French gourmets adore the taste of the little black hen, The Dark Lady or Géline Touraine. whose white meat is said to have a particularly delicate flavour. But there has been terrific variation in its popularity over the past 150 years.
In 1870 there was the arrival in the farms of the Touraine, as throughout France, of many foreign breeds of poultry mainly British and Asian and this led to a lot of cross breeding. It was Professor Jean-Baptiste Martin, (the future agricultural county director of agricultural services of Indre-et-Loire) who decided to save the endangered black hen of the Touraine! Under his leadership, on 12th August, 1909 a club was created for Touraine-based poultry breeders. Its purpose was to select and highlight the black hen of Touraine; so popular in the backyards and small holdings of so many of les Tourangeaux. When a stable and agreed variety was agreed it was baptized, for the occasion, Géline de Touraine. The breed standard established in 1909 was finally approved in 1913 by the central office of the Fédération nationale avicole (National Poultry Federation).
During the 1920 it’s said that at any one time the Touraine held up to 750,000 Gélines. But the breed all but disappeared in the 1950s with only a few enthusiasts keeping and selling them. It was in the 1980s that there was a revival under the name “La Dame Noire” (The Black Lady). In the early 1990s the success of the breed suffered again from lack of any guarantee of pedigree and poor farming methods. However various breeders carried out a programme of specific pedigree selection until, today, the validity of your Dark Lady is guaranteed.
According to the Elevage Qualité Touraine web site the word “géline” (hen) comes from the Latin word “gallina”, which means “chicken.” Commonly in France it was also used to denote a hen that had not yet laid. It was in the 19th century that “Géline” was used to name the black hens of the Touraine. The region’s breeding district was bounded on the north by Azay le Rideau and Amboise, and south by Sainte-Maure de Touraine and Levroux.
There is a 90 page illustrated book (left) available from the publisher’s office in Tours which gives the full history of the breed (plus yummy recipes). It costs 15 € from The First Page – 56 rue de la Prefecture – 37000 TOURS ~ make your cheque payable to “Edition 1ère page”
The information for this blog entry comes from the Chambre d’Agriculture 37’s website: – Pôle Elevage Qualité Touraine – there’s lots of other information on the Géline Touraine and other aspects of Touraine agriculture – just visit www.elevagequalitetouraine.fr