28 January 2014

J'ai trouvé des gaudes !

I found bags of French corn meal. (It doesn't take much to get me excited.)

A few years ago when I published a blog topic about cornpone (!), a recipe for which I got from my Illinois friend Harriett, my Parisian-American friend CHM wrote a comment and told me about a French version of corn meal called « gaudes », pronounced [GOAD] as one syllable.

Normally, corn meal in French is « semoule de maïs » (corn semolina) or just « farine de maïs » (corn flour) — « maïs » [mah-EESS] being what we Americans call "corn" and others might call call "maize". Coming from the U.S. South, I'm more than familiar with — I grew up on and continue to cook and enjoy — things like grits, cornbread, cornpone, and hushpuppies.

In Italy they call corn meal polenta and in eastern France, in the area known as Franche-Comté, people call it gaudes. It's made into a bouillie — in other words, the corn meal is boiled in water — and served with butter and milk. In English, some people call that "gruel" — not very appetizing — or "porridge". I call it "grits". The word gaudes apparently derives from a German term.

In his book The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, the Franco-American chef and TV host Jacques Pépin, who comes from eastern France, describes a meal served by a woman on a farm when he was a child. He and his family were getting ready to relocate themselves from their home in town and go live on the woman's farm for the summer:
...the farmer's wife heaped dinner on the table — literally. She slopped spoonfuls of a yellowish brown porridge, called gaudes, not onto plates or bowls, as we ate it at home, but directly into hollows carved into the wooden tabletop. We gathered around as the farmer's wife poured cool, raw milk over our gaudes. With no further ceremony, we all sat down and dug in. The gaudes were thick and smooth and had the salty, slightly nutty taste of the roasted corn flour from which they had been made.
The directions on the package explain how to make the gaudes into "porridge" or grits. It also says that you can "flour" fish with gaudes before frying it for better flavor and crispness, and that you can use gaudes to replace part of the flour in cake batters for good flavor. I already do all that.

I was out shopping yesterday when I found the bag of gaudes. I bought two bags (2 kilos). I keep corn meal in the freezer, and I try always to have a supply. I can buy it at certain shops and supermarkets in the Loire Valley, but not everywhere.

Corn meal was on my list yesterday because I was running low. I'm glad it was. This time, I was over in the town of Selles-sur-Cher, ten miles upriver from Saint-Aignan, where there's a Belgium-based chain supermarket called Colruyt that has a strong presence in the Franche-Comté region. I haven't opened a bag of gaudes yet, but maybe today....


  1. Ken, I think gruel made using this would taste better than traditional "British" gruel made using oatmeal.

    Trad UK gruel is runny porridge...
    made with proper oatmeal, not rolled oats...
    and with a spoonful of Bovril or Marmite stirred in...
    allegedly to give it flavour!?!

    It is disgusting...
    I was fed on the stuff for a fortnight when I had my tonsils taken out...
    in 1958!!

  2. Ken,
    This morning post brings me back many decades! At my grandmother's, two things were de rigueur: gaudes and vin d'Arbois, her father's native village.

    Tim: You'd love gaudes!

  3. Grits are great! with cheese, with butter, and especially with shrimp! Perhaps with the Vin d'Arbois it would be even better


  4. i would love to see that table... wow!

  5. How nice to read your quote from Jacques Pépin eating gaudes right on the table.
    Besides finding your bags of gaudes, were there other unique things you saw in the Belgium-based supermarket?
    Are you particular about which type of breads you add the maize? I make gingerbread, banana and recently cranberry breads infrequently but I could certainly add some cornmeal if you've had good luck with it?

    Mary in Oregon

  6. It's been interesting reading about eastern NC from a blog originating in France! I live in Bear Creek about 5 miles from Swansboro on a salt marsh creek off the ICW. Lived in Newport for a couple of years in the early 70's when I worked at Cherry Point. Love the area of France you are living in, but I don't think I could live that far inland. Love the ocean and the smell of salt air too much. I found your blog some time ago probably about the time my computer crashed. I somehow found your blog again. I knew you were from NC, but I had no idea you were from right here at home! What a small world we live in thanks to the internet. I guess you know we are in the grips of a winter storm here on the coast. I woke up to ice covering my car this morning.

    If you ever come across an old photo of the Pavilion, please post it. Used to have a lot of fun there and at the old Embers Club. You are a year older than me. We may have run into one another way back in the 60's!

    I just bought a bag of Ellis Davis corn meal last week!

  7. An uncle of mine had a fishing camp at Bear Creek back in the '60s - '90s. I remember going there as a teenager. I was born in Morehead in 1949. My mother still lives there, and my sister lives in Newport. I of course remember the Pavilion on the Circle at the beach but I don't have any photos of the place. I left Morehead in 1967 and haven't spent more than a couple of weeks at a time there since the '70s. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Pete Seeger R.I.P.

    I love all his songs growing up .

  9. Mary, I never answered your question. Sorry. I'd try replacing part of the flour with corn meal in savory cakes (very good) or in pound cake or yogurt cake recipes. Corn meal would be good in that cranberry bread, I bet. Start by replacing just 1/4 of the flour and move up to 1/2 if you like the result.


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