All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Scrapple and EggsImage by cheflovesbeer via Flickr
I made scrapple yesterday, for the first time in years.
We had had for breakfast a new brand of oatmeal for porage which had say the least..not up to sample.

Chuck it. Give it to the chickens.

I was going to do so when I thought of scrapple, that stalwart of the Scottish farmhouse table.

I had defrosted pork for a stew, so it was no problem to cut off a portion and simmer it, then shred the meat, add a finely diced onion and add oatmeal to simmer down with the cooking liquor, meat, salt and pepper.
Once cooled and set, egg and breadcrumbed and fried, it is the perfect accompaniment to a duck egg fried in butter.
Or mashed potatoes..
Or salad if you're feeling arterially encumbered.

Scrapple making coincided with an e mail from Gerard telling me, among other snippets, that his nephew had recently been 'enthroned' at the annual ceremony of the local wine confrerie.
These groups abound in France, promoting  local products whether it be goat cheese

                                             ordinary cheese


                                           or dried beans....

Not to speak of sardines and andouillettes. And when they all get together they look like this...
Not the Knights of the Garter, as you might be led to suppose,but a photograph of one of the assemblies of different confreries which mark the year in rural France.
They all seemed to go for medieval civic dress, just as comites des fetes always go for medieval fairs with people dressed up.
It's a pity that some of them also go in for old medieval practices such as charging a toll to get into the town for the event, which, at Chinon at least, used to lead to people swimming the river from the camp site, their bathing costumes blending nattily with the robes and wimples.

Still, returning to the confreries.
Every year, 'personalities' are enthroned...with usually a few local or national celebrities to leaven the lump of local politicians who need to be enthroned if next year's subsidy for the activities of the confrerie is to be forthcoming.
Gerard's nephew has the tourism brief in the nearby town.......

I don't know what the ceremonies are like in the dried bean confreries...and don't even want to know what they're like for the andouillette brigade....but I know what happens in the wine sector.
Or what used to happen.

The date would be set. 
The officers of the confrerie would decide whom to enthrone. 
The menu for the feast to follow the enthronement would be set, with much thumbing through Rabelais for the appropriate terms in which to describe the food under the guidance of the usual caterer who had the terms backwards by heart.
Other confreries would be invited.

The day would dawn.
Robes and hats would have been cleaned up and brushed down.
The officers would lead a procession of confreries through the town or village, each preceded by its banner, to the site of the ceremonies.
Some would be lucky, having vaulted wine cellars at their disposal...others had to make do with the salle des fetes - the village hall.
Audience seated, the chief officer, his colleagues around him, would welcome those present and then introduce, one by one, the candidates.
It was explained to them that they had to take an oath of fidelity to the confrerie and follow the instructions exactly...otherwise.there would be a forfeit.

The oath, Rabelaisien in character. was made up of double entendres, the hoary chestnuts being greeted with roars of laughter by the audience, after which the candidates, usually red in the face by that time,  proceeded to the next stage of the enthronement.

It was explained to them that, having sworn an oath to defend the wine promoted by the confrerie, they must show that they fully appreciated its qualities.
They must toast the confrerie in a glass of its wine...and no heel taps. 
Down in one.

The candidates lined up and the glasses were brought forward, to more roars from the audience as the candidates saw what awaited them...

A glass like a small bucket on a stand which held a half litre of wine. Down in one. No heel taps.

Generally they would meet the challenge...rumour had it that some of them had been practising. 
To others it came naturally, especially among the ranks of the local politicians...but if there was a splutter, a pause...out came the forfeit.
Another small bucket on a stand with another half litre of wine...

And then it was on to the meal....thirteen courses the norm, each with its accompanying local wine and each announced in the language of Rabelais.
Toasts to the candidates.
Toasts to the visiting confreries.
Toasts returned to the host confrerie.
A toast to the caterer.

Reading the above you will see why these events always took place on a Saturday evening.
You needed the Sunday to replace your brain in your cranium.

Gerard says that times have changed.....and not for the better as far as he is concerned.
In these days of political correctness there's no more Rabelaisien 'do as you will'.....examples have to be set and conformed to.

The oath has been bowdlerised.
The toast is given in an ordinary tasting glass, only half full.
The dinner ends at eleven o'clock.

It seems a far cry from the likes of the old days of the Entonneurs Rabelaisiens de Chinon.....
More like the confrerie of the Solitary Scrappler of San Jose.

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  1. Imagine! Such a hallowed tradition being "politically corrected."
    A bit daft, really, since most involved usually drink from fishbowl-sized cups anyway!

    But thanks for the happy reminder of some hilarious fetes.

  2. I've never heard of scrapple. Definitely a new way of using porridge oats to me!

    Men do love these taking themselves seriously ceremonies don't they? And then taking the piss, drinking too much and eating too much and defending their right to do so. I wonder what brought on the change in tradition.

  3. dinahmow, you can't turn your back for a minute...these events used to be such fun, such a lot of ancient jokes, so much gossip.
    Life's much more flat under PC rules...

  4. Sarah, I think it was typical of the way France has become so much more conformist...coupled with gendarmes with breathalysers haunting every event to rake in the money...

  5. Scrapple a new one to me, too, but duly noted, as we like oats.

    Our bit of France seems very quit and sedate in comparison with the goings-on you describe, Fly. Is it because it's a cider rather than wine producing region, I wonder? Must investigate next summer whether there are confreries in our area.

  6. Perpetua, there have to be confreries in your area...there seems to be at least one for everything produced in France....and yes, being a wine producing area does seem to affect the tone of things somewhat...
    Remember too, that I've been out of general circulation for a few years, housebound by events and things have been degenerating around me in that time!

  7. I think my grandmother may have given me scrapple once or twice as a kid. I thought it was more like a hash though that is not what you describe. How is Mr. Fly?

  8. e, it could be a hash if eaten hot straight away, but I've always had it put into a mould and cut into slices for frying when cold.

    Mr. Fly is great!
    And thank you for thinking of him.

    O.K., we all know that he could get another attack and could die, nothing changes that....but in terms of general health the regime of a cocktail of folic acid and vitamins has done a lot for him.

    When we were still in France I could never have believed that he would want to...or be capable of..taking on another house project...but here he is!

    Many thanks to the Costa Rican health service.

  9. What an amazing tradition and what a pity it's been "pc'd".

    I've never heard of scrapple but I like the sound of it. As we can't get pork here, I wonder if other meat could be used?

  10. Ayak, they're fun, these things, aren't they?
    You could use beef for scrapple...mince might be best.

  11. I am convinced that ceremonies only exist to allow men to pretend / make believe / regress into schoolboys again... dressing up and pretending that what they are doing is more important that it actually is.

  12. Gosh fly,you've just reminded me that my mother used to use the breakfast porridge pan to thicken the soup.

    I haven't thought of that for about 40 years!

  13. Scrapple sounds nice - a marriage of rilletes and bubble and squeak, both of which I like. I shall be trying it as pork is a staple here, and new recipes are always welcome.

    Some men never get over the dressing-up phase, do they?

  14. Steve, so tell me when to order the hat and could start a Leamington Spa confrerie...but of what?'s amazing what comes back, isn't it?

    Pueblo girl, I shall make it again now that I've remembered about it.
    What always used to get me was the contrast between the robed celebrants and the candidates...a few in suits, but most of them in cardigans or zip up woollies.

  15. Talk about revamping customs for the worst!


  16. French Fancy, goodness only knows what is happening to the vin d'honneur at public events...fancy sitting through two hours of local politicians telling you how good they are...and then all you get is half a glass of wine!