Regular visitors will have viewed the map I posted of Le Chatelier’s old mill, Moulin de Châtelier. I mentioned this map to the Barrault family who live in the hamlet and Madame Paulette Barrault told me the mill was still being used after the Second World War (1939-45).
The Moulin de Châtelier (see small map left) was used to grind locally grown grain into flour. The flour was, Paulette recalls, distributed by horse and cart to the local houses and bakeries, boulangeries, in the surrounding villages where it was turned into delicious bread. She also recalls the name of the last miller, meunier, as being M. Albert Lamirault.
Historically, most villages and country towns in France had communal ovens, four banal. Le Chatelier’s four banal was where the old tobacco drying shed now stands. (Ah, but more of tobacco processing in the hamlet in a forthcoming blog.)
Originally four banal were under the control and ownership of their feudal lord who employed a fournier to run it. Local people were often barred from having ovens in their own homes and had to pay a fee to the fournier to cook their bread and food. The practice of paying money to the lord to have one’s food and bread cooked started to die out in the 18th century and, I presume, ended completely with the advent of the French Revolution. The tradition of communal baking (as with communal laundry) did continue into the 20th Century. Four banal are still occasionally used for special occasions such as village fetes, including. I beleive, at Le Grand Pressigny.
Let me leave you with this description of french bread making from the ever wonderful Elizabeth David:
- To us, the holes [in a French baguette] are a part of [its] proper character …. the French do use a good deal of soft flour, because that is what is produced from the wheat grown in France. So they have long ago adapted their bread techniques to their flour. Or rather, what they adapted was the ‘Vienna’ technique, and this didn’t happen until some time in the mid nineteenth century; it was the Viennese oven, with its steam injectors and its sloping floor, or sole, which was mainly responsible for creating the tradition of French bread as we know it today. English bakers, and indeed many of the older French ones, still call this type of bread ‘Vienna’ bread, the true French bread being the old round or cylindrical hand-shaped ‘pain de campagne’ or pain de menage’, plump, and crossed with cuts to that when baked the crust is of many different shades, gradations and textures and the crumb rather open and coarse. It is this bread which is now enjoying something of a revival in France, perhaps because the Vienna type has not taken very kindly to the short-time dough maturing and the rapid mechanical kneading and moulding techniques of the 1970s, partly because a well made ‘pain de campagne’ keeps much better than baguette’ loves, which is today that it will stay moist for as long as two days, even three, whereas the long, crusty, thin loaf is, as we know, stale within an hour of emerging from the oven, and for the French three days is a long time to keep a loaf of bread.” English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David, Penguin, 1979