Saturday, August 15, 2009

Peyrusse Vieille

Peyrusse Vielle is a little village in Le Gers. It is at the heart of a triangle whose boundaries are defined by The Pyrennes, The Mediterranean and The Atlantic. Consequently, Le Gers sits where glorious summer thunderstorms are common. Here, the weather is just another guest passing through. Some days you can spend the whole day waiting for this tempestuous and overly dramatic diva to arrive. Some days she is a gentle and constant presence that you hope will stay a while.

Le Gers is the most sparsely populated area of western Europe. The pastoral landscape is cut and divided by valleys and rises that are dappled by sunlight, fields and forests. Life is slow and even tempered. Modernization is discrete. Homes have internet and other conveniences but the landscape is void of visual and noise pollution. The oceanic sky rolls over the horizon, swallowing and releasing The Pyrennes.

The forests are rich in deer, pheasant and wild boar. The communes, or municipalities, annually declare how many animals will be taken from the forests. At the seasons end, there is a feast of wild beasts and jars of fat preserved sanglier go home to the pantries. Of course there are memberships and dues, taxes to be paid, accounting to be done and reports to be filed with the Department. All in all, a good system of wildlife and land management, allocation of food preserves, and the continuation of traditional cultural ways.

Specifically, Le Gers is rich in duck and we ate duck daily. We pan seared magret, the large breasts of the fatted duck, and ate it with bread and salad. We ate duck hearts sauted in duck fat with enough left over for a potato and heart hash the next afternoon. We roasted a whole split duck over the fire in the garden. Not to lose our tacky American roots, we roasted yellow and purple Peeps over the fading coals for dessert.

Duck is the foundation of the regional diet. Containers of duck fat grace the refrigerated shelves in supermarkets and homes. Indeed, the highest percent of people over the age of 90 in western Europe live in Le Gers. They eat mainly duck, legumes, red wine, vegetables and potatoes. The combination is clearly good provided human characters mellow with age.

While my freezer holds pork, beef, chicken, and lamb from the Willamette Valley, it is hard to source good fatted ducks here. Not that there is a shortage of fats in the pantry, but freshly dug new potatoes, or any vegetable, sauted in duck fat are simply dreamy. But my goal is to build a diverse and interesting pantry that is self reliant and seasonal as well as flavor and nutrient dense. All this and a short jaunt to the dinner table. The geographic and commercial isolation of both Le Gers and Transylvania inspire cooking from the source. Limited ingredients are available and markets are a 20 minute drive away. Consequently, creativity and home economy are pre-wired with frugality. But a priceless frugality cannot be imported so it does little for the global economy and is dismissed as seemingly useless and too much work. Ah, but there, for the love of work, go I.

For additional love of work and all things ducky and more in the urban farm world, read Esperanza Pallana's exploits at pluck and feather .

(photo: Peyrusse Vieille from Nora's house)