Sunday, 26 June 2016

Time Travellers...

We found ourselves going way back in time today when we took a stroll to a nearby menhir.  Nestled in a patch of pleasant woodland, just off one of the local footpaths, it stands 2.5 metres high and is said to date, rather inaccurately, from between 2 & 5 thousand BC.  Our Neolithic ancestors were very fond of standing up stones.  The word 'menhir' comes from old Breton, derived from 'maen' meaning stone and 'hir' meaning long.
Mystery surrounds what their true purpose was, this one is thought to be some kind of territorial marker, maybe for the nearby spring.

Whatever their purpose, it was strange that Skip the Dog was none too keen on the 'long stone' and started a-whimpering.  He is sometimes scared of tall people so maybe he doesn’t like tall stones either!  Maybe he could sense those ancient spirits?  Most likely, he just has no interest at all in ancient history and wanted to get on with the walk.  OK Skippy, on y va!

PS.  The Asterix character, Obelix owns the quarry where he chisels menhirs. It is never directly stated what the menhirs are used for, though it is hinted that they are just oversized knick-knacks! 

Sunday, 3 April 2016


Yes, today's mystery tool is a Spoon Auger, and it is used for boring holes in solid wood...

These tools were also used in the production of Sabots which is the French word for clog (which probably derives from Savate from the Arabic Sabbat for shoe and bot, for boots).   These 'shoe-boots' or sabots were the footwear of (no) choice for working people as pre-industrialisation leather shoes would have been prohibitively expensive.  They were traditionally made of birch, willow or poplar, light woods that are easy to work.   They would be made a size bigger than required so that straw, and in later times slippers, could be stuffed in to cushion the foot). The style of a simple, slip-on shoe to wear in the garden or on the farm is still popular today in rubber/plastic/leather versions such as Crocs, but some 'round 'ere still choose to wear the wooden ones!  This stylish pair of sabots live at Poacher's Cabin and as you can see, they are much too big for Skip the Dog...

However, they are quite swanky with their embossed leather cover, seemingly featuring a harp design, and these horseshoe like rubber soles... 

The word 'sabotage' is said to derive from 19th century French workers, who opposed the mechanisation of their jobs by throwing their shoes into new industrial machinery to bugger things up, but there is little or no evidence that this actually happened, and was probably meant metaphorically.  Later, during a long period of industrial action in the early 20th century, French railway workers undertook a policy of non-cooperation, sending goods to the wrong place, mucking up timetables, and general intentional incompetence which came to be known as 'sabotage', clearly a trend that some railway workers persist with to this day!  

Here's an interesting lil' film of a Dutch clog maker using his auger (and amazingly, still appears to have all his own fingers!!) 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Just The Tonic!

We tend to think of Coca-Cola as the all-american drink but actually, in a roundabout way, the French may lay claim to having had a hand in its invention. It all started when, in around 1863, Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani invented his 'Vin Mariani, French Tonic Wine', a brilliant concoction of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves.  This alco/cocaine mash-up, cleverly marketed for its health-giving benefits, proved to be extremely popular, winning many endorsements from the great and the good of its day...

Due to its soar-away success, copycat products followed and one of these, produced by American chemist John Pemberton, eventually morphed into coca-cola, once cocaine and alcohol had become controlled substances.  Vin Mariani itself continued to be sold in France, in a less potent form, until the early 1960's.

But tonic wines, in other forms, are still going strong today.  One such is  'Byrhh Vin Tonique' (even though they don't seem update their sinage that often!)...

Byrhh is apparently wine mixed with quinine and other herbs and was originally sold in chemists as a 'health' drink to differentiate it from other aperitifs on sale. It was quite popular in the early 20th century, even being exported to the UK and US, despite, or perhaps because, its name sounds a bit like 'beer'. 

I vaguely remember my Nan keeping a dusty bottle of 'Sanatogen Tonic Wine' in the cupboard, presumably just in case she ever ran out of her brutally alcoholic home-made Mangle Wine. And of course, there's vin tonique's less savoury, anglicized cousin, Buckfast, known affectionately north of the border as 'Wreck the Hoose Juice'.  

And maybe we haven't seen the last of Vin Mariani, as during my non-extensive research I stumbled across this company who claim:

“Tea is not the only coca-based product Grupo Mariani will be producing”, says Martínez. We are only weeks away from the debut of our exceptional Vin Mariani red coca wine, which is being produced from grapes of the highly acclaimed Ica region in Peru. We also have plans on launching a line of hair products, soaps and even food products, such as cookies. with other products to come later.
As a benefit to the Peruvian people, especially the coca farmers, Grupo Mariani is forming strategic alliances with the current government of Peru to provide humanitarian projects for the indigenous people of that country.
John Martínez
VP - Sales and Marketing
Grupo Mariani S.A." 

I'm tempted to try a little glass of it, just the one, mind, for research purposes.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Flip! It's Fête des Chandelles...

Nah, let's not talk about croissants...let's talk about pancakes!

Here in France the 2nd of February is Fete des Chandelles, (candles).  It's Pancake Day, but not quite as we know it.  As is often the case, it's a religous festival with its roots buried deep in a pagan one. For pagans it was all about coming out of hibernation, the days getting longer, offering up goods to gods in the hope of a fine Spring and a good harvest.  The Church kinda hijacked it and mashed it up with some other festivals into some sort of purification ceremony, involving the lighting of candles and, more importantly, eating pancakes.  It's thought that this part of the tradition stems from a Pope who ordered pancakes to be cooked up for some visiting pilgrims in a time of hardship.  Lots of folklore surrounds the tradition.  I've read that if you hold a gold coin in your left hand and flip the pancake with your right hand you'll have good luck for a year (and a hell of a messy hob, probably).  And that you should keep the first pancake out of the pan in your cupboard to bring good luck for the year to come (and a rodent infestation, probably).

Whatever, I don't need much of an excuse to light some candles and drag out the pan and get flipping.  I like mine as nature intended with sugar and lemon, and none of that new-fangled Nutella stuff.  How do you like yours?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

In A Whirl...The Great Pain au Chocolat Debate.

See original image

My Mum, who was ordinarily quite liberal, had certain, inexplicable lines drawn in the sand that we could not cross, one of which was the strongly held belief in the unsuitability of chocolate as a breakfast staple.  No amount of wheedling from me would dissuade her of this notion, and thus, much like her irrational blanket ban on "HR Pufnstuf", it led me to wanting it all the more.

Chocolatine-3Our French cousins have no such qualms, but as a consequence of my childhood spent bereft of Coco Pops, I still, to this day, regard chocolate as a bit of a treat at breakfast time and all the more so if it's wrapped in flaky puff pastry. But when the lure proves too great, what should I ask for in the boulangerie? Well, that all depends on one's location... 

Here in the Dordogne we are firmly in Chocolatine territory, so don't go asking for any of yer fancy Pain au Chocolat around here.  The two names for essentially the same thing have caused national debate and much controversy, in a way that only the French know how.  It's nicely explained in this article here.

Whatever they're called though, they're going to taste v.good and with a boulangerie only 3.5km from the cabin (I've measured it) there's no excuse not to indulge. Whatever would my Mum say?

Next Week: (Maybe) Croissants!...not as French as you'd think.