Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
November 27, 2022
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Mangia Bene

    Languedoc, the region to the west of Provence, shared many alimentary parallels with Provence, especially the prevalence of bread and wine in the diet. In his study of the peasants of Languedoc during the last third of the fifteenth century, the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie compared the diet of the farmworkers of Narbonne to the bourgeoisie of Beziers, using household accounts.* The bourgeois family of Beziers, the Rocolles, consisted of a widow, her two daughters, and a female servant. The four of them consumed about two thousand liters of wine a year. Again, as in Provence, we see that wine was food. The Narbonne farmworkers drank even more, about 650 liters of red wine a year per person. The farm workers were not demanding, insisting only on money in the pocket, white bread on the table, and a glass of good wine. Although rations did not decline between 1480 and 1580, the quality did because employers skimped on it. As Ladurie said, "The workers ate white bread under Louis XI and black bread under Henry III." In 1480, the farmworkers and the Rocolles's could eat bread made from fine wheat and drink hearty red wine, while one hundred years later it was a ration of black bread and piquette.** In later centuries the gastronomy improved again and the farmyard produced many chickens, ducks, and geese, which are evident in the local cooking today.

* Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roy. The Peasants of Languedoc. John Day, trans. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1976, p. 103.

** Ibid. pp. 42, 43. Piquette is a poor quality wine made with water and the residue of pressed grapes.