Oct 18 2009

Clangs and Coings in Romainmôtier

by at 2:15 pm

Yesterday, Seth and I with friends HSF and Lorenzo decided to go on a daytrip.  We were going to see a desalpage (a…de-alping?), the traditionally rural Swiss ceremony wherein the cows are herded down from their summer pasture in the mountains down to the barns in the valley for the winter.  We went to the town of Romainmôtier in the Jura mountains, just a 30 minute or so train ride north of Renens.  There was hardly any information on the town web site (like, we didn’t even know if we’d be able to get there, wherever there was exactly, from the closest train station), so we were hoping things would just work out, which is rather risky in this country where we tend to lose out whenever we hope that things will sort themselves.  However, this outing, amazingly, was all successfully undertaken, if not entirely what we expected.

Cowbell Exchange

On a hillside above the town, there was an autumn fair and cowbell exchange.  Huge cowbells, little cowbells, old cowbells.  I really don’t know much about cowbells, but I think if I did, I would have been in cowbell heaven.  There were also several cheese stands, other traditional food stands, vineyard stands, jam and other farm-made goodies stands, and farm equipment stands.  We surveyed several times said stands, wondering what was happening with the cows.  HSF finally asked if they’d already passed, which they hadn’t.  She was advised that we would hear them coming because of their bells, and that when we did, we should RUN to the road so as not to miss them.  This was good advice, because soon after, around noon, a small herd of cows rushed down the mountain road past the fair.  It was not the elaborate procession we had been expecting at all, and it was over in a few seconds.  Perhaps to make up for this very short cow-run, there was a troop of cow-bell players who were dressed in traditional outfits and carrying two heavy bells apiece on yokes.  Their performance consisted of them all swaying and making a huge racket, without melody, without rhythm, with the clanging bells.  It was loud.

Rushing cows

We stopped in town to check out the famous Clunisien abbey, which is remarkably well-preserved and light-filled and pretty, along with an excellent salon de the across the way in the Maison du Prieur and a boulangerie up the road.  Said establishments are rare in their independence and deliciousness, and I felt like we were in France instead of chain-store Switzerland.

Romainmôtier Abbey

Before we headed home, we picked up some veggies, some wild strawberry jam, a slab of cheese, and a bunch of free coings (quinces) that someone had left on their stoop with a sign that read “servez-vous.” I could imagine why the owners of the quince tree were happy to give some away—though Lorenzo likes to eat quinces raw, which doesn’t seem toxic, these fruits typically need to be cooked before consumption.  Not so easy to do.  Quinces are one of the traditional fruits used for jam because one does not need to add pectin to make it gel.  So, last night, during dinner at our place, we set a pot of grated quince, water, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice on the stove for about 3 hours.  And we made about 5 jars worth of quince jam.  It’s actually pretty good!  Very fragrant, a little bit like one might imagine the taste apple-citrus-flower blossom.  Being in Switzerland really has led to all sorts of culinary adventures.

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