To understand the essence of South West French people, the chanting accent they use, as well as some very specific words and expressions even the origin of some of their family names, all of that comes down directly to the influence of France and Spain and even Italian had on each other over the centuries, especially through the development of la langue D’Oc (Occitan).
Whilst the strained relationship between France and Spain started around the 8th Century with the invasion by the Franks on the Spanish territory and with the rebellion of the Basques against the French domination, a more harmonious relationship merges through the beginning of diplomatic marriage between France and Spain also reflected in the influence on the language.
Where does Langue D'oc come from?
In the Middle Ages Spain has influenced France through its language. La Langue D’oc is the result of Latin and other dialects from the South West of France and one which originated in the Catalona region in Spain called le Catalan. It originated in the 10th Century and spread over Europe in the 12th Century. The harmonious sound of the language made it a popular means of expression which spread throughout Europe through the Troubadours whose poems were chanted rather than recited. Epic poems or la chanson de geste celebrate the nation heroes on both sides for their activities in wars. Roland the nephew of Charlemagne and the Cid, hero of the Spanish conquest over the Moorish domination are examples. Famous local Troubadours writers such as Raimond de Miraval, Henri de Rochegude or the poetess Louisa Paulin contributing to the blossoming of the Langue D’oc whose influence still remains today in the South West spoken French.
Verbs and Expressions
Some verbs still in use today in the South French language have direct roots from the occitan like claver which means to lock up comes from the occitan clavar which means to close. It is also close to ciave in Italian.
Espanter is still used today as a verb to describe how astonished or flabbergasted one might be, also directly inherited not only by Occitan but also similar to the Catalan and Spanish. Lever la table (litteraly lift the table) has the meaning of clearing the table and is a direct translation from occitan levar la taula. Similarly used in the weather context and in the reflexive form (se lever), like in the expression. Le temps se lève, means the sky is clearing.
Some expressions used make alliterations like the expression: J’ai la cagne (occitan: canha) qui me gagne. I am slowly getting lazy.
At other times the South French language is directly influenced by the Spanish or maybe the Italian. We say in today's language about someone who has verbal diarrhea Quelle tatche! Coming from the Spanish chacharear or the Italien chiacchierare, which South Europeans are really good at!!
Influence of Language on Desserts
Some occitan words have influenced the terminology of known and less known French dessert pastries. One word used to describe a type of flan with cherries commonly called clafoutis in the whole of France comes directly from the occitan word claufotis, which is derivied from the verb claufir, which means to stuff or fill up. Similarly a typical dessert in the Catalogna region in Spain or in France, the Provence as well in my native Tarn departement is called oreillette, which means a little ear. There are weet- tasting small doughnuts usually flavoured with lemon or orange. This comes from the occitan word aurelheta.
It is not just commonly used words that are derived from the Occitan but it is also the name of places, especially around my native departement Tarn, whose meaning would be unclear without reference to the Langue D’Oc. For instance, a village in my Tarn departement on top of a cliff with its medieval castle is called Penne, which means in Occitan High Rock. Monesties, a clos village to Albi which host a magnificient church with beautiful murals from the Renaissance time used to be part of a monastery which is the meaning in Occitan.
Common family names from my region are no exception to this and often describe a trade. For instance, fournier comes from the occitan meaning baker, or fabre meaning blacksmith, teyssier meaning weaver.
Find out more about the origin of words
I personally find the origin of words quite fascinating and if you like to find out more and are a French speaker, please read the following articles or visit the website of Bernard Vavassori, a local researcher on the origin of the South West French language.
Meet the Locals
However, if you are learning French and want to learn some typical expressions and words, you must meet my local friends Marie and Céline on your next visit or tour (pictured). Listening to their chanting accent made in South West is a pure delight. My friend Céline (with the black frames) is also a typical lively South French woman who still uses expressions and words from the South West. As we say in my region, elle a beaucoup de tatche!! (see explanation above).
Let’s face it. I am not a great French chef and I think French cuisine can also be simple to prepare. That is why whenever I can I share a recipe or two, I 'd like to share a simple recipe, Crème catalane is easy-to make.
Where did Crème catalane originate?
If it is unclear whether the crème brulee or crème catalane originated on British, French or Spanish soil , anecdotes tend to say that Catalan cream had been the predecessor of France's Crème Brûlée.
The sweet Catalan cream was originally a traditional Spanish dessert prepared for the Saint Joseph's Day on 19 March. That's why this renowned treat is also referred to as "Saint Joseph' Day Cream". We also find a similar dessert in Sicily called crema, which was for a long time under Spanish and catalan occupation. Similarly, a dessert in the flandres area (current Holland ) can also be found, another country which was under Spanish occupation for a few centuries.
Even though looking very similar, la crème catalane is only la cousine lointaine of la crème brûleée, the only similarity being the caramalised crust on top.
First of all they are different due their cooking methods, one being cooked in a sauce pan while creme brulee is cooked in a bain marie (double boiler). Their ingredients are also different. Crème catalane unlike crème brulee does not require crème fraiche. Crème catalane is flavoured with lime or lemon, cinnamon and uses corn flower, or cornstarch.
Find the receipe of Crème catalane here
I couldn't resist to also add the crème brûleée recipe but with a South West French twist from chef Manu Feildels: Crème brulee with Armagnac and prunes: