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Country Living: Eating Well in 1900s Auvergne

Given astronomical rises in food prices, temperatures, and the overall cost of living, finding more sustainable ways of eating is increasingly becoming more important. To hedge against these and future challenges, many have opted to live “off-the-grid” and return to traditional methods of cooking. Doing so, they argue, helps to empower families and communities by making them self-reliant — able to thrive in spite of the global economy’s ups and downs.

The below excerpt — a description from Fields of France (1905) by Agnes Mary Frances Robinson — sheds some light on the kinds of cuisine that sustained farming cultures in early twentieth-century Cantal. Robinson saw first-hand the value of communally grown, local food. Despite Cantal’s harsh weather and its remote location, residents still managed to eat wholesome, low-cost meals:

The farm grows almost all the necessaries of our table. Our soil is too poor for wheat, but rye and buckwheat flourish on the mountain-sides ; whole slopes and ledges, too dry for hay, are a garden of tall, crisp, white flowers, where the buckwheat (sarrazin) waves through August until mid-September. A little before Michaelmas the flowers die, the seed turns gradually black, the stems coral-red ; and then the farm-hands come and reap the harvest, bringing great sheets of linen, which they spread in the field, and thrash thereon the grain with high-dancing flails.

Ground into meal, the buckwheat yields the staple of our diet; the bourriol — a large, thin, soft, round crumpet, which, eaten hot with butter, or cold with clotted cream, or a nugget of cheese, or dipped in new milk, is not to be despised. Every morning, the housewife’s earliest care is to fill the pail of bourriols which stands in every kitchen; next she warms the milk until the cream clots and rises. Besides the buckwheat, we grow oats for the cattle and rye for bread and straw. The rye-bread, very black, at once sweet and sour (which makes, to my thinking, the most delicious bread and butter in the world), is shaved into large thin slices in the two-handled porringers, or kuelles, “pour tremper la soupe.”

Four times a day, and five at midsummer, the farm-hands gather in Madame Langeac’s kitchen and take their bowl of cabbage-soup, where the bacon, potatoes, black bread and cabbage make a mess so thick that the spoon stands up in it ; they eat also a crumpet of buckwheat, and a noggin of Cantal cheese ; and often a dish of curds and whey, when a cheese is in progress ; a sausage if the pig has been lately killed; a fry of mushrooms in September; a tart of wild cherries in July ; or carrots sliced and fried with snippets of bacon ; sometimes a queer stew of potatoes and curds called truffado ; or some other homely treat which, at mid-day, serves to mark the importance of dinner, always washed down with a glass of the strong bluish-red wine they call Limousin, brought from the neighbouring departments of the Lot and the Correze.

Want to learn more about old-style cuisine in Auvergne? Click “Cuisine” below.