31 December 2013

Oléron oysters, Portuguese beans, and the local vino

It's going to be a busy morning. We have to get everything together for our drive down to southern Touraine for a New Year's Eve dinner — load up the car, get the dog psychologically prepared (she hates riding in the car), and make sure we don't forget anything. Cameras? Check. Batteries? Check. Android tablet? Check. Power supply? Check. Dogfood? Check. Leash? Check. Dog? Check...

And then there's the food and drink. We got oysters. It turned out that there was no special New Year's market in Saint-Aignan yesterday. There had been a market on Monday Dec. 23, and we assumed there would be one on Mon. Dec. 30 (the normal market day is Saturday). We drove down there yesterday morning and we were disappointed.

Two kinds of oysters (4 doz.) spending the night in our dirt-floored cold pantry downstairs

But suddenly our mood brightened. While there wasn't a full market, there was a truck parked on the main square. Out it it, a young man was selling oysters that he had brought up here from the town of Marenne and the island of Oléron, which is about 4 hours southwest of Saint-Aignan. On était sauvé. We bought four dozen Marenne-Oléron oysters, as they are called — two dozen of the ones called pleine-mer (open sea) and two dozen of the ones called fines de claires.

 Like me, you probably can't tell which variety of oyster these are...

They are the same oysters, but they are treated differently. The pleine-mer [plehn-MEHR] oysters stay in seawater until they are harvested, sold, and served. They have their own particular taste. The fines de claires [feen-duh-KLEHR] are gathered in the sea and then put into salt ponds (claires) to spend the last three or four months of their life. They have a different taste because of that method of "finishing" — they're called fines because they are extra "refined". Millions of oysters from Marenne-Oléron, Brittany, and Normandy will be consumed tonight at New Year's Eve dinners all over France.

Bubbly wine made from grapes grown in our village

As I mentioned yesterday, before going to get the oysters we went down to the village hall and dropped off a CD we had burned after gathering up a total of about 130 photos. We figured the mayor or whoever on her staff is in charge of organizing her New Year's ceremony could pick out whatever photos they wanted to use for their slideshow or whatever. We hoped they wouldn't feel completely overwhelmed.

Right after lunch, the mayor came by and rang the bell at our front gate — she's our neighbor. Walt went out and talked to her. She said they were thrilled with the photos and had decided to use all of them. It was nice of her to stop and tell us. She urged us to attend the event on Saturday. Embarrassingly enough, we've never attended before. We'll have to make a big effort to get ourselves there this time. To thank us, she brought us a bottle of the local bubbly, which is made like Champagne but using local grapes like Chenin Blanc instead of Chardonnay.

Cornilles or black-eyed peas imported from Portugal, cooked

Finally, I cooked up a big pot of black-eyed peas yesterday for our New Year's Day dinner. For people from the U.S. South, it's considered good luck to eat black-eyed peas (called « cornilles » [kor-NEE-yuh] in France) on January 1. I love the old superstition, because I love black-eyed peas. Most French people seem never to have heard of them before. Luckily, they eat them in Portugal, so I can always find them, either dried or in cans, in the Portuguese products section in all the local supermarkets.

Beans bubbling in boiling broth on the stove

Black-eyed peas are beans, actually but they have much thinner and more delicate skins than other beans. And they have a distinctly different flavor compared to white beans like navy beans, French lingots, or Italian cannellini, or like red kidney beans and pinto beans. It's hard to describe, but the taste is kind of grassy and rich. It resembles the flavor of lentils, I think, and goes very well with duck, including the slow-cooked confit de canard that we'll have with them, and with pork and pork sausages. I cooked my "peas" in a broth flavored with onion, garlic, spices, and bay leaves in which I had simmered a big slice of salt pork to have with our Christmastime feast of collard greens.

Walnut biscotti by Walt, great for dunking in wine or coffee

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Walt made a big batch of crispy walnut biscotti to take to the friends who've invited us for dinner tonight. There they are.


  1. You are going to have a lovely feast, pretty healthy actually. Bon reveillon and happy new year to you and all your followers!

  2. We're running low on blackeyed beans / peas. I wonder if they would grow here? And those biscotti look yummy too. Have a great New Year!

  3. All that food looks delicious. I guess you are celebrating New Year's Eve with J. & N. If so, please give them my warmest regards and best wishes for 2014. Same to you both, of course!! Have a nice evening. Martine

  4. Happy New Year's Eve celebrating to all, and here's to a great 2014!

  5. i am having red beans & rice instead of black eyed peas....happy new year!

  6. Black eyed peas are what's on our menu tomorrow and collards for a change, plus some pork.

    Love seeing your local bubbly and nice of the mayor to hand deliver it. I hope you make it to the meeting next week and tell us about it.

    Bonne route and Happy New Year to you and Walt and Callie and Bertie!

  7. The makings of a great celebration! Bonne année 2014 to you, and all your friends. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  8. Bonne Année 2014 à vous deux!
    (Vu que la cérémonie de samedi soit suivie du verre de l'amitié, ça va être une bonne occasion de sympathiser avec vos voisins.)

  9. Have a lot of fun! Love biscotti.

  10. Happy New Years everybody! I didn't get time to read yesterday -but I'm hoping all the festivities for you were as wonderful as they were for me!

    I'm looking forward to a very prosperous and healthy New Year and another wonderful year of yours and Walt's writing/photos/french vocab/french culture/ etc...
    Mary in Oregon

  11. Je garde précieusement les "black-eyed peas" que notre Evelyn m'a gentiment offerts il y a quelques années, je les montre à mes élèves à l'occasion de Thanksgiving ou lors de la rentrée de janvier et je leur raconte votre tradition du sud...
    My sweet son-in-law's father who had invited me on Dec. 24th also offered 2 kinds of oysters, some Marenne "pleine mer" oysters and some Norman "fines de claire"... They tasted great !
    Glad your "she-mayor", lol, went and told you they loved all your pics, which was quite "normal" ;-) ! You'll have to tell us about the "cérémonie des voeux du maire" !!!
    Mary (Marie-Jacques)


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