Ooops! Apologies for the lateness of my blog but the decorating proved more complicated than planned! Most of the plaster fell off, J. admitted he really wasn’t up to plasterboarding the ceiling (he kept muttering something about an old war wound) so rethink on that front (which means paying someone in November after the B&B season calms down); we had to pack away and clean up twice because of impromptu bookings (our motto is never turn away a client!); I had a hissy fit and panic attack at my attempts at plastering, only to be told by a professional that it’s an old house (1750) and the rustic look preferable to smooth plaster (I love him!). So, finally, I’ve replastered, sealed, slapped on two coats of paint (sent from UK as French paint coverage is renowned as being rather like trying to hide behind cling film), chipped out a feature alcove, wobbled at the top of a ladder (hate heights!) in a very high room and now on the last leg of re-staining all the doors and skirting boards. Next week we look at flooring… but that’s not the real subject of my blog post this time, I just wanted to sound incredible!
The weather has been warm and sunny here for the last week to the extent we even had the bedroom window open one morning to listen to the sounds of early spring. In the distance we heard the bark of a stag calling out for any available young doe who might be passing which reminded me the Hunters Lunch was imminent (if you are vegetarian read no further!). This is an annual event and cannot be missed in this household after our first experience back in 2007, one month after we had arrived. The invitation landed in the letter box and we naturally felt obliged to go the salle des fetes (village hall) to join our neighbours for this much vaunted event. We had no idea what to expect and were rather nervous as our French was lousy and we knew we would be the topic of conversation amongst the locals but we wanted to integrate and felt this was a way of getting started.
On arrival you have the usual aperitif of pernod or kir. Not keen on kir we both opted for the pernod and I don’t think it was very diluted. The time arrived to sit down for the meal – 45 minutes later than suggested but the French are not good at timekeeping so the jollity levels had risen noticeably and J. and I both felt very convivial. Indeed, by this stage our French was almost fluent, with many hand gestures to aid us!
The first course was traditional cabbage soup with large amounts of bread floating around a rather thin broth, sounds disgusting but tastes delicious. A huge tureen was placed on the table to share between every group of six people (there were 120 at the lunch so the noise levels by this stage were quite high). We greedily helped ourselves to seconds, not knowing what was ahead. Large carafes of local wine (Cahors, which is known as black wine because it is very dark red and usually 14%!) were continually topped up, as were our glasses. What we thought was the main course arrived which was salmon in a hollandaise sauce -again vast portions were offered, so vast portions were consumed!
By this stage J and I were feeling very content. Loads of wine, good food, great company and all our new neighbours and villagers seemed very keen to get to know us. After the fish came a palate cleansing sorbet doused in eau de vie, a local homemade liqueur, and you are advised not to light a cigarette after drinking it for fear of self-combustion. I thought this was the pud and was grateful there wouldn’t be much more as I had rather pigged out on the salmon.
After that was cleared away, enormous applause started as trays and trays of roast venison appeared with bowls of small potatoes roasted with honey, garlic and rosemary. It was too delicious not to have some (and more!) and by this stage I was very glad I was wearing jeans with lycra in them. Various hunters recounted stories of where their kill was shot (some seemingly on our land, which explained why occasionally they appear at the back door with a large bag containing the hind quarters of a venison while putting fingers to lips, indicating we mustn’t tell anyone as they had “accidentally shot over quota”!). At this stage I must tell you we are actually amused by French hunters. It is a great local tradition and seemingly takes part with much ceremony and bravado. They all dress up in combat jackets and trousers, bandoliers of bullets across their chests, large machetes strapped to their legs, all looking macho and terrifying. Unfortunately over the last few years they seem to have got into the habit of killing each other rather a lot so, by law, they must now wear bright dayglo waistcoats over their jackets so they don’t mistake each other for a deer or wild boar.
Anyway, back to the lunch. I have to say the venison was out of this world and all the hunters wives were giving me their best recipes for cooking it, which I knew in my slightly inebriated state, I wouldn’t remember in a month of Sundays. By this time it was nearly four o’clock and I was glad the meal was near the end, or so I thought. Venison trays cleared, more applause started and I thought by now we must be acknowledging the chef, but no, dear reader, my stomach groaned when I saw more trays appearing, this time with mounds of sanglier daub (wild boar stewed with red wine and carrots).
J and I (both pretty sozzled by now) muttered as to how we could escape without it appearing rude but before we could begin to stand up a huge plate of daub was placed in front of us with plenty of slaps on the back and bonhomie. I soldiered on, this time absolutely refusing any offers of second helpings, hid my wine glass so it couldn’t be refilled and hoped that my body would forgive me. I love my food but even I was feeling I had overdone it this time. Also, by now I think I was recounting famous French literature in my now totally fluent French, much to the confused looks of my table companions.
By five o’clock the sanglier was cleared and cheese appeared. The French are, of course, famous for their cheese – piles of little Rocamadour goats cheese, large rounds of St. Nectaire, enormous squares of Cantal (a little like cheddar), extremely smelly Bleu de Causse (local cheese, very similar to Roquefort) were all placed in huge mounds, with baskets of baguettes on the tables around us. I nibbled my way through tiny amounts of each, only to appear polite, you understand (I lie, part of my weight problem is because of the wonderful cheese here). The final course appeared at approximately six o’clock, which were large individual honey glazed apple tarts with creme fraiche. By this stage I had lost all feeling in most regions of my body, John was singing all the hunters songs with them, and somehow knew the words, and the room appeared to be very hazy. Coffee appeared and then more bottles of eau de vie… Luckily our house is downhill from the salle des fetes. I don’t remember getting home. But after that day we stopped being known as “les estrangers”, (the strangers, which anybody who comes from further than the next village is referred to) or “les anglais” (The English, somewhat suspicious people), but were referred to as John and Lou. We had arrived and felt very welcome.