Friday, September 20, 2013

La Garburade (21st International Competition)

Huge pots of water simmered on portable gas burners, and potatoes, cabbage, leeks, onions, and carrots were on every table, being peeled and sliced and chopped. Other than those basic ingredients, however, each team had its own secrets, a particular way of making the traditional soup called garbure that's a specialty of this region. I saw the local broad white shelling beans called haricots tarbais on some tables, precooked in big bags or preserved in quart jars. A few teams were pulling out smoked hams, while others had vacuum-packed pork shoulder waiting to go in. I didn't see any duck confit, which is traditional, but that's something that gets added towards the end, and I was at the festival in the morning, about an hour after the preparations started.

Zucchini and chanterelles are not traditional, and when I mentioned I'd seen them on one of the tables, I got shocked looks from the locals I was talking to. "That must be a team from somewhere else," they said, and seemed relieved when I suggested that perhaps those were just decorative elements. There have been non-Aquitaine teams competing before, particularly from the Midi-Pyrénées region just to the west, where this soup is also a traditional mountain peasant/herder dish. According to the website and the newspaper writeups, there have been teams from Corsica in the past (same lifestyle, same soup?) and once a team even came all the way from Argentina. Mostly, though, it's local Gascon pride shining from every face, along with a ready admission that "International" is a rather silly way of referring to a competition based on a strictly regional dish. But they do it anyway, and since I come from a country that holds a non-global "World Series" every year, who am I to complain?

You sauté the onions and leeks in duck fat first, plus the carrots, and then add them to simmering water along with the smoked ham and the beans. After a few hours you add the potatoes and cabbage and the duck confit if you're using it. The meats were historically for the special days, holidays and festivals, but day to day soup consumption involved just the vegetables. Garlic is a popular addition, and a splash of good red wine into the individual bowls.

Or you can just drink the wine. Soup-making is hard work.

There was a fairly good crowd at the festival, though fewer than there would have been if it hadn't been absolutely pouring rain earlier that morning. I found a video of the event you might enjoy - I enjoyed watching it, especially since I didn't stay for the judging and banquet. The weather was still not so nice and if I had stayed for the judging I would have gotten home on the train after dark, and the banquet didn't even start until 9pm.

I did spend a while walking through the booths and talking with some of the vendors, and I explored the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, at least until it started raining again. Part of the vendor area was devoted to traditional crafts and techniques, with a knife sharpener using a foot-powered wheel, a set of women carding wool with a foot-powered contraption that rocked the wool over a set of sharp hooks, and others knitting things out of the wool. Commemorative soup plates (assiettes creuses) and wooden napkin rings were on offer, and there were vendors selling regional cheeses and wines and honey, and piment d'Espelette from Bayonne over on the coast. After the opening ceremonies were over, the blue-robed and red-caped judges walked around the booths as well, followed by groups of singers and local newspaper reporters.

I did some networking while I was there, talking to winemakers and cheesemakers, getting names and looking for connections and places to work. And I found examples of some of the foods I've been researching for my next project, branching out from cheese into regional specialties, like this pastis, a rich butter cake flavored with orange flower water. "Pastis" is the Gascon word for "cake" - it's not the same things as the anise liqueur pastis from Marseille; in the Provençal dialect, the word means "mixture." I didn't buy any of the gâteau Basque because although it's often made with almond flour, there's also wheat flour involved. There were two versions for sale, one filled with black cherry jam and the other with an almond cream. Instead, I bought turón Basque that was made gluten-free with only almond flour, honey, and whole candied oranges - very very sweet, but very good. And rather expensive. The couple running the booth also had round brownie-like things that were made of chocolate and chestnut flour, and I wish I'd bought a few of those as well.

There were several singing acts, some in traditional dress singing in béarnais and others, like the special guest star Michel Etcheverry, singing in French. I heard a song about the Gascon beret, which almost every man was wearing, and another that I think was titled "Mon Jurançon." I'm living in the middle of the Jurançon wine region, and hope to work with and/or visit some of the local producers this year.

In half an hour I leave for another regional festival, so I wanted to get this post written to make room for the next one. I wanted to go to the Salt Festival at Salies de Béarn last weekend but couldn't find an inexpensive way to get there; maybe next year I'll get to see the salt-barrel races and hear the Sunday mass in the local dialect. There's a Corn Festival coming up in a few weeks, as well as a Cheese Festival in Laruns just 30 kilometres due south of here. I don't think I'll make it to Làas to wander through the corn maze, but I'm hoping to get a ride to Laruns for the cheese. Whatever I see, I'll be taking pictures, and they'll eventually get posted. I really, really need to work out how to make some money out of this, though - I'm going to start running out of hours in the day. I am incredibly happy with the opportunities I have to be here and going to these events, but I need to hook into an income stream that pays me to do it. Until then, I'll take my payment in memories, because I know that I'll enjoy looking back at this post some day, remembering the sound of the accordion.

La vertat qu'ei com la garbura, si la vòs bona e sabrosa, que la cau saber adobar.

"Truth is like soup - for it to taste the best, you need to adjust the seasonings a little."

No comments:

Post a Comment