Menu from the Midi explores French gastronomy from the farmer’s field to the dining room table, including the legendary role played by the English in the invention of cassoulet, sometime around 1355, just down the road in Castelnaudary. It is therefore equally fitting that Castelnaudary's tourist office now stocks both books too.
Following my pigeonnier conference organised by the Société des Amis du Vieux Saint-Antonin on 24 September 2021, I received a charming message from the society’s secretary.
Dear Colin and Donna,
Thank you so much for such an interesting talk, everyone I spoke said they really learnt something. I found it fascinating.
I’m going to suggest to the group that for next year's bulletin we do something quite in depth on pigeonniers, maybe the ones very local to here, and work into the article that this was inspired by your excellent talk.
We were delighted with the numbers, which we reckon were nearly 70.
When it was opened in 1682, the Canal du Midi was called the Eighth Wonder of the World, a 240km waterway connecting Toulouse to the Mediterranean. From its highest point at Naurouze, the canal descends 189 metres to the sea via 45 locks. Perhaps the most impressive of these hydraulic lifts is the flight just outside Béziers.
I am currently hard at work in my bedroom checking the typeset proofs for my forthcoming book.
Due to be published on 28 August, ‘Menu from the Midi’ explores French gastronomy from the farmer’s field to the dining room table.
Concentrating on the south of France, the book is structured as a menu carefully compiled to give the reader a balanced diet of gastronomy, history, legend and local colour. Uniquely, it adds into this mix a celebration of the dedicated and passionate people who produce some of the finest raw ingredients and foodstuffs you are ever likely to taste.
I’m still waiting to see the cover design!
With the help of my fairy godmother, Sylvie Razous, I have learned how to turn pumpkins into a delicious and traditional dessert from the department of the Tarn.
It’s a long process – Sylvie starts work on a Wednesday in order to have her mesturets ready for the Saturday morning market in Revel. This, and the fact that peeling and chopping tough-skinned squash is hard work, explains why today only one other professional in the department makes the mesturet.
But in the home, every ancient family seems to have its own recipe and continues to use it because the mesturet retains a special place in the hearts of the people of the Midi. There is plenty of scope for adaptation to suit one’s personal taste, even though there are only three main ingredients – squash, flour and sugar. Perhaps this is why so many home cooks proudly claim that their mesturet recipe – or the recipe they have inherited from their mother, grandmother, wife or even uncle – is the best in the world.
All the other pigeonniers of this style that I have looked inside were fitted with wicker baskets or clay pots for the birds to nest in. In contrast, the four walls of M. Albouy’s pigeonnier are lined with 300 pigeonholes fashioned from local clay and a bamboo framework. These provided a safe and comfortable environment where amorous pairs of adult pigeons could raise their squabs, or baby pigeons. Safety in this context was short-lived, like the baby pigeons. Before the juveniles reached 28 days and might fly away, the big bad owner came along with a basket and stole them for his supper.
Writing in his seminal work on agricultural science published in 1600, Olivier de Serres tells us: ‘He whose home is provided with a pigeon tower…will never see his household short of food because [it] will provide him with fresh meat as surely as a well-stocked larder.’
During my first visit to Roquefort a few weeks earlier, an abundance of shuttered windows had made me think everyone was still in bed. Then I noticed how few of the houses had letterboxes, and I began to delve deeper into its story. If the mayor has his way, Roquefort will become a more agreeable place to visit, but it is perhaps more fascinating and certainly more bizarre to wander its empty streets today. It certainly merits a chapter in my forthcoming book.