FOUEES (HEARTH CAKES)


In Latin, "focus" literally means "hearth or "fireplace", and hearth cakes were cooked on the hot stone of the focus. Lots of names of bread derive from "focus", including fouée, fouace, fougasse (or fougace) and indeed focaccia. Fouées (also known as fouaces) are small round breads, nowadays cooked in bread ovens: ideally, wood fired. They are not at all the same as a modern focaccia or fougasse, but more like a slightly drier, much fresher pita. Then again, who knows what they were all like 2000 years ago?


Fouées are normally presented in a thin, folded over napkin, which helps keep them warm and protects the fingers from the contents. There's another one under the folded napkin on the right. This one is full of boudin and is from La Roche Rigault on April 17th 2016.

They are a classic vide-grenier snack, and they are not expensive: the ones at Les Trois Moutiers on April 10th, as illustrated below, were 1.50€ each. This is a bit over a pound, or a bit under a couple of dollars.The fouée stand was right next to the buvette (drinks stand) where a glass of wine was 80 centimes: a bit over 50p, a bit under a dollar. It made for a cheap and surprisingly filling breakfast.


You can fill fouées with almost anything, sweet or savoury, and the French do. The lady in the red jacket is filling one with snail butter, while the one behind her is filling another with boudin. A boudin is a blood sausage (black pudding, blutwurst), but you can buy boudin filling in tubs with no skins: that's what's in the second tub. The nearer tub contains rillettes, and other options included goat cheese, Nutella (as you can see), and jam; with, as far as I recall, creme fraiche.


A few vide-greniers always have fouées; some never do; and otherwise it seems to be largely a matter of luck where the fouée-wallah turns up with his massive portable oven. By the time a fouée has gone cold it has very little appeal indeed, but when it's fresh, it's delicious. It was probably one of the basic foods of ancient Rome. In a city of apartment blocks as much as five storeys high, with few private kitchens except for the rich, freshly cooked food off the street was probably even more important than today. It is strange but true that the earliest surviving chimney in England appears to be at Conisborough Castle and dates back only to the 12th century: they did not become common until 400-500 years ago.


Of course you can book a fouée oven and its crew for public or private events, and you can eat fouées at any time of day. The second picture comes from a community event in Oiron, a few miles from where we live, where after a guided tour of the art in the area there was an entire dinner of fouées from fish to dessert. The fouées were delivered hot in baskets from the oven outside: inside, there was a self-service buffet including, as well as the options listed above, tuna salad, finely sliced air-dried sausage, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and sliced cucumber. The food was "all you can eat", at least until it ran out, and the wine was a few euros for half a litre. Unfortunately it was too far to walk home. 


Fouée oven. This is the smallest wood-fired portable foué oven I have ever I have ever seen, but it also produced the best fouées I have ever had, which rather suggests that the skill lies in the bread-making and baking rather than in the oven. 

The vide-grenier at La Roche Rigault is in a rather ugly modern suburb, but as ever, this bears no very close relationship to what is on offer. This was where we bought a superb cast-iron galette pan for 2€ (call it £1.50, $2.50) and a brand new unused cordless steam iron for 5€ (£4, $7). The galette pan needed a bit of cleaning up with steel wool and olive oil, but a few minutes' work saved me perhaps 20€ as compared with buying the pan new. Of course there is the question of whether I would have bought the pan new, having lived without one perfectly well for all my life so far.


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016