Saints de Glace

by Simona Palenga

After a few days of grey sky, we almost forgot it is already late spring.

The temperature dropped considerably last weekend and only since Thursday, it is going slowly up, back to the usual for this time of the year.

It is no surprise for the French, we just left behind the ‘Ice Saints’!

Despite being a pretty secular society, they can’t help but trust Saint-Mamertus, Saint-Pancras and Saint-Servatius, 11th, 12th and 13th of May. Respectively, these days are considered as the last ones that might bring nightly frosts and only after these three days it is safe to plant in the garden the most sensible plants: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and pumpkins.

Saint Mamertus, who lived in the 5th century, is the only one with a real connection to the farming world: he’s the founder of the rogations, processions followed by prayer, that farmers hold on to for good crops (read more here).

I have always looked at this tradition with skepticism, and this year, I decided I trusted the weather forecast better than medieval beliefs.

Winter has been particularly mild, so I planted my tomatoes two weeks back… along with every other single sprout I had worked on since late February.

Well, the curse of the Saints took a modern twist, sending hail for 10 minutes, followed by 36 hours of intense rain. In total, 24 of my tomato plants ended up like Marie Antoinette, decapitated by ice.

If you are in the countryside, you will find French who decided to take a slow pace towards de-confined life, happily bent over, in their veggie patches, planting tomatoes and marigolds.

Mammertus

An engraving of Saint Mamertus from an 1878 book, Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints @wikipedia

La Lamproie (Lamprey Eel)

My recent visit to the Le Cabestan Ferme du Pêcheur in Sainte-Terre near Saint Emilion was so unique and fun!  I learned something totally new and unfamiliar…the lamproie (lamprey eel). David and Sabine Durand make these prehistoric creatures their livelihood. This third generation fishing ‘farm’, which is seasonal work until the middle of May, is unique.  It is completely dependant on the seasonal migration of younger lamprey eels on their way to the sea.

The Durand family has an incredibly well-run operation, from fishing to cooking to presentations for kids and adults. If you want to see something out of the ordinary, taste something very regional (like the lamproie rillettes or slowly cooked eel in red wine) or learn about an unusual species – this would be the place to do it. Visits are 15 euro per person and include a tour, video, and tasting (degustation). Cooking demos or lessons can also be arranged in advance.*

Like the sweet wines of Sauternes which are currently not trendy, the lamproie is out of favor and not eaten as regularly, even locally. Hopefully keeping people informed, as they do with school visits, and teaching visitors will keep this product around for the next generation.

Le Cabestan Ferme du Pecher can be found on Facebook or on their website http://www.lamproie.fr/ which is filled with more information, photos and videos / 2 Port Peytor, Sainte-Terre 33350 / Phone +33 (0)6 20 89 41 84 or contact directly through Facebook and website / Hours vary depending on the season.

When live eels are not available at the farm, you can also visit the Jardin de la Lamproie museum at 231 Rue du Général de Gaulle, 33350 Sainte-Terre (5 minute drive).

*Only available in French at this time.