Sunday, 15 May 2011

Pigeons, boar and snakes for dinner?

So the French really do eat everything and anything! In a way it is an admirable trait as the concept is environmentally friendly and non-wasteful, but it certainly requires us to toughen up and lose our squeamishness!

Ian  returned from the farmer with a bag bulging with freshly picked cherries. It is that time of year and everyone has ripe cherry trees and can't pick them, eat them or bottle them quickly enough. He also had a bag with what looked like quail in, which he presented to me as 'dinner'. It turned out not to be quail, but four pigeons, freshly caught, killed and plucked. Apparently they are a nuisance on the farm as they eat the chicken feed, so the young ones are promptly dispatched and rather than thrown in the bin, they are prepared for the pot! We were given four because in reality, the farmer doesn't like them much! So, I asked around and Googled how to cook pigeon and ended up removing the breasts, marinating them in ginger and garlic and stir-frying them. I have to say that although they were okay  I wouldn't rush to eat them again! I attempted to make a stock from the remains but after smelling it decided against using it. However, the cat enjoyed the cooked pigeon liver!

Yesterday we went to another hunt dinner, this time in our village. Hunting is a very traditional country activity around here and whether you approve or disapprove, think it is cruel or a poor sport it has gone on in France for centuries. Unlike in the UK it has never been seen as something that rich people do just for fun, but has been a legitimate way of feeding your family, and hence everything that is killed is eaten or used in some other way. At the annual dinner a feast is prepared of the season's kill, interspersed with a few token vegetables and lots of alcohol. Unlike many of the feasts and fairs, those attending are mostly French and of the older generation. And so, it happened that we found ourselves seated next to an elderly French couple that we had not met before. He was a man of few words but she was happy to talk to us and reminded me of the French equivalent of Nora Batty. She was large and bold and definitely the boss. The lady sitting next to her was around the same age, with no teeth but that didn't stop her polishing off a huge plate of tough old wild boar steaks, cutting them skilfully with her opinel knife! I felt quite sad that my French isn't fluent enough to really communicate with them as their stories would be interesting. These are the last generation to remember the second world war. Most would have been children but, like my mother, would vividly remember the war years, when this part of France was occupied by the Germans. There is a plaque on the war memorial to the local Maire, who was taken into the woods and shot at the age of 69, and the older villagers remember the tanks being driven up and down the road outside our house. During occupation and shortly after the war food would have been scarce and hunting probably saved many from starvation. We were telling Nora Batty about our encounters with snakes. She told us that the best way to deal with the large 'coulerves' is to slit their throats; take a knife and run it down the length of their underbellies, peel the skin off, slice them up, fry them in butter and eat them! I would not like to meet her on a dark night! Formidable!

1 comment:

Chairman Bill said...

Ah, but do they remember the Eurovision Song Contests?

No problem with sustainable hunting for the pot. It's the unethical hunting that I detest.