The 1st of May brings with it the French tradition of the giving and receiving of small bouquets of muguets, or lily of the valley. Although the flower has become associated with Labour Day, which is the official status of the May 1st public holiday in France and across much of the world, it has its roots in the Renaissance court of Charles IX, nearly 500 years ago.
Flowering as it does in the month of May and symbolising for many the regeneration of spring and the promise of a prosperous season ahead, it was given by Charles IX to those around him on the 1st May 1561 to bring them good luck.
When she worked as a copywriter, British novelist Fay Weldon created the slogan, “Go to work on an egg”. It was a brilliant punning directive that my mother took as a command. Every morning for breakfast before school, my sister and I were presented with a hard boiled one. As soon as I left home, I vowed never to eat another boiled egg again.
But this April is a special month for eggs. Easter is observed and the shops are stacked with chocolate versions. Hens are happily, as opposed to unhappily, back outside, producing what’s expected of them. Everywhere, eggs are being celebrated.
Despite all the worries, writing about wine in these troubling days of the coronavirus and under lockdown has its benefits. This is the time to review your own cellar, whether it be a handful of bottles or a whole underground cave lined wall-to-wall with liquid treasures. This is also an excellent time to plan for your enjoyment of wines in the future.
Lots of winemakers in the Bergerac are under real financial pressure since so many of their sales outlets have had to close and the lockdown means you cannot visit the vineyards to taste and buy on the spot. The best way to help is to contact your favourite winemaker by phone or email and ask if you can buy a bon d’achat. That means you pay him a hundred euros or whatever now by cheque or credit card, and in return you get a credit note for that amount of wine when you can next visit the vineyard.
The modern game of pétanque traces its creation to a moment in 1907 in La Ciotat, Provence when a local player, Jules Lenoir, did what can only be described as the opposite of a ‘William Webb-Ellis’ and picked up the boule and stood still.
The ancient Greeks played a game with flat coins and later flat stones, which involved throwing an object as far as possible. This game was refined by the Romans to include a target object. The Romans then brought the game to Provence, where the stones were eventually replaced with wooden balls and gave birth to a number of similar games, collectively referred to as boules. The most popular format of the game at the turn of the last century was Jeu Provençal, where the playing area was larger and players ran three steps before throwing their ball.
The guillotine is an iconic execution device that made its name (and indeed, took its name) during the French Revolution. In reality, beheading machines had already been around for centuries. The ‘Halifax Gibbet’ and the ‘Scottish Maiden’ are well-documented devices that date back as far as 1286. These machines were not as precise and efficient as the guillotine and whilst the Halifax Gibbet is documented as having performed a total of 53 executions, the guillotine regularly performed that many a day in Paris alone.
In pre-revolutionary France, executions were public, lengthy and often gruesome affairs. Common methods of execution included hanging or burning at the stake. You could also find yourself bound to four oxen that were then driven in four different directions, effectively tearing you into quarters. In the most extreme version of this type of execution, you would first be tortured in public in a practice known as being ‘hung, drawn and then quartered’. If you were rich, you could buy your way to a manual beheading – a death that was usually reserved for the upper classes.
Bugle Editor, Steve Martindale, looks at the origins of the humble chip. As a proud Belgian resident for 6 years, but now raising a family in France, his loyalties are torn on the topic of who exactly did invent the French Fry…
Sprinkled with salt, dunked in ketchup, soaked in vinegar, covered with gravy or dipped in mayonnaise, everyone has their own specific way of enjoying the humble, crisp strips of fried tuber known the world over as French fries!
The origin of the fried potato, or chip to the British, is a matter of dispute among experts; both France and Belgium – where they are the national dish – have laid claim to the invention of fries, but until now there has been no definitive answer.
The Legion of Honour (Légion d’honneur or Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon someone in France. The order’s motto is Honneur et Patrie (Honour and Fatherland), and its seat is the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris.
The order was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte as an institution that was open to all men, although initially only Frenchmen, who had either acted bravely on the battlefield or had served civil France in some exemplary way.
Spring is almost here and a glass of sparkling wine is an excellent way to welcome its coming. But which one? The best way to find out is to recruit the wisdom of friends and fellow-imbibers and there are few happier ways than to organize a blind tasting.
Most countries now make sparkling wine so we are no longer locked into the overpriced and over-hyped grip of champagne, a region which threatens to produce more champers than it can justify. In 1850, the Champagne region produced 20 million bottles a year. By the 1960s they were approaching ten times that output.
The Fête de la Truffe in Sarlat each January is not only a most enjoyable extravaganza of the black truffles of the Périgord but of food and wine in general. The lovely old town of Sarlat does it very well, offering truffles in every form along with wine tastings, lessons in appreciating wine with various foods and so on.
There are stalls that offer truffles with foie gras; truffles blended with the yolks of hard boiled egg; a clear oxtail soup with truffles; truffles blended into mashed potatoes; a truffled brioche; truffle risottos; truffle chocolate; truffle blancmange and even truffle sushi (albeit with foie gras rather than fish). But if you want fish, there is truffled brandade de morue.
This is going to be a memorable year for the wines of Bergerac. Despite the wet spring and the hot, dry summer, we had just enough rain at the end of the season to refresh the grapes and dilute the sugars and thus the alcohol.
I was able to get a real sense of how good it could be on the first day of November at Château de Tiregand when François-Xavier de St-Exupéry showed me round his full vats and the first fermentation was well under way. Then came the treat. He opened a tiny tap in one big vat and let an inch or so pour out into my glass. That was the Merlot, full of fruit, light and easy but already round in the mouth.