Pastel Blue

We took the road North through Simorre, to Grimont, up around Auch & into Lectoure. Parking just off the main square, slightly down the hillside, it was a short but steep climb back up to the main street and the busy Friday Market. Mainly food, stalls, large & small, strung their slightly random way down the whole length of the street.

The trick of visiting any market for the first time is to walk its whole length, explore each and every corner, visit all its stalls without buying anything. Stop & taste, chat to the stallholders & get to know them a little. Observe how they run their stall & how they relate to other customers. Make a mental note of what impresses & what does not. Then, and only then go back to those that you wish to buy from. That way, not only will you understand the dynamics and atmosphere of the particular market, but also you will not end up kicking yourself for having bought a particular cheese or saucisson when there was a better one a few yards down waiting for your patronage.

Hard work this busman’s holiday so a gentle beer in a bar bedecked with sporting memorabilia and random artwork was needed, followed by a decent but not memorable lunch just off the main drag.

Later, replete & just a little drowsy, I took my boys for a private tour & demonstration at the pastel ‘factory’ which is sandwiched between the train track and a small industrial estate on the outskirts of the town.

The website tells someof the story, but does not really do it justice. It is the story of the humble Woad plant, a weed which when subjected to a combination of processes, turns to a magical blue. A die which secured the fortune for this small area or ‘golden triangle’, as it was known in the fifteenth & sixteenth century. Here, in this spectacularly beautiful mediaeval building I found a description of every young man’s dream. Well one of them.

An essential part of the transformation of the boiled sludge of the woad plant into the remarkable colour which became ‘Royal Blue’ was the need to add urine. So, I kid you not, the original makers of Pastel employed what our pretty french guide called ‘pee-ers’. Apparently the most sought after job in the area at the time was to be one of these pee-ers. Men & boys came from all around to drink as much beer as they could manage and then to pee on the woad. Obviously these specialists were not much good for any other job most of the time, but they were apparently very well paid for their trouble.

So here we had a manufacturing process which involved taking a weed, crushing, boiling, rolling into balls to dry & then waiting 5 or 6 months for the balls to mature. Then all that was left was to get regularly drunk and pee on the broken up balls. This laborious process created a product worth its weight in gold, strictly regulated by law & sought after throughout the known world.



Author: janmccourt

Farmer, owner of Northfield Farm known for his & its pioneering role as a champion of local food, rare breeds, Borough & Broadway Markets.

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