“Sauntering along the course of the river Dordogne, I had left far behind me the mountains of Auvergne; but I occasionally stopped to observe the autumnal sunbeams playing round their distant peaks. I dwelt on the recollection of the wondrous scenes they exhibit, and marvelled that so few of our travellers had explored their secret charms.”
–High-ways and By-ways: Or, Tales of the Road-side, Picked Up in the French Provinces, vol. I, by Thomas Colley Grattan (1823)
In the Western imaginaire, Dordogne has never had the exotic or haunted reputation of Transylvania or Dartmoor. In spite of this, the rugged and Gothic-looking region of southwestern France (formerly a division of the ancient province of Périgord) does have its fair share of secrets. Legends abound; tales of enchanted swords, dragons, and heretical societies are distinct elements of Dordognais history. We’ll touch on these stories a little later.
Truffles, also known as diamants de la cuisine (diamonds of cuisine) are arguably Dordogne’s most famous delicacy. Nineteenth-century celebrity chef Alexis Soyer claimed that they “enliven the mind, exhilarate the spirits, assist the digestion, and render the reasoning faculties more clear”.
Alex Bénoit Soyer (1810-58)
The following recipes are from the The Royal Cookery Book by Jules Gouffé (1869):
1. Truffle Puree
- Take 1/2 lb. of well-cleaned and peeled truffles; pound them in a mortar, with 1 oz. of butter; and press them through a hair sieve;
- Reduce 3 gills of Espagnole Sauce, with 1 gill of Essence of Truffles; and add the puree to it.
- Before serving, boil up the puree, and thicken it with 1 oz. of butter and 1 oz. of Chicken Glaze.
2. Soup of Truffle Puree a la Périgord
- Prepare 2 gills of Truffle Puree to make a custard, as in the preceding recipe; when cold, cut it in dice; put them in a soup tureen, and pour over 3 quarts of thin Chicken Puree, with 1 gill of Almond Milk…and serve.
The city of Rocamadour in the Lot department. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
As mentioned previously, Dordogne is not without its mysteries. Here’s a brief survey of the lore of the land:
The Sword of Durandal
- Legend has it that the Excalibur-like sword of the Frankish knight Roland is hidden somewhere in the city of Rocamadour (pictured above). Rocamadour itself is a sight to behold; the lofty commune is built into the side of a gorge which overlooks the Alzou tributary. For centuries, it’s been a resting place for Christian pilgrims journeying on the Camino de Santiago. Over the years, a number of interesting miracles have been reported on-site—most of which have occurred in the vicinity of the Black Madonna statue in the Chapel of our Lady of Rocamadour. In the Middle Ages, members of an unholy sect called the Cathars were sent to Rocamadour’s sanctuaries to do penance.
- In France, the Cathars were religious devotees who practised a form of Gnostic revivalism. They shunned sex and meat, and also rejected the Catholic Church’s Trinitarianism (a belief in the Trinity). As a result of these views and others, the Cathar episcopacy was brutally persecuted and ultimately stripped from power during the twenty-year-long Albigensian Crusade (1209-29). Although most Cathars were based in Languedoc, smaller communities existed in certain areas of Périgord. For a time, a few of these renegade groups had the protection of “The Confederation of Rocamadour”, an association of local officials and noblemen.
A Freshwater Dragon
- No regional folklore is ever complete without a dragon tale! Le Coulobre (or La Gratusse) is the name of the river dragon that reportedly haunts the waters of the River Dordogne near Lalinde. France’s La Montagne newspaper has likened it to the Loch Ness Monster. Like other cryptids, the legendary Coulobre seems to have acquired a significant following during the nineteenth-century, in the height of the Romanticism era. Today, sighting are few and far between. Local storytellers however, often revisit the tale of the dragon’s fierceness, and stress that the historical narratives were written to warn villagers about the dangers of the river’s currents.
See what Thinker’s Garden Fantasts are doing this month!
- SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA, USA: One Man Show. Where: Marcus Ashley Gallery. When: 15 October. Who: Featuring Michael Parkes.
- ROME, ITALY: Lecture on “Mummification and the Culture of the Dead in Sicily”. Where: The Academy of Enchantment. When: 16 October. Who: Produced by Ivan Cenzi.
- LONDON, UK: Kayak to Crate Brewery. Where: Limehouse Basin to Hackney Wick. When: 27 October. Who: Hosted by Secret Adventures.
- WORLDWIDE: Digital Release of Faust. Where: Digital Periodicals. When: 28 October. Who: Published by Hannah Kate.
- LONDON, UK: Ghost Walk. Where: Burgh House, Hampstead. When: 31 October. Who: Featuring London Dreamtime.
1. David, Yveline. “La légende d’un dragon terrifiant plane toujours sur les bords de la Dordogne,” La Montagne, June 19, 2016. http://www.lamontagne.fr/auvergne/actualite/2016/06/19/la-legende-d-un-dragon-terrifiant-plane-toujours-sur-les-bords-de-la-dordogne_11966262.html.
2. Gouffé, Jules. The Royal Cookery Book. Trans. Alphonse Gouffé. London: 1869.
3. Grattan, Thomas. High-ways and By-ways: Or, Tales of the Road-side, Picked Up in the French Provinces by a Walking Gentleman. Vol 1. London: 1823.
4. Soyer, Alexis. The Modern Housewife: Or, Ménagère. Comprising Nearly One Thousand Receipts, for the Economic and Judicious Preparation of Every Meal of the Day. New York: 1850.
5. Taylor, Claire, Rist, Rebecca, and Catherine Léglu. The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade: A Sourcebook, London: 2014.