Christmas Markets and a Curious Tradition

Christmas looks like being another bizarre one this year as the Big C refuses to bite the dust. Despite this, some traditions have persisted. Local villages have been holding Christmas markets, and I took part in one on Sunday in Parisot as a commerçante, selling my books. In view of the current situation, this was held entirely outside.

Parisot on its hill
Colourful stalls in the school playground

Christmas market

Christmas markets are not a longstanding tradition in this part of France. In fact, I don’t recall any when we moved here in 1997. However, they have caught on and offer a chance to buy gifts, food and decorations as well as a showcase for local creators and producers.

Lunchtime lull

I shared a spot with a fellow local author beside the Mairie de Parisot. The morning was chilly, but the promised sunshine broke through, a welcome sight after the dismal wet of the past few weeks.

Book stall

I sold a few books, which is always gratifying, but the real pleasure came from meeting and chatting with people again whom I hadn’t seen for nearly two years. Since we were outside, people put aside their FOGO (Fear of Going Out) and wandered around the stalls, suitably masked, but clearly enjoying the occasion. They were out in force all day with the obligatory pause over lunchtime.  

A load of tripe?

The curious tradition was the advertised petit déjeuner aux tripoux (breakfast of stuffed tripe – yes, really) that kicked off the market at 8 am for the delectation of the stallholders. I have seen this advertised at other markets and at summer fêtes, but not until now have I paused to wonder about its origins.

I will eat most things, but tripe really doesn’t appeal. Tripe is cow’s (or sheep’s) stomach lining and is eaten throughout France. It’s a particular speciality in the upland areas of Aveyron, Cantal and Lozère. Since Parisot was part of Aveyron before our own département, Tarn-et-Garonne, was created in 1808, the Aveyronnais traditions have stuck. It’s reasonable to assume that customs were not restricted by departmental boundaries, anyway.    

Tripoux or tripous (there’s a debate about the plural ending) are sections of tripe stuffed with veal, ham, parsley and garlic and cooked for hours in a broth flavoured with onions, leeks, herbs, tomatoes and white wine. The village of Thiézac in Cantal, where we like to stay and walk, even holds an annual fête entitled “One, two, tripoux” celebrating the dish.

Saffron products, including tripous (with an s here) on the right. Saffron isn’t a traditional ingredient of tripous.

The dish is said to have originated during the 19th century in Aveyron when farmers’ wives prepared it and left it to simmer before going to mass on a Sunday morning. From there, it extended to agricultural events such as cattle markets, when farmers and cattle dealers sat down to a hearty (and meaty) breakfast before business began.

The tradition is kept alive in several Aveyron villages. Laissac, East of Rodez, still holds an important cattle market every Tuesday. Three restaurants near the market offer a “petit déjeuner à la fourchette”, with a starter of charcuterie followed by tripoux, tête de veau or steak.

We might find this a bizarre, if not off-putting, tradition. However, it’s worth reflecting that these people will have risen in the small hours, and for them 8 am is the equivalent of lunchtime for us.

If in the interests of research I do steel myself one day to try tripoux, you will be the first to know, dear readers.

In other news

Nothing stays the same forever, and two endings took place recently in our village.

First, Caylus Notre Village, an association that was active in getting the village lavoir restored, among other heritage projects, will close down at the end of this month. The members of the current committee wanted to stand down at the end of their terms of office. Unfortunately, no one came forward to take over. Other local heritage associations have been the beneficiaries of the remaining funds.

Caylus lavoir before
Caylus lavoir after restoration

This is a pity. Not only did the association act to protect and enhance the local petit patrimoine (historic heritage), but it also ran fun events to help fund and publicise the projects. These included an annual car rally (not a speed rally, I hasten to add) around the area, walks on a theme and auberges espagnoles (bring a dish meals).

The other ending was the departure of Marie-Ange and Benoît, who owned a farm and mill house in the upper reaches of the Bonnette Valley. Among other things, they produced goat’s cheese and milled flour in the traditional way.

Marie-Ange and Benoît’s goats

Marie-Ange sold the cheeses at the Saturday market, where she lived up to her name, always smiling, chatty and informative about the cheese. The couple branched out over the years to produce flavoured cheeses rolled in herbs and spices, which were always delicious.

Flour milling at le moulin de Vignasses

There is a happy ending, though. Another couple have taken over and plan to continue the production of cheese at the mill.

Everything I’ve described in this post is part of the warp and weft of village life down here. Nothing momentous or earth-shattering, but life going on as best it can while we try to cope with the continuing uncertainties.

Stay safe and well. 

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20 comments

  1. I grew up eating tripe and cooked it early in married life. But it is not easy to find and once children arrived, it became a distant memory. However, in 2018 we stayed in the Lozere near Severac le Chateau and bought some prepared tripoux and enjoyed it for dinner in our gite. My husband likes andouillette but I am not so keen. I will eat it in small quantities.
    One of the things we love about our trips to France – now also a distant memory sadly – is all the different foods we can have that we do not get here. Just to be able to go and buy a slice of terrine for example. We saw some in a deli here and it was hugely expensive. I will be making my terrine for Christmas next week. But it is not the same.
    Thank you for bringing France and your beautiful area to us. It reminds me why we love to spend our time in the small villages to get a taste of life there.
    I am so tired of Covid. After two years of it not being too bad here in Australia compared to the rest of the world, it is finally starting impact, with borders opening both internationally and between the states. We have been cushioned where we live and I do not know that I am ready for it.
    Have a lovely Christmas and stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can imagine that children would turn their noses up at tripe. I certainly would have done! And andouillette is another dish I haven’t yet tried. I can see that my readers are more adventurous than I am…

      We are spoiled for choice here. Having said that, not all produce is available all year round as it was in the UK. However, I think that’s a good thing, since you eat things that are in season and appreciate them so much more.

      Like you, I am fed up with with Covid, and we are not alone. I find the continual weighing of risk is tiring and saps one’s desire to do anything but stay at home. Shrinking horizons are not good mentally or spiritually.

      I hope you and yours will stay well and enjoy the Christmas period.

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  2. We have just returned from a shirt trip to Lyon for the fete des luminaires. A lyonaisse friend took us to a ‘bouchon’, a traditional Lyonais restaurant. The menu was small and traditional including TWO tripe dishes from a limited list, one version masquerading as the tablier de Boucher, butcher’s apron. Other traditional plats were andouilette and tete de veau. Happily quenelle featured and was delicious. Like you anything chewy and fatty leaves me abandoning the fight! Well done for braving the chilly weather.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your snippets of village living in France. I have not yet been to France, and your writing allows me these little visits that fuel my imagination. Be well, Vanessa!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do enjoy reading your posts! Standing up for Tripoux, it’s totally delicious! When we first arrived here, we surprised the locals by going to the Déjeuners:) It was not only a very good way to throw ourselves into the French language (or rather, the local patois), but it was such a very fun event with an aperitivo as from 8.00 and then to sit down at table with people we didn’t know with masses of redwine on the table. Everyone was so very kind and attentive to us. So, in this way I learned to appreciate Tripoux and also Tête de Veau, which is even better and very like the Italian winter meals of Bollito. Covid has stopped this merriment for us and all … I so hope this tradition will come back again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I always seem to find something to write about, although it hasn’t been easy under Covid conditions. It looks as if I shall have to try Tripoux in that case. I’m not squeamish. It’s simply that it looks chewy, and I loathe chewy things! But perhaps the chewiness is removed by cooking it for several hours. Generally speaking, they don’t do these Tripoux events very often around here. I’ve never tried tête de veau, either. Our friend Jean has always said he will make it for us, but he hasn’t got around to it yet. Let’s hope things improve next year so that the traditions will survive.

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        • French people are very attached to their rural past and its traditions, so hopefully they will survive, at least partially. It’s a moot point, though, as to whether people who were not brought up to them will keep them alive.

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