This post is for Jonathan who has been dedicated in his mostly fruitless checking for new posts (I am ashamed) and Kate, whose (shameless) flattery stimulated my conscience and kicked my arse into gear.
There is only one hunting club in the village now, as the perversely named Amis de la Nature have ceased and desisted. Every year, the surviving club hosts a fund-raising meal - we don't know what they are raising funds for - maybe we don't want to know - but we do know that they raise quite a lot. This year, the weather was clement, neither too hot nor too cold and there were over 50 of us, half of whom were not French. If I remember rightly, the cost of this princely repast was €15.00. The company was good, the meal incredibly long and the chairs uncomfortable as usual; they are chairs from the old school with pointy metal legs that sink into the ground unevenly and at odd times, so that you list or fall over backwards, even without the aid of alcohol. The daughter and I have an advantage; our house is only a few hundred yards away, so we can go and rest horizontally at intervals, and use our own loo.
Naturally, we start with apéritif - whisky, pernod, pineau or rosé with something nasty in it. I should own up right now: the patch of grass under my chair got damper as the afternoon wore on and not as a result of my incontinence. The rosé apéritif was revolting. Only my opinion. I think they put grapefruit syrup in it. Why? I should have stuck to pineau. Still, there was no lack of wine later on.
First up - potage, without which no meal is complete. Tomato and vermicelli made by the kind and warm Michèle, wife of a hunt club officer and meat cremator. At this point in the meal it is crucial not to eat too much - leave off the bread (from Gérald the Baker) and resist taking seconds of soup - really! Traditionally, in the south of France, men save the broth of their last bowlful. pour some red wine into the soup, slosh it round and then drink the concoction straight from the bowl, often straining it through their moustaches. This is called chabrol and is pretty tasty.
Then a very nice surprise - the "fish" course turned out to be this nicely arranged platter of poached salmon, mayonnaise, tomato, salad and a very good piece of rabbit terrine. Yum. This served with a rosé which quickly ended up anointing the grass under the table. It’s not that I’m a wine snob, but I do have limits. The rosé clearly tipped the balance. At this point we are all feeling very cheerful and not at all over stuffed. We view the world and our companions with equanimity. Then came my downfall - the civet. I love civet - it can be made with venison, hare, rabbit - I really don't care. It is dark and unctuous and savourful. It is tender and tasty. It falls in poetic shreds on its pieces of garlic-rubbed bread. And I have seconds because it is so good and even though I know better - actually, I am hoist with my own knowing better, because I think that the grilled meat to come may not be very good. As it turns out I am wrong. Oh woe! I know that it doesn't look much - but trust me...
|Lovely civet, oh civet my love...|
Civet may or may not be made by cooking the meat in the blood of the animal - what it really is, is a dark, slow-cooked stew, with red wine, herbs and spices. Originally it was a meat dish cooked with chives or green onions - some sort of oniony thing, anyway. This civet, also made by Michèle, who later told me that she thought there was too much food (quelle idée!), was delicious and I wanted to take it home to look after it and make sure that it wasn't ill-treated but no one would let me. Then there was a pause for consideration while they brought around tombola tickets for sale and consternation as we watched the huntsmen begin to light the fire for the next course. At this point it was after 2pm and I went to lie down for a bit and wonder idly why the fire hadn’t been lit before.
Then I drank some more wine, sauntered around and took some more photos and messed about with the new video app I had loaded that very morning.
|Hot, hot hot...|
|Man, meat & fire|
Part of the reason they weren’t bothered about the fire was that it was incredibly fierce and hot and they put the grill right on top of it, so it took about 5 seconds for the meat to cook.
The meat didn’t look at all appetizing in its marinade of olive oil, herbs, spices, wine and etc., in which it had been sitting for 2 whole days. But it was delicious and tender. The piece I had was perfectly cooked – yes, just one piece. Even the blacksmith only had thirds this year – last year he had sevenths but he says the pieces were much smaller then. Served with beans, of course, cooked with pig rind, by Michèle.
|Paulus tempts Roger with more grilled meat|
|Kate affects to ignore grilled meat|
|Beans, bread, wine - happiness|
At some point in the proceedings the prizes were drawn for the tombola but it’s all a bit of a protein induced coma from this point on. The General did a bilingual monologue, teasing and cajoling winners and losers. And there was much hilarity. I didn’t eat the cheese or the enormous portion of apple tart but I did have coffee and Armagnac, the latter served with a very heavy hand and I know that I was not alone in irrigating the ground under the table with horizontal lubricant. It was after 4pm before we heaved our way down the road and lay supine in calorified attitudes. And we did not eat an evening meal...I'm still not sorry I ate so much civet but I am sorry that there isn't any in my freezer.