11 November 2011

L'été de la Saint-Martin

We are having Indian Summer. In French, that used to be called l'été de la Saint-Martin, and you still hear the expression but not so much. Nowadays, in the media it's called l'été indien. North American influence, I guess.

I think the reason people started calling these spells of warm weather in late autumn « l'été indien » is that there was a very popular song 35 years ago with that very title. You still hear it on the radio now and then. It was sung by Joe Dassin, who was born in New York but educated in France. French people considered him to be American. Never mind — he was quintessentially French and had a long singing career in France, but no career in America.

November in the Loire Valley vineyards

Today is Saint Martin's "feast day" as well as Armistice Day or Veteran's Day — le onze novembre. It's a public holiday in France, and a long weekend this year, since it falls on a Friday. This morning we have thick fog hugging the ground here in Saint-Aignan. It will burn off by noontime if we are lucky and we'll have a mild sunny afternoon. These days remind me of weather (year-round) in San Francisco.

Indian summer sunrise near Saint-Aignan in the Loire Valley

* * * *

Out at the end of the vineyard road on a November morning

I just came back from the morning walk with Callie. The fog is much thicker than on recent mornings. By the time I got back home — one mile (1.5 km) out, one mile back — my glasses were all misted up, which made the fog seem even thicker. I needed windshield wipers.

Our house and car a couple of days ago

Plans for the day: yesterday I drove down to Loches to buy some duck legs. The Centre Leclerc hypermarket down there had them on sale for 3.90 €/kg — that's less than $2.50 US per pound. Not only were the leg-thigh sections inexpensive, but they are also not that easy to come by. They're a seasonal product, coming from ducks that have been fattened (canards gras) for their foie gras (livers). Foie gras season in France is the end-of-year holidays, so now is when the livers are "harvested."

Here's Walt outside taking advantage of good weather by
cleaning off the fence with the Kärcher power-washer.

This morning I'll be making confit de canard. I posted about the method years ago, here. The first step is to marinate the duck legs in salt, onion, garlic, herbs, and spices. That's what I'll be doing this morning. Then tomorrow or Sunday morning I'll be able to cook the duck legs in duck fat. After that, they get put away in the fat down in the cold pantry for a couple of months before they will be ready to eat.

Callie the Collie out for a fall morning walk in the vineyard

The Leclerc sale on canards gras — whole fattened ducks, or just leg-thigh sections, or wings, or hearts, or gizzards — started on Wednesday. When I got there on Thursday morning, the store was pretty crowded. It was the day before a holiday, after all, and before a long weekend. When I looked for the duck legs, I couldn't find any. I picked up some wings instead, but that's really not what I wanted for making confit.

The last of the 2011 grapes out in the Renaudière vineyard

I did some shopping in other sections of the store (picking up a beautiful escarole that will give us salads for days, including today's lunch), and then I decided to check back to see if there was any hope at all of finding duck legs and thighs. I noticed a man in a long white smock, obviously a butcher, refilling a refrigerated case where I hadn't looked a few minutes earlier.

L'été de la Saint-Martin dans la vallée du Cher

And there I found the legs and thighs. In fact there were only six of them, lost in a sea of duck wings (manchons), breasts (magrets), gizzards (gésiers), and hearts (cœurs). All were in sous-vide packages — shrink-wrapped, vacuum-packed, in plastic. I grabbed up the six duck legs and headed for the checkout line, happy to have succeeded in my mission.

The Touraine countryside during Indian summer

As as result, the two-hour excursion was not a waste of time. Besides, the countryside all the way there and back (40 km each way) was just gorgeous, all bright greens and autumn reds and golds. I didn't have time to stop and take photos.


  1. I like the photo of the spider web.
    We've been doing a bit of Karcher on the sides of our house between rain storms it would be nice to get some of that Indain summer so we could finish.

  2. What lovely photos. The weather here is mild but grey, drizzly and miserable, so I envy you your sunshine.

    That's the fundamental difference between Derbyshire and the Loire, I think.

  3. It's funny that two hundred km further south in the Charente, we've had little but rain, and definitely no l'été indien - our vines are all completely devoid of leaves now, even those in the most sheltered spots. But we have blue skies and a brisk wind today.

  4. We may just have to steal you photos to put on our walls here in Melbourne Ken.
    They are some of your best to date - well, that is until tomorrow's post maybe.

  5. Car trips this time of year are a pleasure, non? There's something special about the way the sun's rays hit the colorful trees.
    Glad you found the duck legs!

  6. Ken

    We must be on the same wavelength;
    When I started reading your billet today 11.11.2011:

    1. l'été indien - I thought of Joe Dassin and then continuing reading, I saw that you did mention the singer
    2. Trip to Loches _ i was going to ask for the distance and time it took - you provided the answer at the end
    3. Duck legs nowhere to be found _ my thoughts were to enquire why you didn't ask the butcher - well you were successful at the end . :-)

  7. I will probably sing "l'été indian" all day long. Everybody were so sad when Joe Dassin died. (Jules Dassin (film director) was Joe's Dad).
    Gorgeous photos of the countryside Ken.

  8. Your home has such interesting architectural features on all sides!
    Beautiful shot with the overhanging branches just a little on the side and then those window boxes, too.
    Nice that you are having dry days - we have today only and then we should be getting wet for the next week.

    Nice to have a successful shopping trip AND good weather for the ride.

    Mary in Oregon

  9. Hi The Beaver, well, I could ask at the butcher's, but I would have to wait a week or more and the price would be three or four times as much. Unfortunately, that's the way it is. The big chain stores have the best prices and the seasonal sales. In past years, the Intermarché across the river from us has had a special on canards gras at this time of year, but not in 2011, as far as I've been able to determine.

    One year (2005?), I ordered a turkey from one of the butcher shops in Saint-Aignan. I paid about 35 euros for a 3 kg bird. It was very expensive, but I have to admit it was the best turkey I've ever eaten.

  10. Fall is so beautiful and at the same time so sad (to me at least). I'm not good with those full four-season climates. My understanding is that the phrase Indian Summer has been around since the late 1700s. I'm sure Wikipedia has something on it, but I've got to get ready for dinner!

  11. Hi Mitch, I'm not sure how old the phrase Indian Summer is in America, but in France l'été indien became common only in the late 1970s, unless I'm mistaken. Personally, I really like having four distinct seasons. I found the weather and climate in the SF Bay Area to be very boring — always the same.

  12. Wow! Today's photos are some of your very best, Ken, especially the ones of the misty vineyard with the rising sun.

  13. They still play a lot of Joe Dassin songs on Chante France.

  14. Absolutely wonderful photos today, Ken. It's rare that we see that little fence of your yard that Walt was spray-washing, and I really like it :)

  15. Judy, thanks. That fence along the road is in front of a big mostly blank wall of our house. Thus few photos.

    Bob, thanks to you too. I think photography is mostly about being in the right place at the right time. And knowing how to use your camera.

    Starman, I like Chante France radio. And Joe Dassin... well, some songs.

    Jean, we are really enjoying the current weather, even though the fog held on here until mid-afternoon, before we got any sun today. Maybe tomorrow it will be sunny earlier.

    Meredith and Ladyjustine, it's interesting how much better the weather in the north of France has been recently compared to the south of France. There is some justice after all. :^)

    Leon, you are welcome to the photos of course. We haven't made our plans for next May/June yet, but look forward to seeing you again.

    Evelyn, you are right. I really enjoyed the drive through Orbigny, Montrésor and all to Loches. Walt didn't come with me because he was afraid the car seat would make his back hurt. So it was just me, scenery, and the Peugeot.

    Nadège, la la la, la la la la la la... that was a good Dassin song, like Oh Champs Elysées and A Paris à vélo...

  16. spectacular pix, Ken. thanks for sharing. and great work on your duck getting excursion! we've been "harvesting' our ducks here. i'm really enjoying the "foie gras." mostly i've been making a simple pate. the perfect fall food.

  17. Ken

    Sorry for the misunderstanding - when I said the butcher , I meant going to the poultry or meat counter and asking them if they don't have anything left in the back.

    Guess what: we are getting a lot of duck legs ( they are NOT giving them away as far as $$ is concerned) from the Sud-Ouest this week - may be they are exporting them instead of selling to the big "surfaces"

  18. The Beaver, hi, well, at Intermarché where they have a good butcher counter, they never have much of anything that I ask for — not even the meats and cuts they advertise as weekly specials! So I've basically given up on them.

    How much are they charging for duck legs in Montreal?

  19. Ken

    The ones from France : CAN $ 8.50 to 12.00 each whereas those I usually buy from the Eastern Township in Québec $ 3.50 to $ 5.00 and sometimes $3.00 frozen ( after the holidays )


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