We are a bit late with this, for Fructidor began last week, but it has rained as much as if it were Pluviôse, so we doubt it matters much. According to our own country-side record-keeping (about which we may be a tad compulsive, having noted down weekly weather trends for the past twenty years) the last time we had such a sodden summer was in 1998. As then, it has been cold and rainy, with a few days of sunshine. The pumpkins and tomatoes will never ripen this year, but the fields, normally brown by now, remain gloriously green. Today, it is cold enough to warrant a fire, and soon, back to the city for la rentrée and the seriousness of autumn.
In a normal year, however, Fructidor is a time of ripeness all around: wild plums, blackberries, peaches, then grapes. The wildflowers are abundant and going quickly to seed. It is the time when your French ancestors made the last cut of alfalfa and got in another sowing of clover. According to Le Roy, it was a month of heavy consumption of chickens - especially those that would not survive another winter -- and, as the hardest work was done for a while, of heavy wine consumption.
There was but one job remaining for the summer: the tidying of the fields by gathering all of the sheaves and loading them onto carts to be taken away. The last sheaf, or gerbe, placed on the last cart was tied up with ribbons and flowers and was the central symbol of a magnificent meal in the garden, the Gerbe-baude, as Le Roy calls it. (It was called the parcie in the Berry region, the bavajada in Auvergne, the passée d'août in Normandy.)
He paints a nice picture of such plenitude in nature, shared by all, giving a sense of égalité. Yet it was not so, for the custom of the festive meal at the gathering of the last sheaf was a share-croppers' celebration, coming after they had paid from their harvests their rents and dues and tithes to their lords and landlords and to the king. Then, they could divide the paltry remains and have a little party. If you have found, on an ancestor's marriage registration, that he was a métayer, then he was a share-cropper, and would have celebrated the end of summer's work thus.
©2014 Anne Morddel