Allyson Gofton in France: Cooking in Gascony
There’s a buzz in the air at Cafe du Centre, my local cafe in the petit village of Maubourguet. You see, this lively traditional cafe — home to beret-clad, cigarette-puffing Gascons and cheese cutter-topped, cuppa-tea-supping nouvelle pieds — has been given a brilliant write-up in a new food book being released in the US this month.
Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place by David McAninch, features editor at the Chicago magazine and ex-editor of America’s renowned Saveur magazine, was penned in a village that, as the crow flies, is no more than 20km from my humble village, Caixon.
This follows Rick Stein’s delicious television culinary sojourn down the Canal du Midi. Last week, I was guest speaker at Cafe Matin, a congenial local organisation of immigrants — mainly Brits— who have stepped off the live-to-work spinning wheel to brave a work-to-live life in Gascony, updating them on all the exciting facts, figures (and foods) that show how this area is both being discovered and growing.
The lunch menu put together by Melanie and myself featured only foods grown in and around our villages, so close many are almost in walking distance.
I asked for the dishes to be presented in a manner we would be more accustomed to seeing in New Zealand, though when it came to the cooking, some traditions I found were hard to change. Chicken, wrapped in local ventreche (bacon) and baked with grapes, had to be cooked with bouillon, not wine.
“We drink wine,” said Melanie, with a shrug and a pfft! “We don’t waste it in cooking!” I duly took note.
It’s not hard to fall in love with this ancient area, especially as Gascony begins to warm into summer. Among the ancient villages, fields of flowering iridescent yellow colza are woven between a fusion of greens, as wheat, maize, barley and broad beans spring up.
This weekend the farmers of the Val d’Adour (farms bordering the Ardour River which flows through many villages here) present De Ferme en Ferme. It’s an annual event where local farmers, all within a 15km radius, open their farms for the public to wander the paddocks, barns and fields.
There’s time to talk and taste— the farmers and their families will cook their produce, serving little portions gratis to everyone. Beyond delicious brebis cheese and Madiran wine, I’ll be visiting farms to sample meaty tarbais beans simmered in a wine bouillon (not sure what Melanie will think of this, wine and bouillon!), escargot drenched in new season’s garlic and wild herbs of the Bigorre valley.
There will be hand-churned butters on breads crafted with wheat, rye and barley and milled in nearby villages, spirulina and chestnut sorbets from the local ice cream maker and saucissons (dried sausages) prepared from donkey, deer and goat.
If time permits, I’ll get to sample armagnac at Fources, a Medieval bastide town built in a circle and one of France’s most beautiful villages, and take in the best flower show in the Gascony region. Gascony, it seems, is truly the next Tuscany.
To achieve a similar result to the chicken photographed here, use smaller grapes over larger varieties. A handful of chopped fresh parsley, chervil or chives would make a nice addition to the stuffing. Get the recipe