Saturday, January 27, 2007

Annual Choranche & Châtelus luncheon

It's not easy to get out a blog on time—or even, for that matter, to get out a blog at all—when the blogger's advanced age accords him the privilege of being invited to the annual luncheon for the two dozen or so senior citizens of the neighboring villages of Choranche and Châtelus. Events started early this morning (outside temperature = minus 10 degrees) with a bus trip to the new walnut museum in the village of Vinay, housed in a former old barn for drying walnuts.

The visit was interesting, but it was amusing to realize that several members of our group knew more about walnuts than anything we might learn from the museum. This is normal for people who live on properties with scores of walnut trees (I've got fifty or so at Gamone), and who spend a certain time every year gathering and processing their walnuts. One nice piece of information I did learn, however, was that male walnut pollen is transported to the female flowers solely through the action of the wind, with no intervention whatsoever of insects, who simply have an aversion for walnut flowers. For me, this solves a mystery at Gamone. I've always wondered why the trees on the upper edge of the paddock bear more fruit than elsewhere. It's simply because they receive the full force of the wind blowing into Choranche from the Isère Valley.

In the museum's collection of walnuts from all over the planet, I came upon specimens of the Australian variety: Juglans Australis.

This interested me in that my recipe for preparing pickled walnuts at Gamone (using English malt vinegar) comes from Australia. I'm intrigued to see that the Australian fruit have a blackish shell, and that they're relatively small.

We sat down for lunch in a fine restaurant at Vinay at around midday, and left some four hours later. Really, in France, luncheons of this kind are inevitably marathons. Here's a photo of me serving red wine:

At gatherings of this kind, I realize that the residents of tiny villages such as Choranche and Châtelus, in spite of their many differences, end up forming something that might be called a clan. To a large extent, I remain a foreigner, if only because of my accent, but I've been here long enough (a dozen years) to be accepted. In the above photo, the people alongside me are descendants of families who've been here for half-a-dozen generations.

In the museum, there were several old photos of groups of young women who worked at walnut harvesting. Often, when I see such photos, I'm struck by the fact that the people all seem to look alike. The clothes and the hairstyles are partly responsible for this impression, of course, but I end up realizing that another factor comes into play. People in small villages are highly intermarried (I often discover new instances of relationships at gatherings such as today), and the individuals in old group photos often looked alike for the simple reason that they no doubt shared a good proportion of common genes. In reaching that conclusion, I'm probably stating something that has always been obvious to everybody except me. As they say in picturesque French: I'm using my weight to burst through a door that was already wide open.


  1. These Juglans australis fruits look very nice ! I don't know what species of Juglans are grown in Australia but Juglans australis doesn't seem to be common outside of its native area which is Argentina, Brasil and Bolivia. In fact, Juglans has no member native from Australia, so they're introducted species there. Almost every walnut tree in France is Juglans regia, even if often grafted on Juglans nigra to speed the growth up, so they can produce walnuts faster.

  2. Thanks for that information, Julien. According to what you tell me, it's quite possible that the adjective "australis" here has nothing to do with my native land, Australia, but merely signifies "from the Southern Hemisphere". I jumped to the conclusion that these were Australian fruit (maybe mistakenly) because I've heard that Australia is a major walnut producer, but I've never bothered to find out what varieties of Juglans are grown in Australia.