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The local cuisine

« Cinc sòus, una padenada d’uòus, un talhon de cambajon, tot aquò’s plan bon ».
A nursery rhyme to explain children some aspects of life: “Five sous, a frying pan full of eggs, a slice of ham, that is all just fine”.

In the Corbières and Minervois regions, the production of food follows the rhythm of the seasons and the harvests, the fruit pickings and the holidays. This is not different elsewhere, of course, for it is the way all traditional forms of cuisine operate, but every region knows best how to get the most out of its products.
Winter is the time when people used to slaughter their pig. This was an important family and village rite honouring the animal which had been carefully fed all year long and which now, in its turn, would become a solid part of the food supply for the coming year.
At noon or in the evening, the first dish which was savoured was lo freginat. Below, you can find the recipe of Enriqueta Guilhèm (La cosina a vista de nas, Vent terral editor). It goes without saying that this is only one of many possible recipes, for each village, each family, each cook added their own, personal touch (which made the dish, of course, better than the one made by the cook next door). Some, for instance, never put tomatoes in the freginat, others singe the meat parts, etc.

Lo freginat

Vos caldrà : un quilò e mièg de carn de pòrc e bocinets del còl amb de gras, una ceba bèla, quatre escaluènhas, tres grans d’alh, doas brancas de jolverd, un culhierat de farina, un quart de litre de vin blanc, sec e fòrt, un ramelet garnit, mièg-litre de coladís de tomata, sal e pebre, una jolvertada.
Coparetz la carn en pichons cairats dapr’aquí 3 centimètres. La metretz a fondre sens matièra grassa dins una padenassa. Estorriretz e estremaretz lo chuc. Tornaretz metre los bocins dins la padena amb un pauc d’òli e faretz rossir a fòc viu. Ajustaretz la ceba e las escaluènhas capoladas. Tornaretz faire rossir pus doçament. Salaretz e pebraretz. Ajustaretz una brava jolvertada, puèi un culhierat de farina que daissaretz daurar. Banharetz amb lo vin blanc, daissaretz un pauc a fòc viu, puèi ajustaretz lo coladís de tomata, lo ramelet garnit, lo chuc servat que serà estat desgraissat. Se n’i a pas tròp, ajustaretz un pauc d’aiga (la salsa deu èsser plan corta). Ajustar sal e pebre. Vojaretz dins una caçairòla curbida e daissaretz còire doas oras a fòc plan doç o al forn.
Tornaretz desgraissar e serviretz amb mongetas blancas o milhàs. Se pòt ajustar de taperas o cornissons en lescas amb lo coladís de tomatas.

Olives are ideal companions for your aperitifs and are a main ingredient of the tapenada/la tapenade. Its name stems from the word tapena, which means ‘caper’ in Occitan, an essential ingredient of this dish, named after the caper bud.

Tapenada (recèpta de Mirelha Braç, in Afogassets o l’art de beure pas tot sol).
Vos caldrà : una liura d’olivas verdas o negras (o mièja-liura de caduna), 300 gramas de tapenas (son elas que balhan lo nom al plat) ; 2 grans d’alh gròsses (o 4 pichons) ; 10 filets d’anchòias a la sal, dessaladas ; 150 gramas de ton al natural ; 4 culhierats de jalverd talhonat fin-fin ; 1/4 de litre d’òli d’oliva (o mens) ; un limon ; pebre del molin.

Dins un plat prigond, botar amassa totes los ingredients (descloscar las olivas, se que non, adieu barrejaire electric !) e los mesclar fins a que faga la pomada ; ajustar d’òli d’oliva se ba cal. Estirar aquela pomada sus de tòstas finas, que podètz gradalhar abans.
Ieu ajusti, abans de mesclar, qualques lescas de tomatas secas confidas a l’òli (sufís de trapar tomatas secas — o de las far secar al solelh salpicadas de sal — e de las botar a marinar dins d’òli d’oliva amb farigola, romanin e alh ; se consèrvan sens problèma a condicion que l’òli cobrigue totjorn las tomatas). Plan segur, se podètz pistar lo tot allòc de vos servir del mesclaire electric, auretz quicòm de plan mai onctuós ; çò qu’es bon se merita !
Servir dins de nauquets amb de lescas de pan tostat o estirada (mesclada a un pauc de brossa sus una meleta fina, rotlada plan sarrat, filmada e mesa al refregidor per almens doas oras.

Tapenade (recipe by Mirelha Braç, in Afogassets o l’art de beure pas tot sol).

Ingredients: 500 g green or black olives (or 250 g of each variety), 300 g capers; 2 to 4 cloves of garlic; 10 fillets of salted (but desalinated) anchovies; 150 g tuna in brine; 4 spoonfuls of chopped parsley; ¼ l olive oil (or less); a lemon; freshly ground pepper.

In a deep bowl, mix all the ingredients (please pit the olives beforehand, if not: bye bye mixer!) with an electric mixer until you obtain a smooth paste. Add some olive oil if necessary. Spread this paste on thin slices of bread you can rub with some garlic before.

Personally, before mixing all the ingredients, I add a few slices of preserved sun-dried tomatoes. You could, of course, purée all the ingredients with a pestle and mortar to obtain a creamier paste: you don’t get something for nothing! The tapenade can be served in small bowls, eaten with slices of toasted bread or you could mix it with some whey cheese (brossa) and serve it on a thin omelette which you’ll roll up tightly, wrap in some cling film and refrigerate for two hours.

This is a cuisine which was, and still is for that matter, based on hand-picked ingredients: wild leek, wild asparagus (for the Easter omelette), mushrooms, wild fruits (for preserves and jams). After the rain, people head out to gather los cagaròts/the snails which will end up in a cargolada/cooked or prepared in a sauce. Wild lettuces and flowers are also gathered in the fields and eaten: reponchon (rampion), arrucat (Mediterranean daisy), berdolaiga (garden purslane), cosconilha (hawkweed oxtongue), doceta (corn salad), laitisson (sow thistle), pimpinèla (burnet), rocairòl (blue lettuce), roqueta (white wall-rocket), etc.

Season’s vegetables are the basic ingredients of many a summer salad or stuffed vegetable recipe. Winter is the season of invigorating soups, but there’s so much more. The pancakes (Occ. pescajons) of the Chandeleur (Candlemas) feast are accompanied by oreillettes (Occ. aurelhetas) (a type of crispy flat fritters, TN), beignets, merveilles (Occ. curbelets) (a type of pancake, TN).

Enriqueta Guilhèm (La cosina a vista de nas, ed. Vent Terral) tells the tale :

Las aurelhetas
« Las meninas que tenián lo secret de la recèpta, apreparavan la pasta e la daissavan pausar, de còps que i a jol plumon. Quand èra a punt, la copavan en tròces de la talha de polidas nogas e tot lo mond començava d’estirar, d’en primièr amb una cantina o un bistortièr, puèi sus un toalhon pausat sul genolh, fins que l’aurelheta venguèsse fina a i véser a travèrs ! Dins aquel temps, dos travèrs de dets d’òli èran calfats, a fòc viu, dins una padena granda, ont anavan còire las aurelhetas, dels dos costats, reviradas amb una escrumadoira fins que siaguèssen dauradas plan coma cal.
Èran salpicadas de sucre e pausadas un momenton sus un toalhon per escolar l’òli, puèi apiladas menimosament dins la panièra e amagadas amb un autre cabeçal. Aquí podián demorar mai d’una setmana (dins una bóstia de fèrre encara mai). »

The oreillettes
“Our grandmothers, guardians of the secret of this recipe, used to prepare the dough and let it rest, sometimes even underneath the eiderdown. Once it was just right, they would divide it in parts the size of nice walnuts, then all would start stretching the dough, at first with a bottle or a rolling pin, then on a towel spread out on their knees, until the oreillette would be so fine one could see through it! Meanwhile, two fingers of oil would heat in a big saucepan over high heat, the oreillettes would be plunged into the oil and turned over with a skimmer until golden brown.
These oreillettes would be sprinkled with sugar and then rest a while on a towel so as to drain them from every drop of oil, then they were piled up carefully in a basket and covered with another cloth. They could be kept for a week (even more if stored in a metal box).”
It should be noted that the shelf life mentioned by the author is quasi fictitious seeing as the presence of gourmands, both young and old, meant that the oreillettes were usually granted only a very short life!

Last not but least, a very important element of village life: hunting. Especially hare and boar hunting are an integral part of the culture, both of the (mostly) male group activity as of the kitchen culture: spit-roasted hare (the Occitan name for hare, in French ‘le lièvre’, is the feminine la lèbre), wild boar stew with Corbières wine, etc.
And let us not forget fishing! Favourites are: trauca-paissièras (barb), cabeires (chub), carpas (carp), garlescas/sòfias (bleak), gronhaus (gudgeon), vairons/gorgans (common minnow), lampresas (lamprey), etc.