Brumaire takes its name from brume - that morning mist that covers the dales when the autumn air is cooler than the earth. Le Roy writes of the rural life during Brumaire as it may have been for your French ancestors: the farmer's voice, calling to his oxen as he plows early in the morning, muffled by the mist and seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once; at mid-morning, the mist finally clears and beasts are allowed a rest "with their noses in the hedge"; when the fields are plowed, he sows the wheat, taking the seeds from a bag on his shoulder and flinging them in an arc while, behind him, all the family rake and cover them. This sowing was to have been done between the days of Saint-Michel (29 September) and Sainte-Catherine (25 November).
It is also the season for harvesting chestnuts and walnuts. Our friend, Madame S. told us of autumn crafts in school when she was a child. These included sticking matchsticks into fresh chestnuts to make animals and people, which sounds significantly more charming than our own childhood version of vegetable creatures: Mr. Potato Head. Currently, in the local agricultural cooperatives, the traditional walnut gathering tools -- an oval basket that rolls on the end of a pole -- still sells, and at a shockingly high price. Most people nowadays, however, use a tractor, as in the photo above, and one can see the result, both in the size of the harvest and of the harvester.
After autumn storms, there may come a time of warmth and sunshine; what folks in North America called an "Indian Summer" was the été de la Saint-Martin (11 November, remembered more now for being the date on which the Armistice ending World War I was signed) "the last smile from nature as the year decline". Saint Martin's Day also marks the beginning of fattening the pigs for Carnival - "Pour chaque porc vient de la Saint-Martin." This is followed by a graphic and poetic account of pig-slaughtering and sausage-making which we, as a vegetarian, choose to ignore, but which Le Roy, and most likely your French ancestors, found picturesque.
It was and is so popular throughout France that your family's traditional recipe could lead to identifying the region where your ancestors originated, should it not be known to you. Does one of these sausages, or saucisses, sound familiar to you?
- The diot, with nutmeg, is made in Savoie.
- The gendarme, from Vosges, mixes beef with pork and is smoked; it is always presented in two sections.
- The saucisse de Montbéliard, land of watchmakers, is also smoked and contains cumin.
- The saucisse de Morteau, from Franche-Comté, is a squat item and fatty. A grand peculiarity: when even more fat is added, it is called Jésus.
- The saucisse de foie, made exclusively from the pig's liver, is a treat from Ariège.
- The knack, made from beef, veal and pork, comes from Alsace and looks like a classic, American-style hot-dog (though too short for the ball-park version).
We will now go munch some fresh walnuts and have a glass of Bordeaux and ponder the sad fate of pigs.
© 2014 Anne Morddel