The pale blue of painted shutters, commonly seen throughout the south west of France, is reminiscent of the indigo dye that has been used for centuries to preserve wood, as well as to dye cloth. The plant and it’s extracted dye was called ‘pastel’, a derivative of ‘pâté’ simply because the harvested leaves were fermented to form a paste during the extraction process. Pastel was agricultured alongside grape vine and brought prosperity to many towns, so it was also known as “blue gold”. Folklore credited it with being a fly repellant and it’s use on doors and windows was welcomed for a second purpose.
Just over the brow, in a field below a farmhouse, is the most beautiful oak tree in the neighbourhood. Many passers by are compelled to stop and ask the resident if they can visit the oak.
Monsieur was born and grew up in this farmhouse. In time he inherited and has lived here with his wife all their married life, some sixty years. He tells us that when he was a small boy, his great grand aunt told him that the oak had stood there, the same size, for as long as she could remember.
The tree is becoming elderly and weak, but still graceful and beautifully balanced. His only injuries are the unfortunate lopping of his long low branches. His girth is 6.60 metres and taking into account the micro climate of the region, calculations make him about 600 years old.
did’st thou see
martyr’d on a burning stake
our own heroine of France
sweet sacred Joan of Arc?
(born: 1412 and died: 1431)
In past times it was essential for a new husband to plant a sapling oak on the first night of his marriage. When the tree matured and made acorns they would have been fed to the pigs. As always it was a custom of inviting wealth and health to the new family.
Six hundred patisseries in Bordelais, fabricating fifteen million each year, for gourmands across country and town.
The Iconic Canelé, a gateaux with perfumed soft centre, of rum and vanilla, encrusted in golden caramel.
Truth in its legend, of eighteenth century, the Sisters of The Annunciation Convent, blended waste flour from docked ships, with egg yolks from wine makers*, a blessed bread created, and fed to hungry poor.
“Les Petites Sœurs”(The Little Sisters) were chased from Bordeaux, during revolutionary years, and hidden their recipe remained, until a pastry chef of Bordeaux rediscovered, and recreated a confectionary delight, adding vanilla and rum from the Virgin Isles.
This little chapter brings us to 1985, the establishment of Confrérie (Brotherhood) de Canelé, Bordeaux, consecrating forever the Canelé speciality of Bordelais.
The original canelé.
The Little Sisters were fabricating candied walnuts and sticks which they sold for their income and aid work. With the opportunity of donated egg yolk and white flour from the docks, which they gathered themselves from spilled flour in ship holds, they invented a little cake with flour, egg yolk, sugar and milk, mixed into a dough that they wrapped around a stick, possibly a sugar cane stick, which they then plunged into hot pig fat to cook. They called these cakes ‘canalize’.
At that time winemakers used stiffened egg white to filter their wine in a process called ‘collage’. The egg white was sold to them by the Cartier de Chartron in Bordeaux who farmed hens especially for this purpose. The waste yolks were then donated to the nuns.
Canelés have been made in the form of a fluted (cannelé) bell shape since the early twentieth century, using bronze then copper molds. The flutted lines represent the canestick originally used by the nuns. They are sold in packets of eight or sixteen and eaten at breakfast, or as a dessert, with tea or champagne.
N.B. I have gathered ingredients from various sites across the internet and blended to concoct my story. Never the less most facts are true!
It is late in the day of 8th September 1568. A royal carriage is being escorted by cavalry along a stone paved road between La Reole and Sauveterre de Guyenne. Within is Jeanne D’Albret, a woman beheld as Queen Jeanne 111 of Navarre.
She looks tiredly out of the window at the passing vineyards, pastel fields and forests. The sun is waning, a breeze is stirring bringing a chill. Ahead she glimpses the rooftops of the fortified city, Castelmoron D’Albret. There she knows she will be welcomed for the night by friends. Her carriage rolls past a water mill, that straddles a narrow river, then up a steep incline toward the gate of the city. The portal is open and the carriage drives through.
The city stands on a crag, with cliff drops on two sides giving it advantage if under attack. Within the walls the city is extremely small, just a central covered market place, a circumference road, a side street or two and another that leads out of the city towards the crossroad at Gautier. Stone houses squat comfortably alongside the streets. Jeanne D’Albret’s carriage passes the market place, turns right and a few metres further is pulled into a courtyard. To Jeanne’s right and taking up the corner of the courtyard stands a simple lodge, three stories high with a plain facade of several windows and an arched main entrance door. On her left are stables and servants quarters. Off centre of the courtyard is a large well that must be thirty metres deep. Servants stand before the lodge, the door is open and stepping out is the Gendarme of Castelmoron D’Albret, recruited by Jeanne’s husband, Antoine de Bourbon, Lieutenant General of France. Jeanne steps down from her carriage. She is a woman of forty years, petite and frail, that belies the stubborn streak behind her blue eyes. She wears a travelling black wool gown and cape. Covering the decollàge of the bodice is white lace cuffing her neck and clasped with a single pearl brooch. Her once rich, auburn curly hair is faded and tightly concealed under a french hood. Her face is gaunt now, her lips thinner but her smile warm as she accepts the hand of her host and friend François de Pichard.
After a few words of greeting, François leads Jeanne through the entrance door into a vast reception room. There she is welcomed by François’ wife and children. To one side is a great stone chimney with logs burning that warm the room pleasantly. A chair is offered next to the fire which Jeanne takes gladly and accepts a drink. Later she is shown to the guest room adjacent to the family rooms on the second floor. It is a simply furnished room having a large bed with crisp white linen and a pale pastel blue eiderdown quilt. Against one wall stands a high armoire and alongside the window a dressing table and chair. Jeanne looks out and realises with surprise that there is a vertical drop of twenty metres to the ground below. She can see over the treetops to the low hills beyond. She turns and retires until called to supper.
The evening is spent convivially around the dining table with her hosts. Inevitably the conversation comes back time and time again to the subject of much passion, the current religious war between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Jeanne is an ardent follower of Calvinism, which she had declared the official religion of her kingdom of Navarre in 1560. Her support of The Protestant Reformed Church of France has made her an enemy of the Counter Reformation cause of the Catholic church.
Tonight Jeanne casts aside her anxieties and sleeps soundly. She rises early the next morning to slip away from the lodge and walk through the streets past the romanesque chapel to the temple of the protestants. There she sits quietly in contemplation and prayer before coming out into the morning sunshine and turning downward to stroll through the city, descending the many steps that take her to the water basin. She sees two women kneeling along the edge of the water rinsing soapy clothes, while chatting to each other. She calls a greeting to them, they scramble to their feet and curtsy. Jeanne smiles, retreats back up the steps and returns to her hosts.
In the afternoon Jeanne takes to her carriage to visit the parishes of nearby Caumont, Rimons and St. Martin le Puy, visiting Heugonot families, those faithful to the Reformed church. This land was granted her through the blood line of the house of Albret and she holds a great affection for the place and its people.
Jeanne spends a second evening before a simple meal with her friends then retires early, knowing that tomorrow she will be returning to her home in Nerac. As she makes her farewells in the morning she already knows that she will return and promises so. Jeanne has found a place of welcome and respite in this small community.
On 11th April 1569, Jeanne D’Albret returns to Castelmoron where she is greeted at the crossroad with a great bonfire, and again in 1571 to open a Temple nearby for the faithful of the reformed religion.
A year later, Jeanne dies of pnuemonia in Paris at 44 years of age. She leaves an autobiography, poesies and letters in testimony of her life and passions.
Her son becomes Henri 1V , King of France in 1572.
Rose glow of ambience, turned faces recognise, smiles and greetings made. Hands reach out, cheek to cheek kisses, “Bonjour” and “Ça va” spoken. “Un petit café noir, si’l vous plait”. “A small black coffee please”.
A chair is offered, news exchanged, dialogue and dispute, advice and acrimony. Journal passed in turn, maybe a game of Belotte (cards). Another round of coffees, morning ritual slowly ends. “A demain matin”, “See you tomorrow morning”.