Monday, 27 August 2012

Sightseeing in our own Town.

If you are a member of the Rendez-vous de Cormatin association which organises the theatre festival every year, you are allowed to visit Cormatin chateau in the summer for free. It is something we delight in, because the chateau is a real gem.

The original castle (1280) was demolished in 1606 to make way for this marvellous chateau. The du Blé family were rather low ranking nobility, but they had loads of money and they wanted to create a impressive chateau to make up for what they lacked in class. Getting in with the royal family secured the future of the chateau and their nobility for many years.

Eventually though, they ran into hard times and they demolished one wing of the chateau and sold it off as stone (hence only two of the original three wings remain) and when the roof of the central wing burned down, they could not afford to repair it with the original slate, so it has a rather humble local tiles on the roof.

After the family du Blé, the chateau has passed through a number of hands and was eventually abandoned in the 1920s and fell into rack and ruin. In the 1980s three individuals came forward to buy the chateau and they started the restoration. Again it was due to links on high (the owners were friends with president Mitterrand) that the castle has been able to flourish. A lot of government money has been pumped into the restoration and they have truly done a magnificent job.

One wing is open to the public, showing the rooms as they were created including furniture. This is the only chateau I have visited that has sufficient furniture to actually live in. One of the rooms, which was redone during the 1900s and appears to be used today, has photos in frames and books on the tables making it easy to see how the room is part of a home.

The internal staircase is well worth a special mention because it was built to impress. Architecturally it was very modern in its time, being a crossbreed between the circular staircases found in castles and the Italian staircase style found in early chateaux. It is very simple, but very imposing using two different types of stone. Interestingly the pinkish stone came from the quarry in Ameugny, just down the road, which now houses a climbing wall and a children’s’ play area.

After the one hour’s guided tour of the chateau, we wandered around the gardens and had a real feeling of being tourists in our own back yard. This won’t be the last time we will use our membership cards, that’s for sure.

La Tuilerie Website

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Local Delicacies

The French are very proud of their culinary heritage and want to share it with the world. Each area has its specialities and this area is no different. Everyone is very proud of what they make and they want to show off what makes their area different from any other. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we have set up a stall outside the “Office de Tourisme” in St Gengoux le National every Sunday morning in July and August to do just that.

We have goats’ cheese from La Truffiere in Lys (just down the road), we have jambon parsillée from the butcher in St Gengoux, Gougères from one baker and delicious ham/cheese/olive bread from the other baker in St Gengoux, Scottish salmon smoked in St Gengoux, spices and amazingly flavoured jams from Joncy, wine from a number of producers here in the area and fruit juices from Parfum de Terroir in Taizé, a cooperative of fruit growers.

We have been blessed with good weather for all our Sundays so far and the last one will be this weekend, so fingers crossed. The initiative has been very popular with the tourists and volunteers alike and it has given us all the chance to taste some very good food. Whilst I will be sad to stop, it will be a relief not to have to get up so early to cut up the ham and cheese !

I have managed to find a recipe for jambon persillée which is well worth a try.


2 ham hocks roughly 1 kg each
1 large onion, stuck with 3-4 cloves
3 cloves of garlic
fresh tarragon
fresh thyme
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1.5 litres dry white wine
large bunch fresh parsley, chopped very finely
1 packet gelatine
50ml white wine vinegar

Soak the ham in cold water over night.

The next day, change the water, then bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Discard the cooking water.

Run the ham under cold water, then put it back in the pan and add the onion, garlic, a few sprigs of tarragon & thyme, peppercorns and wine. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 2½ hours covered.

Take the ham out of the pan, but keep the cooking liquid. Remove the skin and excess fat from the ham, then using two forks, break the meat away from the bones. Gently crush the meat with the forks.

Cover the sides and bottom of a loaf tin with cling film, then pack a third of the meat in quite tightly. Use half the parsley to make a generous layer on the meat. Pack in another third of the meat and then the rest of the parsley. Finally pack in the last layer of meat.

Strain the cooking liquid through cheese cloth or an old tea towel at least twice, but in any case until the liquid is clear, as this will be used to make jelly. Reheat the liquid if it has gone cold.

Soak the gelatine in a little white wine, according to the instructions on the packet. Whisk the softened gelatine into the clarified cooking liquid, while it is still hot. Add the wine vinegar. Pour this liquid over the ham.

Chill in the fridge until set, then turn out on to a plate and serve in slices.

A meal fit for a Burgundian duke or duchess.

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 12 August 2012

White Lace and Satin

I love weddings. All that fuss and white fluffy dresses, young girls in what they consider to be their finery, middle aged ladies in their full glory and old ladies with hankies and tears. I am happy to wait outside any church for the bride to come out, just to see the the young couple even if they are complete strangers to me. So imagine my excitement when we came back from shopping the other day to find a wedding invitation in our letter box ! Our first French wedding.

Our neighbours (I use that term loosely, as our nearest neighbours are one kilometre away) had invited us to the church service and a “vin d’honneur” for their daughter's wedding. Only one hitch, the wedding was at 15.30 and we had gîte guests arriving. The Dutch are not a problem as they arrive late, but we had French guests too, so I crossed all my fingers and toes and waited. The French gîte guests turned up early 14.20 to be exact and after showing them around, I rushed around to get dressed and we were soon on our way into Cormatin. Not a parking place to be found, but we squeezed our car into a gap and were at the church on time.

The groom and his mother, then the bride’s mother and the groom’s father came down the aisle followed by the bride and her father and doesn’t she look just lovely ! A nice traditional wedding march was used, Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and the service was on a roll. I was surprised at how many people talked through a lot of the processional and it was a good job the priest had a microphone or we wouldn’t have heard the opening words at all.

Whether is a Catholic thing, a French thing or a modern thing I don’t know, but I do find it difficult to follow a French service. As an Anglican I am used to the Book of Common Prayer whereby you follow what’s going on, but here, you get handed a printed sheet that fills in the pertinent details (bible readings, special prayers and fortunately this time Our Father in French), but anything the priest is saying is either left up to him to make up as he goes along or it is deliberately left a mystery, so there was no:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God and in the presence of these witnesses to join this man and this woman …. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together – let them speak now or forever hold their peace.” And after the traditional pause “Who is here to give this woman to be married to this man?

Partly I suppose because the young couple were in fact already married, they had just come from the town hall which is the only place you can actually get married in France, but I really had the feeling that the priest actually had an enormous amount of freedom to say what he wanted, even the vows were significantly briefer than an Anglican wedding, but the biggest difference, I have noticed before (when hanging around outside churches to see the bride) the guests leave before the couple, which I find most peculiar. At the end of the service we all kind of sauntered out of the church and when we had all gone, the couple finally came out to very loud applause, throwing of lavender and blowing of bubbles. Sadly being too far back, the photos of this were not very effective which is a pity as it was a lovely sight. There was also an interesting twist to the traditional recessional music, they chose Bob Marley’s “One Love” followed by “Is This Love”, very nice walking music though.

Before we headed off into the French countryside to get to the “vin d’honneur” venue, we were given a lace bow to tie to our car. I have seen these for years in France as ex-wedding guests leave the lace on their car until they fall apart - the bows that is, not necessarily the cars. I am so excited that I am now the proud owner of a French wedding lace bow and it will stay attached to the drivers’ door for as long I can keep it there.

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 6 August 2012

A Day out in Paray-le-Monial

The week before last, we went to Paray-le-Monial for the day. I don’t know why we went, we just fancied a day out and even though our plans were completely different when we left home, we ended up there anyway. We both really like the town, it has a nice “feel” about it. The Basilica is a wonder and a small version of the now destroyed abbey church in Cluny. When you walk around outside, you can really imagine how impressive Cluny III must have been, as this is just a baby version of it.

I have mentioned before that Paray-le-Monial is a pilgrimage destination and hundreds of thousands of people visit it every year. I knew that Marguerite-Marie Alacoque had had “visions”, but really how significant she was or why so many people come to visit, I had no idea.

We went into the pilgrim gardens and visited what they cutely call a diorama, which was a slightly kitsch series of little tableaux depicting the life of the famous Marguerite-Marie. There was a computer silently lurking near the doorway and after pressing all the buttons we could find on it, we managed to get the diorama to start up. We were treated to the story of her life. The whole thing was painfully long and very boring, but it did enlighten us to who she actually was and I was rather surprised.

Not being a Catholic I am not too au-fait with saints, I know all Anglican churches have saints’ names but I always considered who they were and what they did, as being totally irrelevant. In France you cannot escape the massive influence saints have on the population, for many of whom their worship borders on idolatry. The Sacred Heart is another Catholic invention that I have never understood, other than the fact that you see a picture of Jesus with his heart hanging out in Catholic houses and I must admit I find the pictures a bit ghoulish.

Well it turns out that our Sainte Marguerite-Marie was in fact very big in popularising the Sacred Heart. She was the first person to make an image of it and to pass on messages from Jesus about sharing the heart with the world. I also discovered that the Sacred Heart is not actually a body part at all, it is an image or a symbol of God’s love for us.

All our previous visits to Paray-le-Monial have been in the autumn, winter or spring and so we have missed the crucial summer “pilgrim period”. When we actually saw just how many people there were, attending the international pilgrim convention, that was underway when we arrived, I started to realise just how “big” this thing is. And despite it being a little too much hocus-pocus for me to get my head around, there are thousands of visitors who obviously do not share that opinion. In any case, I can now understand why Pope John-Paul II visited Paray in 1986 and why it appears that Pope Benedict XVI is planning a pilgrimage himself in the near future.

La Tuilerie Website
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