Watch this Space: The Kitchen-at-Camont is growing
This magical season, as people turn to gingerbread houses and eggnog, bring trees inside their homes, and light the dark night with sparkly LED lights, I am succumbing to a sort of pragmatic magic at Camont. Our cooking class season is on winter break, the hams and other charcuterie projects are hanging from the rafters, and cassoulets are baking away as I work on computer driven projects next to the humming little white wood stove in the Kitchen. Could I really want more magic for a Christmas-at-Camont?
Thinking about the future Camont, has me nostalgic about Vieux Camont. Picture the Barn-at-Camont in 1724, the year the farm was established. The 70-foot long barn was dug into the side of a small hill on the south side of the Garonne River bank escarpment; early climate control to take advantage of the banked earth’s protection while being just above the flood plain levels. The hayloft was loaded from the narrow track that passes alongside at roof level while a dozen or more big blonde oxen were sheltered from strong summer sun and icy winter rain. This barn with it’s stone, brick and elm feeding stalls was the machine house sheltering the one-ton hay-chewing tractors the farmer used to ready his fields: plow, plant, and harvest. The barn was pulled from this rocky soil using flat Roman bricks, clay and sand to hold the quarried stone and river rubble walls. There were no building codes, inspectors or planning.
A hundred plus years pass into the 1850′s and the Canal de la Garonne is dug into the middle of the valley floor bisecting the farm in two and leaving valuable farm land abandoned to the floodplain. Now, three families occupy the houses and out buildings including two barns, a pigeonnier and a communal oven. After two hundred years and a world war, Camont is reduced to a smaller holding that one family manages.
That farmer’s daughter marries a local boy returning from a German camp at the end of the next war. Together with a young daughter, they managed what they could at the end of the last century: chickens, turkeys, and geese ruled the farmyard; a small peach orchard grew alongside elm tree lined road; watercress and escargot thrived by the fresh water spring. It was substance farming at best. With a solitary light bulb hanging in each of the three rooms, a fireplace for warmth and no running water, they stayed on until the late-70′s before moving across the road into modern bungalows built on a higher patch of the old farm. For the next twenty years Camont slept. Old Monsieur DuPuy, in beret or pith helmet and sporting a cane and gleaning basket, would walk down to the canal through ‘his’ farm to feed the wild ducks on the canal. And then he disappeared, too.
By then, mechanical tractors had replaced those magnificent white oxen. The fields were turned to corn, tobacco and wheat and the cattle bred for meat production. Like in the Limousin and Piedmont, our prize beef are bred of these heavy-muscled, docile meat machines. By the time I found Camont in the late 1980′s, abandoned under a bramble and nettle covered blanket, the only vestige of the working farm were the empty feeding stalls in the long barn. The barn filled with old building stones and firewood became the storehouse for twenty more years.
As life lessons go, each dream must have two things, energy and a plan. And each big roof must have two things, too- strong top beams and a good, solid foundation. When the practical magic that descended on Camont in the form of a team of experienced builders from Poland took one look at the 70 ft. long tile roof , they started digging- before they even touched one tile. “If we are going to do this, then we do it right.”
Is this your year to dig a new foundation? To take charge of your dream and let a little practical magic in? Just open your eyes a bit wider, my friends and have a wonderful Magical Holiday Season.
Camont in the Winter of 2012/13 getting ready for the next century.