The Saturday market is quite crowded as vendors from all around the country join in to sell some of their wares. With my friend Yvonne back in town for a weekend, we were off to the markets where the produce is at its best. Naturally, it would be unthinkable not to stop for a coffee on the way back.
We knew from the moment we arrived that the merchants in town were determined to bring the customers in. It is not often you are greeted with a gift wrapped parking pay-point!
If ice skating interests you, give it a go! Skates are available for rent and at night there is live music.
Even if you are one of those who completed their shopping early, it can be fun to see what is available and stop for a coffee or one of the many treats on offer.
The market town of Castelnaudary is located in the southwest of France, and the capital of the territory of Lauragais. It is situated 50km southeast from Toulouse about midway from Toulouse to the Mediterranean. While today you can ride along the motorway, the route has been popular since Roman times. The region also benefits from rail and canal links. Furthermore, Castelnaudary enjoys the position of being the main port for the Canal du Midi which experienced a period of prosperity during the 17th century.
Below are some of the events that helped to shape Castelnaudary:
* 1103 – The first official documentation of a settlement at this location.
* 1211 – The Albigensian Crusade and Simone de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester is besieged by the Count of Toulouse and Count of Foix.
* 1235 – The Papal inquisition arrives and attempts to persecute the Cathars are thwarted by the solidarity of the towns people.
* 31 October 1355 – The town is being sacked by the Black Prince during the 100 Years War. While traveling east from Bordeaux, the Prince ravaged towns of Gascony, the Lauragais and as far as Narbonne. The people were murdered and the towns ransacked.
* 1477 – Louis XI declared the town as the capital of the comté (count) of Lauragais.
* 1632 – Henri II de Montmorency (French nobleman, military commander and governor of the Langudoc) is captured just outside town and executed at Toulouse by orders of Cardinal Richelieu.
* 1681 – The Canal du Midi is Commissioned.
* 1754 – Construction of L’Ile de la Cybèle (Island of Cybele).
* 1814 – Marshal Soult withdraws here after the Battle of Toulouse and prior to the final surrender at Naurouze.
It was during the 100 Years War that cassoulet was created or became popular. The festival celebrating this famous dish is the reason for this particular visit. A casserole/stew made of of a special white bean and meats (usually duck confit and pork). One of numerous stories surrounding the origin is that villagers all contributed to a great meal made up of all that was left in the town to sustain them during the war. As a result, they were fortified with so much energy to fight that the English retreated back to the Northern French coast!
As with all events here in France, there is music. There are strolling bands to Large bands with grand staging and lights…
There is more to this story and much more to Castelnaudary. However, this post is about the festival and Cassoulet.
While there is something to do year around, July and August is packed with events. Even though there are hoards of tourists, village life continues much unchanged. An example is the meal I attended with friends in the lovely village of Embres – Castlemaure.
The event begins with the apéritif. There are two tables with bottles of water, juices, wine (of course) and even boxed wine. Being Embres – Castelmaure we were treated to the wine produced there. I would confidently argue that it is some of the finest in the region and beyond. There are also trays of bite-sized treats such as olives, pizza or quiche. The baskets on these tables hold mounds of another local favorite, Courgette Beignets. A small donut/fritter with bits of grated courgette (zucchini) that is fried golden brown. Unfortunately, they are so popular and despite the vast amounts, they were gone before I could get a photo. However, if you would like to try them for yourself, here is the recipe I use when called upon to help with food for an event.
1 pound (about 2 medium) courgettes
1 teaspoon salt
* 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
10 sprigs parsley finely chopped
* 1 medium-large clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup flour
Grate courgettes into a medium bowl then press out as much of the moisture as possible. The easiest way I have found is to put the grated courgettes into a clean dish-towel and wring it until you get no more liquid. Transfer back into the bowl and add salt, lemon zest, parsley, garlic, pepper and eggs. Mix well to combine. Slowly add flour stirring so no lumps form.
Heat 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil in a large saute pan over medium – high heat until oil sizzles when you drop in a small amount of courgette mix onto the pan and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and turn beignets cook until golden. Bon appétit!
Note: Ingredients two marked with the * are ones I added. However, the recipes given me for the first batch I was asked to make were all different and there has been slight variations with the ones I have sampled. Each cook likes to add their own special touch. You can delete the garlic and/or lemon zest as you choose.
I choose to include the beignet recipe as Paella is a traditional Spanish dish. Yet being so close to Spain, it is very popular here in the south of France. While the Paella was simmering away everyone circulated greeting friends and making new ones. Although it was a village event and I live nearby, I was made most welcome as were the others who do not live in the village. There was a small band made up of musicians from surrounding villages. They played until the meal began.
Each table had several pitchers of wine (Rosé and Rouge), Bottles of water, Baguettes and more was supplied as needed. When the Paella was ready we took our seats and the feasting began. After the main course plates of Brie were passed around quickly followed by wonderfully ripe nectarines and peaches. Eventually we moved on to ice creams. Like all french meals, coffee was served after dessert. A good time was had by all.
When you visit France, remember even the smallest villages have much to offer. Embres – Castelmaure . The last census in 2008 recorded the population at 150 people. I highly recommend a visit and a visit to the area demands that you check out their wines. You will not be disappointed.
Poulet (chicken), foie gras (liver spread/pate made from specially fattened ducks or geese) and confit de canard (duck or goose legs preserved in their own fat).
There are many types of French Cuisine to enjoy in France, much will depend on your budget, where you are, and what you like.
Haute Cuisine: the most elaborate style of cooking, a the grand meal of many courses served by top restaurants.
Bourgeoise cuisine: the hearty cuisine prepared in the home for the
family. The dishes are made from fresh local ingredients that grow in
Nouvelle cuisine: a drift from heavy sauces, butter and cream to a lighter fair. There is more attention to the arrangement of food on the plate with artistic flair.
Different regions of France are famous for unique and special foods that come from that area only, and for regional styles of cooking. These recipes, like many great recipes, are often passed down from one generation on family stoves and on menus of inns and restaurants around the region.
While Paris has regional specialities on offer from every region, you will pay for the privilege of sampling without the benefit of the whole experience that awaits those who explore the many regions.
The French enjoy seeking good regional cooking in the provinces where the ducks are fattened, the cheese where it is made, or the fish caught. The varieties on offer are endless. At a recent fete, my purchases included some preserves made from locally grown saffron and red peppers and a savory biscuit made with thyme and lemon zest in the shape of a star. YUMMY!
While a number of foods may be unfamiliar to foreigners, it gives another dimension to exploring and discovering new delights that you will not find at home such as Sanglière (wild boar). In northern France butter is used in cooking while here in the south it is olive oil. Charcuterie (ham, pates, sausages, terrines ) will vary from region to region. Those regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean or the English Channel offer an amazing bounty of the freshest of seafood and prepared to make the most of each mouthful with local ingredients at their peek. The wealth of delicacies to be discovered include; mustards (Dijon), bouillabaisse, fish stew, (Marseille), cassoulet,thick stew of lamb is attributed to several areas in the southwest. The list of possibilities is endless. When you plan your visit to France, take your taste-buds into account and create some gastronomic memories.
Naturally, no event in France would be complete without wine. Each region has its own to be proud of and which will be on offer at any food festival by the glass, bottle or even the box. Bon appétit!
In Limoux the fête is known as Carnaval but the actual name is Fécos and is named for its feature dances.A parade of the organizing committee dressed in humerous masks, baggy white shirts and trousers, red scarves and clogs, with a whip in hand. These Meuniers receive The King of the Carnaval. His Majesty, stuffed dummy, will preside over the festivities in the coming weeks.
Every weekend during the festival there will be parades in the central square with the participants stopping to irritate and amuse the clientele at each café. On Mardi Gras-Shrove Tuesday and each weekend a band will make several excursions throughout the main square. Every band consists of musicians and a group of complementary pierrots. The musicians follow the pierrots around the square playing as they promenade in and around the ancient arcades and weaving themselves in and about the spectators.
The Pierrots costume is a predecessor of the modern day clown garment. Each band has its own distinguishing colors. Pierrots wear a curious straight-faced white mask. The rest of the uniform includes a carabéna (decorated wand) and a large cloth bag filled with confetti.
The Pierrots keep time to the music with their rhythmic yet delicate dance. the long wands seem to float above their heads. this dance is called the Fécos. In the past the dancers tossed about sweets. Now confetti is liberally tossed during Fécos to the tune of seven tons. When Rita, Jerry and I went a few years ago we were finding confetti in our purses and car for several days after. Frequently in the middle of taking photos, we were rained on with confetti. Warning, many photos resulted from this event!
originated in France during the Middle Ages. It proved to be one of the most popular of France’s exports. Mardi Gras continues to be celebrated in France as well as in locations around the world. Despite the fact that the celebrations are used as an excuse for strident conduct, the festivities claim Catholic roots and the church has attempted censure throughout in past centuries.
There is nowhere in the world where food plays a more important part of any celebration than France and Mardi Gras is no exception. Some of the traditional fare:
Gumbo: made from pork sausage, shrimp, chicken, rice, okra, celery and other vegetables and of course spices. Typical spices are Cajun and a mixture is made from onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, paprika and salt.
Muffuletta Sandwiches: salami, smoked ham garnished with an olive relish are piled onto a roll for simple fare.
A celebratory French meal would not be complete without dessert and Mardi Gras is no time to make an exception: what better way to crown your repast than with, King Cake? part of the traditional meal, the cake, is a twisted bread which has been topped with icing in the time-honored colors of purple, green and gold. traditionally a small baby doll is baked inside.
Milk Punch is the traditional alcoholic beverage associated with Mardi Gras. It is prepared with bourbon, half-and-half and enhanced with sugar, vanilla and nutmeg.
The longest running and earliest fête in the French calendar beings in January and runs into March.
While most village celebrations are held in summer this annual fête takes place for two months beginning in January. It is the longest fête in the French calendar. The festivities are held each weekend.
If it had been anyone but my dear friend Rita, I might have been surprised when she chose February to make her visit from California. But when she said that she wanted to come to France in February.and added that she wanted to experience Limoux’s Mardi Gras festivities it all made sense. Her husband Jerry was a good sport and Limoux turned out to be one of his favorites towns in France.
The earliest written documentation appears to be a decree made in the year of 1604 but it is most likely that it had been evolving since before medieval times. There was an integration with the Christian Lent carnival including the tradition of pierrot.
“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.” – Julia Child
The Galette des Rois
Celebrating the Feast of Kings.
At this time of year you will see Galette du Roi (or La Galette des Rois) in all the boulangeries in France. The Galette, which celebrates the biblical three kings, appears in the New Year around Epiphany, or the Feast of the Kings. This is normally celebrated in France on the first Sunday (after the first Saturday) in January.
The typical Galette du Roi of the Indre is made of flaky pastry like a pie and filled with frangipane, an almond cream paste. There are regional variations, and some enterprising bakeries offer a different filling for every day in January. However, if you purchase it in a supermarket or discount store, it will be a factory made pastry with the basic filling. Inside the cake is a very small ceramic figurine called a fève ( a bean, which is what they put in galettes long ago). The person who finds the fève is declared the king (le roi) or the queen (la reine) and gets to wear the paper crown that comes with the galette.
If there is no French pâtisserie where you are, I have included a recipe. Don’t be intimidated by its origin as you can use pre-made puff pastry/phyllo dough and have great results. The photo was taken at the pâtisserie of some elves known as Valerie & Nadine. Their boulangerie is located in Carcassonne near La Cité and these dear friends are happy to welcome you when you are there.
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 stick butter
1/4 cup of sugar
2 sheets puff pastry
Grind almonds in food processor
Beat sugar and butter
add two (2) of the eggs and almonds.
You now have Frangipane!
Butter a flat baking sheet
unfold thawed puff pastries and using a pie pan as a template cut into two circles
Lay one circle on buttered sheet then spread Frangipane in the center
and if you like, place a dried fava bean or ceramic figure in the Frangipane
Using the last egg, beat and paint the edges of the dough
Place the other dough circle on top and seal the edges very tight!
Brush top with egg.
Bake ~ 25-30 min at 375
The galette is quite rich and it will serve 12 people.
Recently, I introduced you to Marchè Noël in a small village of approximately 700 people.
In a town like Narbonne or Carcassonne with a population of over 50,000, the Christmas Market is on a grander scale and the items available more varied. There are often rides for the young children and even a giant slide or a temporary ice rink assembled in the town square.
Both towns are tourist destination in southwestern France in the Languedoc-Roussillon
Narbonne was the first Roman colony outside of Italy, and was located at the crossroads of the via Domitia, the Roman road linking Italy to Spain. In a future post, we can explore more about the famous via Domitia. While I have not noticed traditional carol groups, the giant puppets wander around the streets of town.
Carcassonne draws thousands of tourists each year. Carcassonne’s medieval fortress is a city unto itself. The town of Carcassonne was built up around La Cité and the River Aude. The temporary skating rink is set up in Place Carnot which is the center of Carcassonne and filled with shops and wonderful cafes. While it looks very cold, the ice on the fountain is added for effect. Most likely, you would be comfortable sitting outside with a cafe or hot chocolate. Between the center of town and La Gare (train station) a giant slide is erected and cabins are set up to sell crafts, food, chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and other seasonal and regional delights. Both towns have much to offer and will be visited again in future posts.
While I admit to going overboard with the pictures today, choosing was challenging. If you enjoy these photos, Saint Malo is definitely a place for you to visit. The pictures pale in comparison to its beauty and there is truly something there for everyone. It is the home to the largest marina in France and an hour’s drive from Mont St. Michel. The sunrises, sunsets and endless miles of beaches and so much more make it a site for romance. Its astonishing splendor steeped in centuries of history will certainly inspire and stir you. If you tire of soaking up the local culture, shopping and café’s the glorious beaches are only steps away.
The National Fort is a brief stroll during low tide and gives an excellent view of the harbor. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time for wandering down cobbled streets, time for the best crepes, for just losing yourself (or for some, finding yourself) in this enchanting fortress city.
St-Malo was built in the Middle Ages a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance. It was built using the same granite stone as Mont St-Michel. Modern St-Malo traces its source back to a monastic colony established by saints in the sixth century. It later became infamous due to the ferocious pirates/mariners who had established themselves there. In 1590, St-Malo declared itself an independent republic that lasted for four years. English ships attempting to pass the Channel were forced to pay tribute.
St-Malo receives more visitors than any other place in Brittany. The credit for its popularity is often given to the magnificent old citadel. While I can see that there is some truth to that, it offers so much more. Brittany itself is an enigma in France. Its treasures await you regardless of it being your first time or a yearly tradition. No matter what you choose to do with your time here, the memories will linger on.
The region of Brittany is distinct from other regions of France because of its Celtic heritage. Approximately thirty percent of its population speak Breton a Celtic language similar to Cornish and Welsh. The language, customs, and costumes are preserved mainly in the more isolated west. However, you can find the beautiful and intricate handmade laces in numerous shops around Brtittany. Rennes is Brittany’s route focus, traditional capital, and cultural center. Its university is a center of Celtic studies.
Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Christmas Markets (Marché de Noël) of France vary from city to town and to each village. The smaller the venue, the more you are inclined to find the real treasures made by local artisans.
Sunday was our village Marché and it is for one day only. Larger villages and towns may extend it and if you are in a city they usually begin their festivities in late November through Christmas.
I found some lovely creations from homemade wooden toys and household wares to paté, fromage, saucisses, and fois gras, to knitted sweaters and caps made from mohair supplied by the artist’s own animals. Of course, there are also tables of fresh pastries, and hot and cold foods. A café or glass of wine will wash down the delicacies. There are many of your neighbors on hand and a chance to meet someone new. There is usually a tombola (drawings for prizes) to benefit the group who sponsors the event. Our local marché was to benefit Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture (youth club and arts center). Of course the local football (soccer) team had a booth to raise funds.
The origin of the markets goes back to Alsace and Germany in the 14th century under the name of Marché de Saint Nicolas. Throughout centuries the fête has had numerous changes in its name often linked with the politics of the time. As recent as the late 20th century, cities across Europe founded their own Christmas market with cabins or country cottages in which vendors sell their merchandise. While some of the items are marketing products you could easily purchase in shops, there is still a large number of local artisans with unique and creative items you may not find elsewhere. Numerous cities include attractions such as a transitory skating rink, train or other children’s ride. Whatever you are looking for you just may discover something more.
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