Nine hours of bread: part one
We began the day with a drive that climbed high into the hills north of town, taking increasingly tiny roads and finally arriving at the hamlet of Cauduro for their bread feast. I have a weakness for tiny roads and secrets to be discovered, and this day’s outing was a dandy example.
My friends had learned of the upcoming feast, and they invited me along to see what it was all about. The back story is that the hamlet had fallen into disrepair and lost most of its inhabitants, when along came some people who bought a few of the houses and fixed them up. The idea was to rent out the houses to vacationers seeking quiet in the hills, and in the process, the hamlet has revived a bit. The people who invested so much time, labor and love into restoring the houses have also restored the village bread oven, leading to the idea for a bread festival.
At the edge of the hamlet, that tiny road turns into a walking path (no cars in the hamlet), and a field had been mowed to provide parking. Full of curiosity, we wandered toward the stone buildings, stopping first at the very small church. Colorful wildflowers and planted gardens combined with the old stones to paint a lovely picture of rustic serenity.
We learned that the first event, a concert in that tiny church, had to be cancelled because the musical group’s director had a family emergency. But lo and behold, a 12-year-old stepped up—without time to rehearse—to do a piano recital for about 30 of us, and she included a few pieces she’d written herself. She had some stumbles, but the crowd was completely with her, and we shouted “brava!” at the end. As she stood up from the piano, the day’s hosts gave her a handful of wildflowers, which she was still clutching an hour later as we were about to sit down to lunch.
After that, we explored a little bit, and were given a tour of one of the seven renovated houses that are now rented out as gîtes (self-catering houses). The hosts were friendly and eager to share their work and their hamlet with us; they all wore name tags that were made by writing in marker on torn-off pieces of brown packing tape.
This hamlet is in the middle of the garrigue, with no nearby signs of civilization other than the road, and it would be a terrific vacation locale for hikes, for seeing the night sky, and for lots of quiet. You have to plan well, bringing all the food you anticipate needing, because there are no amenities like a market or a café.
The refurbished bread oven was a wondrous sight, and we peeked in to see the baker tidying up after putting around 25 loaves into the oven.
We found our spot at one of the four long tables set up for the event, and Maryse promptly set about getting us all arranged for lunch. Out came the tablecloth, plus plates, metal flatware, and glass wineglasses. She then turned to another of the bags they’d brought to start unloading various containers of food, plus a bottle of wine.
About then the bread came out of the oven. I darted inside with my camera, and ended up helping them bring the hot loaves outside. The table was in full sun, and when it was piled high with loaves of bread, the assembled group raised three cheers for the rather shy baker. The man standing next to me did his cheering with a glass of wine in one hand and a hand-rolled cigarette stuck to his lower lip. We stood around, no one daring to move far from that table, drinking the apéritif wine they provided and smelling freshly-baked bread. I have little doubt that the loud conversation and laughter covered up many a growling stomach.
The three of us chose our loaf of pain au levain (starter bread or sourdough), and sat down to eat. We were soon joined by a couple who began the meal as complete strangers and ended it with the exchange of phone numbers. It’s the way these events go: you sit at a table with people you’ve never seen before and pass an hour or more enjoying lively conversation and good food, before parting as friends.
Maryse had made an onion tart, and we followed that with my tabbouleh, some sausages, and the warm bread. Oh, and the wine, of course. After that, Claude retrieved the thermos of coffee, which we enjoyed with the chocolate cookies I’d brought. As is usual at such events, we shared some of our food with our new friends, who hadn’t planned ahead, didn’t bring a multi-course picnic, and were happy to partake.
After lunch, we walked around the hamlet a bit more, and then returned to the car for Part Two of our Day of Bread.
Nine hours of bread: part two
The second part of our Day of Bread was a rare treat. We were headed back down the mountain to the flat, fertile lands around the Aude River (the one that flooded so badly in the autumn of 2018). We’d received word that an old grain mill, on private property, would be open today only for a guided tour.
It’s an astounding place, and I’m really glad I went, even though I didn’t understand much of what our archaeologist guide had to say. The structure is heavily damaged, and it stands partially in the river; the best-preserved portion is also the oldest. Arrow-slits are visible in the immense square-cut stones of the walls.
The gist (of the grist) is this: It was originally built as a fort in the mid-11th century • In 1237, the structure was modified and made into a flour mill • The fortified mill and its nearby town were the property of the archbishop of Narbonne, despite repeated attempts by others to take it, and remained thus until the Revolution in 1789 • The mill continued to produce flour until a devastating fire in 1926; at that time it “had been producing 9,750 kilos of flour per day and employing 20 workers.” *
* Source: “Canet d’Aude, History of Our Region,” by Val Wineyard, from her extensive website, which primarily covers the history of Rennes-le-Château.
This handsome libellule (dragonfly) spent several minutes in our company at lunch one day, and was remarkably calm about allowing my phone within inches to make a photograph.