24 December 2012

Notre géline de Noël

Here comes our 10th Christmas in Saint-Aignan. One year, we poached and roasted a duck for our Christmas dinner. Another year it was a farm-raised turkey that we got from a butcher shop in town, and it was the best turkey ever. Another year we poached and roasted a goose. And so on.

This year, we've order a special Touraine chicken called a « géline » or a « Dame Noire ». It's an old breed of black-feathered chickens that nearly died out after World War II but was successfully revived. Here's a translation/adaptation of the history of the bird called the géline de Touraine that I found on a web site:
The term géline comes from gallina, which means "hen" in Latin.

In the 15th century, there was a feudal tax called the gélinase or gélinage, known also as the "géline custom." According to a 1461 document written by Baudet Berthelot, advisor to the king, the custom (or duty) that a landowner had to pay was 15 coins for a goose, 10 for a capon, and 8 for a géline or hen.

The géline de Touraine is the only breed of chicken known officially as a géline.

Books published in the second half of the 19th century describe the bird that was the ancestor of today's géline. Back then, it was called simply the "old black hen of Touraine" or, in everyday language, "la noire de Touraine" or "the local hen."

By the 1870s, the area in which the black chicken of Touraine was raised had expanded to include all of the southern part of the provine and a part of the Berry province to the east.

The géline made the markets of local towns like Sainte-Maure, Loches, and Montbazon famous. At Loches, more than 60,000 of the birds and many more of their eggs were sold annually.

In the early 1900s, French farmers starting raising chickens imported from other countries. Some local people weren't pleased about that, and one of them was a professor of agriculture in Tours named Jean-Baptiste Martin. In the early years of the century, he spoke out. Faced with the extinction of the local breed of chicken through hybridization with imported birds, professor Martin decided to "baptize" the local black chicken, giving it a recognizable name.

In a 1909 publication, he wrote: "We are in possession of a breed of chicken of great merit which has nearly been forgotten. Let's save it. Let's build a dike to protect it from the flood of foreign breeds that are being imported, which are not up to the same standard and are perturbing our barnyards. Farmers, breeders, chicken-lovers, let's work together and start the Touraine poultry-breeders club."

Before taking this initiative, Martin realized that the local hen really did need a name. He chose géline, and the name is still used and well known 100 years later.

The Touraine poultry-breeders club was founded the 12th of August 1909 at the big agricultural fair in the town of Bourgueil. Its bylaws were officially approved after the club's first general assembly was held in Tours on the 23rd of October that same year. The assembly established the criteria that define standards for the géline de Touraine breed.

So the géline de Touraine was really born on that day in 1909, even though the standards were not recognized nationally until 1913. The club's main focus was the géline, but over the years it also defined standards for the Touraine goose, the Touraine pigeon (now extinct), the Touraine gray rabbit (not yet certified) and finally for the Touraine black turkey (also now extinct).

In January 1917 the club held its first exposition, to show off specimens of the géline de Touraine. More than 280 gélines were put on display at a location in Tours.

Between 1945 and 1970, the géline went into decline. Local farmers started raising breeds of chickens developed in the Anglo-Saxon world and by industrial-scale breeders elsewhere in France. In 1977, French national authorities declared that the géline de Touraine breed was officially extinct.

In the 1980s, things began to change. In 1987, Mr. Maurice Brault, president of the local breeders association, found a flock of chickens that he determined were gélines de Touraine in the southern part of the province. He collected six dozen eggs and successfully hatched some of them. A couple of years later, working in Loches, he had 200 chicks. He gave some to a breeder in Genillé, who raised them successfully.

In 1988, an organization called La Confrérie (Brotherhood) des Chevaliers (Knights) de la Géline de Touraine was created. Its motto is: "Géline de Touraine am I, and proud to be from Loches."
That's the story. Today our itinerant butcher will bring us our Christmas géline. I could have driven to his shop over in nearby Thésée to pick it up, but he said he would be out making deliveries anyway and would stop by.

We cooked a géline just once before, and I blogged about it here in April 2011. This time, we're going to have chestnut stuffing, winter squash, and green beans with the roasted bird.


  1. Our first Christmas in our own home in France. We chose Duck.


  2. Merry Christmas to you too, Herr Peter.

  3. I remember seeing the Géline de Touraine when I lived up there, and I think I ordered that in restaurants a few times. Never attacked the actual bird, though.

    Happy Holidays to you! Enjoy everything!

  4. Just decarcassed the one we bought the other day... had it simply roasted over veg... we've one breast, two thighs [de-boned] for cold with salad and large quantity of bits for a rissotto... or a la créme... whatever... I digress [as usual].
    The carcass, when de-fleshed, for the soup pot is NOT the same, bone-wise, as say one of Loue's Supermarket Red-Label Cornfed critters... it seems to have less rib structure... and much bigger shoulder-blades... they stretch right back to either side of the cavity... and have a muscle attatching plate at the end... all similar to a pheasant [another jungle fowl]... points to antiquity as per your web-quote.

    The cooked flesh has a totally different quality... and loads more flavour. Pauline and I try to have one at least once a year... despite the price!! Hence the soup... get as many meals out of it as possible...

  5. Bonnes fêtes ! The géline will be delicious I am sure. We have opted for our usual standby of guinea fowl -- just as well really, as our big oven is en panne and pintade will fit in the mini oven.

  6. Menu sounds delicious. Enjoy your Christmas!

  7. Merci, Nadège, nous allons passer une bonne soirée, paisible, tranquille, mais nous ne ferons pas un vrai réveillon. Je ne peux pas m'imaginer me mettant à table à 22 heures ou à minuit pour ce genre de festin. Je suis trop pépère ! Nous ferons rôtir notre géline de Touraine demain matin pour le repas de midi du jour de Noël.

    Bon réveillon là-bas en LALA Land !


  8. Betty, happy Christmas to you and yours. The butcher just delivered the géline de Touraine. 30 euros! Ouf!

  9. Susan, hope you and Simon enjoy the pintade. You know you can cook it in a pot on top of the stove if you need to. Here's a post I did about it. The cream sauce is good but optional.

  10. Ken, we, too are expecting to head to bed, before or just after, midnight -- no midnight Mass and huge dinner after, that's for sure. We're having pork roast on Christmas day, but tonight, we'll have a few friends and family over for buffet-style snacking-- cheeses, hummus, salami, ham, shrimp, meatballs-- that kind of thing.

    We're expecting our first snowfall Christmas night - 3 to 4 inches.

    Merry revelry, everyone!

  11. Merry Christmas, Ken and Walt; we wish you all the best.

  12. What a delightful encouraging story. Heaven forbid that anyone's barnyard be perturbed by foreign birds! The breed sounds excellent so does your Christmas dinner menu. I wish you and Walt and all your loved ones a joyful Christmas!

  13. Hi Kristi, Carolyn, Judy,

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  14. I hope the bird was good- it should have been for 30 euros! Thanks for the history.

    Merry Christmas!

  15. Beaver, bon Noël à vous deux. Neige-t-il ?

    Starman, merry Christmas to you and Robb.

    Evelyn, we're gong to cook the chicken this morning. See today's post...

  16. Thanks for the history of "la Géline de Touraine" !!! It's very interesting !!!


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