn is chestnut time, and there are several festivals to celebrate the chestnut harvest.  I’ve written about the festivals before.  You can find the posts here, here, and here.  This year, I went to the Chestnut Festivals in both Saint-Pons and Olargues – over the years they have become firm favourites of mine!

The weekend the festival took place in Saint-Pons, the area was experiencing a cold-snap:  temperatures plummeted to 6 Celsius, well below the seasonal average!!  The stall-holders were well wrapped up against the cold!  Below is a picture of a very warmly dressed Lex Page from Love la Foret!  Lex and her husband Andy specialise in dried mushrooms – I bought some delicious cep (porcini) mushroom powder from them a little while back, and I needed a top-up!

The festival in Saint-Pons always has a large number of exhibitors and I found many familiar stands!

I adore roasted chestnuts, so I made a beeline to the square where the chestnuts were being roasted over open fires!

The hot chestnuts were delicious AND they warmed my hands!!

Bands of roving musicians provided entertainment, and there was lots to see and taste.  Despite the cold weather this was a very enjoyable festival!

The Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau (the festival of chestnuts and new wine) took place in Olargues a week later.  The weather couldn’t have been more different – it was beautiful!  The sun was out and there was a marked difference in temperature – absolutely no need for thermal underwear!!

I had of course come for the roasted chestnuts!!  The set-up in Olargues is much smaller than it is in Saint-Pons, but the chestnuts were every bit as delicious!

On a recent visit to L’Auberge de l’Ecole in Saint-Jean de Minervois, I tasted a tiramisu which had been made with creme de marron, a sweet chestnut puree made from broken pieces of marrons glacés.  This was a very delicious dessert and I have attempted to recreate the recipe for you below.  When you next visit L’Auberge de l’Ecole, you’ll be able to taste Brigitte’s authentic version!

Tiramisu with creme de marron

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A delicious tiramisu, with a special flavour of autumn. You can make this in individual serving dishes, or use one large dish.

Ingredients

  • 250g mascarpone (1 tub)
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g creme de marron (chestnut puree)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 12 sponge fingers (also called ladyfingers or boudoir biscuits)
  • 200ml strong coffee
  • 2 Tbsp Rum

You will also need six to eight individual serving dishes (I used glass preserving jars), or a single serving dish, large enough to hold 6 sponge fingers in a single layer.

ingredients for chestnut tiramisu

Ingredients for chestnut tiramisu

Directions


1. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
2. In a medium-sized bowl beat the egg yolks with 1 Tbsp sugar until white and thick. Add the mascarpone and the creme de marron and mix until lump-free.
3. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining 1 Tbsp sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
4. Fold one third of the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone mixture to ‘loosen’ it.  Then add the remaining beaten egg whites and fold in until the mixture is smooth.
5. Pour the cold coffee into a shallow bowl and add the rum.
6. To assemble the tiramisu, put some of the mascarpone mixture in the bottom of your dish (one third of the mixture if using one large dish).  Dip each sponge finger briefly into the coffee and arrange in a neat layer in your dish.  Top with another third of the mascarpone mixture and repeat with the sponge fingers.  Finish with the last third of the mascarpone mixture and level with a spatula. If you are using individual serving dishes, break/cut the sponge fingers to make them fit.
7. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for four to six hours.

Before serving you may wish to dust the tiramisu with cocoa powder but try it without the cocoa powder first. I find that it can overpower the delicate flavour of the chestnut puree.

Note:  In her version, Brigitte uses chestnut brandy, which is pretty impossible to find.  I found rum to be reasonable substitute, but if you can find chestnut liqueur it would be even better.  Brigitte also omits the coffee and uses only alcohol to soak the biscuits in.  

 

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Lazy Sunday afternoon

Looking for a little diversion, one Sunday afternoon, I found myself at the Marche des Potiers, the potters’ market, in Saint Pons. The drive across the mountains was, as always, beautiful, the weather sunny and warm, and on arrival in Saint Pons I found a perfect parking spot – what could be better!!?? 🙂

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The market had been set up on the Place du Forail, in the shade of the plane trees.  The first stand which I came to had enormous jars and vases for sale.

The tallest of these pots came up to my collarbone!!  I wondered what the marks on the inside of the pots were from – you can see them well on the light green pot.  A nearby sign gave me a clue:

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They were in fact formed over a core made from rope!!  Here’s another example where you can see the marks of the rope particularly well!  And the wooden disks are part of the framework, around which the rope is coiled to make up the core.  Unfortunately I was too late for the demonstration of the entire technique.  Next time I’ll know to get there earlier!

On my way around the market I saw many beautiful objects – and I was sorely tempted at almost every stand!!

There was a great cross-section of techniques and styles, from simple earthenware to porcelain, from works fired in an electric kiln to works fired in a wood-fired kiln, from regular tableware to very artistic pieces.

After a leisurely walk around the market I made up my mind to buy something from two stalls – any more would have been subversive of my cupboard space :)!

Fanette Castelbou’s stand caught my eye because of the shapes and colours of her pottery.

There was something about the surface texture which made me want to pick up all the pieces and feel them.  They were beautiful to touch and to hold, and surprisingly light in weight.  I bought two of the larger mugs, the ones right in the centre, with the vertical stripes.  Fanette’s atelier is called Aux Grès de Fanette and on her website you can find pictures of many of her pots.

The other potter, who I had hoped would be there, is called Fernando Gonzalez Urrejola, of Poterie de la Flayssière.  I met Fernando some years ago, at the Saint Pons pottery market, and at that time I bought some beautiful bowls for my early morning tea from him.  Unfortunately, one of the bowls got broken, so I was very pleased to be able to replace it!!  Like Fanette, Fernando works mainly with stoneware clay, but his shapes and glazes are totally different.  You’ll get a good idea of his work by visiting his website, or better still, his workshop!

So there you have it – my pottery fix for this summer :)!!

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There are pottery markets all over France, almost throughout the year.  You can find out more about dates and locations on the website of the National Collective of Ceramists.

To round off the day, I met up for drinks and tapas with a group of friends in the village of Assignan.  In early July a wine and tapas bar, La Petite Table de Castigno had opened in this sleepy village, and I was pleased to be able to try it out!

The centre of Assignan has had a complete makeover this past spring, with the roads all being paved with limestone blocks.  Where there had only been cars parked before, there are now trees, tables and sun umbrellas.

The food was imaginative and tasty, the wine nicely chilled, and the atmosphere was fun!

Everything at the wine bar has been carefully designed and styled – all the colours are based on shades of wine!  Even the toilets are amazing!

The wine bar is open every day except Wednesday from 11:30 to 15:00 and from 18:00 to 21:30.  It’s best to book as space is limited:  +33 763 265 517.

Oh, and when you go, tell them you saw them mentioned on my blog! 🙂

Three little piggies…..

What a difference a week makes!  As I am writing this (Sunday March 3) the weather couldn’t be more different to what I experienced last Sunday in St Pons!  An arctic wind, blasting the falling snow horizontally at the Fete du Cochon, chilling me to the bone.  I’d decided to go come what may, so that I could write about it, and I’m very glad “you” made me go :-)!

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The fete has been going for some 20 years, and this year the organisers had wisely commandeered the covered bouledrome for the market and the show.   It had been billed as a pig fest and truffle market, and it lived up to both.  I’ll spare you the truffles, you’ve already read about them no doubt.  Suffice it to say that there were a good number of producers, selling some wonderful truffles, and that I bought another one, this time to have with scrambled eggs, and very delicious they were too!

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As I got to the bouledrome a sheep dog show was underway.  It really was amazing to watch the dogs herd the ducks and geese, especially the ducks.

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I met up with some friends from St Chinian and we decided that we would see if there were any tickets for the big communal meal in the Salle des Fetes next door.  Usually it is completely sold out in advance, but that day was our lucky day and we got four seats.  The food here is always cooked the old-fashioned way, in big cauldrons set over a blazing fire. That alone is worth the visit!

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Just across from where the cook-house was set up, a whole row of shops had been created with printed canvas – great job.  And there were volunteers showing how to make sausages and bougnettes!  They really deserved a medal for braving the cold!

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We traded the cold for the relative warmth of the Salle des Fetes and found our alloted seats – there were probably about 300 other patrons in the hall with us – and sat down to be entertained for the aperitif by a local band.

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The tables had all been set beautifully, and judging by the plate we figured there would be some kind of soup for starters.

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And we were right!!  After a brief introduction and welcome by one of the organisers, an army of young helpers arrived with cauldrons and ladles to serve the first course – a beautiful vegetable soup.

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Then came a brief interlude, while the bougnettes were prepared.  The bougnettes are a speciality of the bougnette triangle, which is formed by the towns of Mazamet, Lacaune and at the southern tip by St Pons of course.  It is a kind of large dumpling, made from stale bread, pork, eggs and seasonings.  The pork is meat from the neck and head, which is simmered in stock and when tender the meat is picked off any bones.  The bread is cut into cubes, moistened with some of the seasoned broth, the egg and meat added, and well seasoned.  Balls are formed and wrapped in caul fat, and they are then slowly simmered in fat.  A bougnette is cut into slices and either eaten cold or the slices fried or grilled and eaten hot.  Either way it’s delicious – you can buy them at Boucherie Peyras in St Chinian. In honour of the bougnette the brotherhood formed to promote this delicacy, had prepared a song-and dance routine.  I took a video of it for your enjoyment:

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The bougnettes were delicious and again served by a small army of helpers.  By this time some of the other helpers had come by to replenish the bottles of wine and water on the table, and so we waited for our main course.  I’d seen the hams being grilled outside, so knew what was coming.  When our compere told us there would be a little wait he offered to sing a few songs for us!  And he did sing them very well.  Before we knew it the next course was being served.  The cauldrons came out once more, this time filled with a wonderful bean stew.  Almost like cassoulet but without the meat, and I’m sure that the flavour owed some to a liberal use of garlic.

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The roast pork came along a little later, and because I was so busy with the beans I didn’t get a picture of it – sorry!  But then you’ll probably know what roast pork looks like, and you wouldn’t be able to smell the flavour – unfortunately!  There was just a hint of smokiness and the meat was juicy and tender.  There were seconds of both beans and pork for those who felt the need 🙂

And so on to dessert, which was rather simple and just as well really!  Oreillettes were really rather apt, being that it means ear and that the colour is not unlike a pig’s ear.  But they are made of pastry, deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar.  When they are well made, as they were in this case, they are light, crunchy and not at all greasy.  Ours were flavoured with orange flower water – yummy!!

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Once we’d had our coffee we headed back to the bouledrome, where the afternoon’s entertainment was about to begin.  But first there was the piglet race:  four cute looking piglets, each with a different colored ribbon round its belly were put into a ring made of straw bales.  Somehow, the piglets were then motivated to go around the course – I couldn’t quite figure out how – and then the order of the colours was announced.  I’d missed the bit where I could have bought a ticket or a betting slip, but a lot of people were there checking theirs to see if they had won!

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The piglet race over, the next spectacle was set up right away.  It was a re-enactment of the day the pig was killed in the olden days, by the Compagnie de la Source, a local amateur dramatics society.  The backdrop had been installed already and the scene was set very quickly, and so the play took its course.  From the farmer having breakfast with his helpers, to the arrival of the postman, then the farmer finding that the pig has gone missing, to the neighbour telling him that it’s eating his crops.  Then the priest comes along, having heard that someone has died, and so it went.  They did a pretty convincing job of wrestling with the pig, which was of course already dead. I heard from our friends that they carried on for some time, cutting it all up, but by then I had left – the cold was getting to me.

If you’re of a squeamish disposition don’t scroll all the way down!

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Please don’t scroll past this picture if you are squeamish.

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