We have just enjoyed the company of some long standing friends, (too long to say how long,) who have visited us at Chez Sapin in the beautiful Poitou-Charentes countryside. Four days and we never stopped talking except to sleep and even that was well after midnight each day.
The conversations were wide and varied, the dreaded ‘B’ word did get mentioned as did the UK elections, Trump, Macron and others. The few of our mutual FB friends will recognise the style.
Much wine and good food was indulged in, the wine no doubt lubricating the conversations but not necessarily improving them! One of the wines was this red from Les Ormes, there are also whites from Les… I wrote a blog about ‘Les Ormes…cockney made good’ some years ago. It was well received at the time but those of you who missed it might like to click the link and read all about Les ( its pronounced LEZ with a Phil Mitchell accent ).
This area of France is quite good for bird life, we get Buzzards and Black Kites, Hoopoes and Golden Orioles, loads of Nightingales, Redstarts, Stonechats and many more. John and Jayne ( our friends) were polite enough to show an interest, actually I think they were genuinely interested in the bird life and it lightened the conversation from the disaster of the referendum and the impending gloom when/if May becomes our Fuhrer.
I think it was the Golden Oriole which prompted John to mention Francoise Mitterrand’s last meal. I was vaguely aware of this being something special but not familiar with the small bird he evidently consumed with a tea towel over his head.
Francoise Mitterand is of course a local lad and is one of the two claims to fame that Jarnac has, which is where he was born and lived in his childhood, the other being that Jarnac is the home of Courvoisier, another famous name. I also have written about Mitterrand and Jarnac, you might also like to have a look at that blog, (more serious than Les Ormes)
I looked up the last supper of Francoise and the bird is an Ortolan Bunting, it is small and looks like a cross between a Yellowhammer and a Cirl Bunting. It is not that common, but can be seen in this part of France during the summer months. Most unlikely in GB. However I must say that I have never noticed one.
The catching and cooking of this small bird is illegal but I suppose if you are the ex President of France and you are about to die then you can get away with it. There is a lot of ritual to the catching preparing and eating this little bird. It is caught live by using sticks with glue on them so the bird gets stuck. This method also catches lots of other small birds. You have to do it this way because shooting such a small bird would blast it into too many small pieces. Killing it is also not so pleasant; it is drowned in Armagnac, this some French chefs argue is not such a bad way to die, more preferable than being dunked into boiling water which is the method for many shell fish, crabs and lobsters. Also the process will marinate the bird. Once it is cooked the method of eating is quite bizarre. you place a cloth over your head and then put the entire bird into your mouth and eat everything, bones, head guts and all, except the feet. The idea of the cloth is said to be to keep the aromas close so that you get the very fullest of flavour.
President Mitterand did not just have Ortolans for his last meal. He started with Marennes oysters , 36 of them! Then he had Foie Gras which as you know does involve geese suffering a bit but it also tastes great. Then a capon which was beautifully cooked and very tender and finally the Ortolan buntings. Evidently not every guest tried them, Mitterand took one and eat it with cloth over head when he emerged there were still three left so he took one more and eat that. Also of course wines from Bordeaux were drunk and the entire meal took over four hours.
He subsequently died! You can read a very detailed account of this meal by clicking Mitterands last meal.