Lunch is alive and well in France. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the Troisième Age (Third Age) club we belong to. It organises excursions around the region a few times a year, the highlight of which is always a slap-up lunch. Above shows a visit to Aubrac in the Aveyron, where an annual fête is held in May to celebrate the cows going up to their pastures for the summer. More about that another time. Before going any further, I should explain that I am the baby of this club by some way, but the exercise class I belong to has teamed up with it for insurance purposes. My husband (some years my senior) is therefore a member by virtue of being my conjoint! Enough self-justification.
Last week the club went on an excursion into the Aveyron for the annual ‘Stockfish’ lunch. Stockfish, or estofinado in the Occitan regional language, is dried salt cod (or haddock in some cases), reconstituted in water, flaked and mixed with mashed potato. Its origins date back a long way, when flat-bottomed barges plied the River Lot. They transported coal, wood and cheeses down to Bordeaux and fish and other goods back up. Since the journey upstream could take some time, it was no good bringing back fresh fish. Christian Signol, who has written many novels about the region, published a three-volume saga about a family of bateliers (barge boatmen), La Rivière Espérance. His trilogy is based on the River Dordogne, but the way of life was similar on the Lot. The coming of the railway spelled the end of this ancient line of work.
Coming back to our lunch: kicking off at 12:30, 50 of us started with an apéritif (kir) and worked our way through chicken soup, poule farcie (stuffed chicken), salad, stockfish, a vast tray of cheeses and île flottante with crème anglaise plus a large slice of massepain (a sort of light sponge cake), washed down with rosé (a bit like paint stripper) or rouge (rather better) and finished off with coffee. All this for €20 a head, followed by a good knees-up for the stout-hearted.
We left about 4:30 and went home by the less-frequented back routes, just in case the gendarmes were out.
COMING SOON – more in my series about French social customs
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