We eat well here in the Morvan, in Burgundy, central France. Cheeses to die for, top-quality meat and poultry, superb fruit, vegetables and salads, a bewildering choice of pâtés, terrines and other charcuterie, delectable tarts and cakes. All this and wine too!
Lefty propaganda prattles merrily of diversity and cultural enrichment. Well, our visitors leave us culturally enriched by their experience of local food (our cheese boards would be impossible to duplicate in rural England), while our French friends and neighbours embrace our Chinese and Indian dishes, along with toad-in-the-hole, cottage pie and indeed, roast pork with proper crackling.Some cuts of meat are different here, too, so I sometimes show our local butcher a diagram from a recipe book to indicate precisely what I have in mind.
France has a tradition of spicy North African and West Indian cuisine thanks to her overseas possessions past and present. It is, however, a long time since the French had a foothold in the subcontinent, and what is sold as curry powder here comes in wee glass spice jars and tastes of nothing much. So we ask our visitors to bring curry ingredients: turmeric and cumin, coriander, fenugreek and cardamom, with jars of Patak’s curry pastes and tandoori spice as a back-up. My deep-fried curry puffs are welcome at every local gathering. In Suffolk I made my own pastry, but the ready-made stuff here is a great time-saver.
1 pack ready-made pastry
1 beaten egg
Left-over curry (meat, chicken, vegetable, etc)
Heat your chip pan (sunflower or rapeseed oil is best).
Cut out 3 inch rounds of pastry. Brush each round with beaten egg.
Place a teaspoonful of curry in the centre and pinch closed. Seal with a little more egg if necessary.
Serve with chutney for dipping (I make my own using fruit from the garden).
French cookspeak is littered with faux amis, terms that are the same in both French and English but have different meanings. Beware of discussing processed food that contains preservatives – un préservatif is a condom. Here, un muffin is a cupcake. What they call bacon here is thin, lean ham.
Well, it takes all sorts, and after almost 9 years here in the Morvan we have ‘gone native’ in most respects. There are, however, aspects of the local cuisine that still fail to please. We don’t go for gizzards and guts and we don’t do frog legs.
A gizzard is defined as ‘the thick-walled part of a bird’s stomach, in which hard food is broken up by muscular action and contact with grit and small stones’. Here gizzards – les gésiers – are available ready-cooked in every supermarket. I admire the skill and ingenuity involved in transforming such unappetising material into a delicacy, but I can’t forget the chore of emptying the corn and grit out of a chicken gizzard before stewing it with the neck to make stock for gravy.
The French are famous for using even the most obscure corners of their pigs to make delicious charcuterie. The intestines are used to make andouillettes. An online description says:
True andouillette is rarely seen outside France and has a strong, distinctive odour related to its intestinal origins and components. Although sometimes repellant to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees.
The Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique awards certificates of excellence to the producers of seriously good andouillettes.
Well, my Scottish granny’s recipe for haggis called for a sheep’s stomach bag and pluck – liver, lungs and heart – and I had the chore of mincing the pluck with a lump of suet, so who am I to be squeamish? Nevertheless, I am glad to give andouillettes a miss.
And now to cuisses de grenouille. It is perhaps a tad hypocritical to object to frog legs on humanitarian grounds, when we close our eyes to intensive poultry rearing and all the other horrors that seem inevitable if the public demands cheap meat. Out of sight, out of mind; but consider
Frogs used for trade are captured by the bucket and slaughtered in the most insanitary and inhumane manner. Usually they have their legs cut off with a blade while still alive. The rest is tossed aside on a bloody twitching pile of limbless torsos to die slowly.
It is a little more reassuring to watch a video in which decapitation precedes amputation.
However, my chief objection is to the harm the frog leg industry does to Third World agriculture. I would have to be very hungry indeed to tackle cuisses de grenouille.
What about snails? Burgundy is famous for its snails. If you enjoy seafood, les escargots are just the landlubber cousins of winkles and whelks. Every supermarket sells tinned snails, and foil trays of snails with garlic butter, and every hardware store offers ovenproof dishes to take 6 or 12 snails, together with little tongs and prongs. .There is a snail farm in our village: no rolling acres required, and few set-up costs. People go snail-gathering in the way Brits go blackberrying. What astonishes me is that nobody seems to have marketed slugs. We have 6 inch orange slugs here. Can anyone oblige me with a recipe?
Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday cottage which she runs in aid of Combat Stress. The holiday cottage, in their garden at Maré le Bas in the Morvan, has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk which has links to Combat Stress. They are taking bookings for 2014. Every penny goes to Combat Stress www.combatstress.org.uk