Saturday morning dawned damp and misty. This was fine by the 100 or so walkers who gathered bright and early in Lavelanet for the annual Marche du Tisserand. The walk, organised by the town’s Musée du Textile, celebrates the ancient ‘chemin pavé’ used by the cloth workers who lived in Montségur and walked this path to bring their produce down to Lavelanet to be sold. Saturday’s walk, the 27th, was for fun, and nobody would have had more than a light rucksack to carry. The full three hour trek (6 hours both ways of course), steep and stony at times, when laden with goods to sell one way and perhaps provisions for the household the other must have been a slightly different matter.
This time too, there were goodies at the top for the walkers as they finished their ascent. The mayor of Montségur was there with an aperitif for everyone, and we at Découverte de Terres Lointaines were there too, with a mediaeval picnic we’d been preparing .
The cooking took several days, but the research, with the help of the Museum at Montségur, took weeks of researching, testing, tasting, rejecting, trying again… Still, eating’s always fun
Though curious, the walkers were suspicious too. What would a mediaeval picnic be like? Heavy, probably, with mountains of flatulence-inducing beans. Tasteless too maybe.
What a surprise then. Here’s the menu:
Spinach tart with lardons: we could have used nettles or any of a whole range of herbs, but settled on the more widely available vegetable option.
Poichichade: this herby chick pea paté, which we served on hunks of organic wholemeal bread, is a close cousin of hummus, but without the tahini. It went down well.
Broussade: star of the show! A very tasty mix of smoked fish and curd cheeses. This really is one for anybody’s dinner table. Simple too. Recipe below.
Pets de nonne: basically deep fried choux pastry, puffy and light. Here’s the story. Back in the Middle Ages, the bishop of Tours was visiting the Abbey of Marmoutiers to bless a relic. Whilst preparing a meal in his honour, a novice let fly an unfortunate noise of the kind familiar to those of us who’ve eaten far too many beans. To cover her embarrassment, she busied herself dropping the choux paste she’d been making into some handy cooking oil so that it sizzled loudly. The pets de nonne were born.
Fromentée sucrée: cracked wheat cooked with milk and honey. If you like rice pudding, you’d like this too
Gâteau de fruits secs: a rich and heavily fruited pain d’epices style cake.
The congratulations when they came – and they came in quantity – were tinted with some astonishment: ‘It was so good. We never expected it to be so tasty! Well done’.
But after eating, drinking and lots of talking, it was time to dance. Zingazanga had been playing loudly throughout the meal, but they turned their attention to teaching us simple steps and dances from centuries ago. Even I with my two left feet joined in.
• A quantity of as many varieties of smoked fish as you can decently lay your hands on: we used smoked salmon, herring and haddock.
• A more-or less equal quantity of brousse. This is a curd cheese made from the milk of sheep, goats or cows. A mixture would be ideal, and failing that, any soft curd cheese.
• Chopped dill
Process half the fish coarsely, and finely chop the rest. Mix with the other ingredients. That’s all. Enjoy with some good bread and a probably thoroughly un-mediaeval green salad.