Saturday, 7 June 2014

Food and French Country Life!

Me on the steps of 'The Old Presbytery'

Hi everybody, welcome back to a taste of village life in the Charente region of south west France. I am really looking forward to sharing with you my passion for this beautiful corner of France.

This week I thought we would look at food. The subject seemed an obvious choice, as not long after moving here, I realised while talking to a French person, no matter what the subject, the conversation would always come back to food! Yes, it is not a myth; the French are passionate about food. 

It is indeed through food that our neighbours reached out the hand of friendship to us in so many ways. Francoise and Jacques, an elderly couple from the village, had the most wonderful potager (vegetable garden). I saw them there each morning when I opened the shutters and Jacques would still be there in the evening, when the church bell called him in for aperitifs at seven. During the growing season, they often had more than they needed and Francoise would appear at the door and present me with a basket full of the most delicious tasting tomatoes, broad beans or whatever happened to be in season. 

I remember a lovely afternoon shortly after I got to know her, when she took me down to her cellar. It was like stepping back in time. Francoise preserved food as they have done in the Charente for years, bottling it in Eau de Vie, (a clear colourless brandy made by fermentation and double distillation of grapes). Not only fruit, but she showed me glass jars of Foie Gras and something called Civet de Lapin, which turned out to be jugged rabbit. She went on to explain she had preserved the Civet about thirteen years earlier and described
how the flavour would improve with keeping. It was our great honour to be served this ancient stew a few weeks later for Sunday lunch with the family. Yes, I did feel a little nervous tucking into something that was celebrating its thirteenth birthday, but I have to agree with Francoise that the flavour was out of this world.

In the next village, a weekly street market was held throughout the year. This provided us with the opportunity to sample a wide range of different specialities from around the Poitou-Charente region. It is worth pointing out that some of the best sea food in France comes from the Atlantic coast of our department, which is famous for its oysters and muscles. One of the best day trips I can remember was to La Rochelle on the coast, where I enjoyed the perfect 'Moules Frites' (muscles and chips) in a little restaurant overlooking the harbour, complemented beautifully by the smell of the Atlantic ocean.

Finally, I couldn't finish this chapter on food without mentioning my favourite restaurant, 'Chateau des Tallyrand' in the small town of Chalais.  The setting for this restaurant is within the castle itself, approached by its original drawbridge. The magic continues inside with the reception one gets from the host, a Monsieur Jean-Louis Bruneau. Jean-Louis welcomes each guest personally and remembering names and faces, he manages to make each guest feel special for the evening. Behind the scenes, he presides over a professional kitchen with talented chefs, creating delicious food in the true French style, utilising local, fresh and seasonal produce. 

I hope you have enjoyed this look at French country food in my region and perhaps someday, if you read the book, it will help provide the perfect backdrop. In the meantime, I look forward to the next time we meet, when I will introduce you to more aspects of our life in France and living the dream!