Monday, 5 April 2010

54. Basque Mafia & Confréries

3rd April 2010. Eric - our friendly carpenter from the Basque Mafia - brought the new doors around for the garage the other day. Altogether there are 5 door panels that need painting. One is the new entrance door from the garden that he made from scratch and fitted on Friday. He's really made an excellent job of it - the old one was rotten & starting to sag on its hinges so much so that Madame could hardly open it even if she managed to unlock it. Now? The lock now snicks opens with a well-oiled click and the door fits snugly in the recessed doorway. However, the new garage doors will require a touch of Eric magique™ as they are concertina doors and he'll need to fit the track.

In case you were wondering, my part in all of this is to paint everything. I counted up this afternoon how many coats of paint I'll have to apply on the doors - it went like this - Entrance door: 6 coats (1 undercoat plus 2 top coats x 2 sides); 4 concertina doors: 24 coats (3 coats as before x 8 sides) - total 30 sides.. I went to Castorama the other day to buy some large tins of undercoat and top coat - which, by the way, has to be Basque Rouge. For a 2 litre tin, the prices ranged from 40-60€.. (that's $53-$80 for just over ½ gallon US). Ouch! While I'm in a frenzy of converting prices, here's one to ponder for any readers in the US.. Diesel here is $6.20 per US gallon..!
Meanwhile - the last few days have seen La Foire au Jambon in Bayonne - the annual event that's been taking place since 1426 (yes, 1426 - before Columbus discovered America!) that celebrates the famous Bayonne ham. I've been too busy painting to wander down there to see what's going on but we went last year and yes, it was as you'd expect - there was a large marquee set up by the covered market that was full of some very Basque faces tucking in to Jambon de Bayonne and other regional products in all of its guises.

5th April 2010. With yesterday being Easter Sunday, we decided to attend the Sunday morning service at the cathedral in Bayonne - and I wore a tie. As we neared it, we could hear the unmistakeable sounds of Basque bands. There was one drawn up in ranks outside the main entrance beating their drums in an ominously slow roll as another one approached. Luckily we arrived at the entrance just in time to squeeze in before a long, colourful procession of Confréries of all kinds.

The Confréries (think the word means a brotherhood) exist in support of various foods and wines (and probably many other things too). They preserve the traditions and customs associated with their selected product and they celebrate it. They are often seen in attendance at religious services and processions and they offer mutual help and charity. They dress in colourful medieval robes and hats and they carry banners that attest to the glory of their chosen food item. This is a most French tradition and it's definitely something that you just cannot imagine in England. The Brotherhood of the Black Pudding.. The Brotherhood of the Meat & Potato Pie.. The Brotherhood of the Pork Scratchings.. It just doesn't work does it?

We took our seats inside and shortly afterwards the entry of the Confréries started. Of the ones I can remember, there were the Confréries of the Gateau Basque, Confit de Canard, Madiran, Foie Gras, Jambon de Bayonne and Piment d'Espelette - but there were more.. It's moments like these that bring home the deep-rooted links between the produce of the local terroir and the people.

The morning service was accompanied by Errobi Kanta, a Basque choir and their voices filled the cathedral with their distinctive harmonies.
This was the timetable for the Confréries yesterday:

8h: Rassemblement et accueil des confréries à la Maison des associations in Bayonne.

9h15: Intronisation des nouveaux membres de la Confrérie du Jambon de Bayonne à la Maison des associations.

10h15: Défilé des confréries vers la cathédrale.

Circuit: quai Chaho, pont Pannecau, quai Roquebert, rue Port-de-Castets, rue Argenterie, cathédrale Sainte-Marie.

11h: Messe traditionnelle de Pâques en la cathédrale en présence des confréries et animée par la chorale Errobi Kanta.

12h30: Défilé des confréries de la cathédrale à la Maison des associations en passant par le carreau des Halles.

Circuit: rue du Pilori, rue du Port-de-Suzeye, carreau des Halles.

17h30: Bal des confréries à la Maison des associations et clôture de la Foire 2010. This last event would have been worth attending!

As I've said before, the French have a far more complex relationship with their food than is the case elsewhere. In the UK, food is what you eat when you're hungry. End of. Here - particularly here - it's about pride in one's region. In France, you are expected to be able to discuss food & wine (French food & wine)(what else!) in all of its regional varieties intelligently, knowledgeably and passionately. Food & wine are both subjects for discussion around the table - and while people are eating one meal, they'll often be waxing lyrical about one they've had or one they're going to have.

After lunch, we decided to take a drive up to the Pas de Roland.. which is one of the oldest routes across and over the Pyrenees and which lies at the foot of a mountain known as Artzamendi. We noticed quite a few fields had small numbers of contented looking donkeys in them. Why the Basques keep them I'm not sure but often you'll see local cars with a donkey sticker on the back. We also saw some wild shaggy coated mountain goats. There was a large male with two smaller females and the male had a spread of gnarled horns a couple of feet long that erupted up and out away from his head like the handlebars on a 'Chopper' bicycle..

The road out of Ixtassou (famous for its black cherries) is essentially single track but of course, local drivers treat this as a challenge and it wasn't long before we had our first meeting with someone coming the other way who didn't see the need to pull over when it was possible for him to. No, instead he simply advanced.. Where he thought I was going to go is a mystery. This was yet another "I'm gonna reach for the 'pump action' moment!" There's always one.

This is a duet I've always liked - it captures the dialogue that exists between couples beautifully. Who is there now who can put over lyrics like these two..? The late great Maurice Chevalier with Hermione Gingold (and yes, you're right, there is something of Madame and I in this!):
There's usually an outdoor competition to judge the best Omelette au jambon and all the usual suspects are there offering dégustations (tastings) of various products - patés, saucisses, cheeses, wines etc etc.


Andi said...

Are there different classes of the jambon de Bayonne? Your 4th photo down shows what looks like I've seen for Serrano ham, but my only experience with Bayonne ham has been that purchased at a grocery store which was of better quality than say Jambon de Paris, but not quite the same as serrano.

Pipérade said...

The best one (at least this is what they tell me down at the rowing club) is one called Oberena.. which I believe is Basque for "The Best"..
The reddish tinge on the ham in the photo is Piment d'Espelette.. ground up red chillies..

Pipérade said...

Had another thought on your jambon de Bayonne question.. In my experience, jambon de Bayonne is not cut thinly enough and it can be a little 'chewy'. If your grocer can't slice it almost paper thin for you, then see if you can find some San Daniele prosciutto instead - cut wafer thin. It will melt in your mouth.
Bon appetit!