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I first heard about Jacques through my mom. She and my niece Maya spent two weeks at a grandparent – granddaughter Elderhostel in Villeneuve, France five years ago. My mom forms life-long relationships everywhere she goes and she and Jacques, the French teacher, quickly became friends and then pen pals. Just so you know where Villeneuve-sur-Lot is, it is about two hours southeast of Bordeaux, in the heart of bastide (walled cities) and wine country. My mom introduced me to Jacques via email and soon we were conversing about my upcoming travel a year ago to France. He graciously offered his “city” home to me while he reined over his summer “country” home outside of town. What I did not realize was that Jacques, a teacher by profession, was also a treasure trove of French history and culture. While in Villeneuve, he became my tour guide and introduced me to the customs, conversation and little nuances that make the French so French. Tall for a French man (he’s half Italian), with longish grey hair often spilling out of a baseball hat, and a wry smile, I was now seeing France through his steely blue eyes. One topic that often came up was hunting for wild mushrooms. His father taught him at a very young age the secrets of finding these delicacies. Jacques keeps jars and jars of mushrooms preserved in his pantry and is always searching for the wild fungi on his frequent hikes in the forest. I secretly think he is obsessed with finding these much sought after tasty morsels. Just last week he sent me a note with photos of his recent mushroom find. I was amazed to hear it was near a place we had visited together and I had found enchanting, Bonaguil Castle.

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I felt as if I was in an epic movie. This gorgeous King Arthur castle, surrounded by woods hiding delicate mushrooms, is a perfect setting.

This week my friend Jacques wrote to me about his latest mushroom conquest.

Hello Mary!

Hope you’ll able to open and read the pictures I enclosed (I took them on Thursday). Those pictures are showing the last harvest I did in the numerous woods which are to be found close to Bonaguil (you remember the famous and so nice medieval castle of Bonaguil) .

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Mysterious and elegant at the same time. So many stories to tell…

While visiting the castle last year, Jacques said that he had grown up nearby and as a child he and his friends had the “keys” to the castle. When I asked what this meant, he replied that this was their own personal “fort” where they were free to roam, explore and live out their wildest dreams. Such a childhood. Bonaguil was not yet a destination castle and was fairly unkempt so it was wide open for curious kidlets.

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Bonaguil’s entrance. Were there no keys?

We call those wild mushrooms “girolles ” or “chanterelles”…

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Fresh and woodsy. I can smell the earth. Did the King’s servants hunt for these same mushrooms?

If you can’t have their smell, please look at the wonderful yellow colour they have ….maybe you ‘re thinking they ‘re easy to be found …then you would be wrong because such mushrooms grow under a thick carpet of brown dead leaves, so you must be for sure eagle-eyed to see them.

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Pidgeons scoping out where the mushrooms are hidden.

And you have to be very experimented too …I first followed my dear father in the forests when I was 7 or 8 years old! So I ‘m an old seeker right now!

Those “girolles” are so good fried in a pan with eggs, garlic, parsley and olive oil of course.

But you can eat them with chicken, pork or… rabbit ( we’re French!).

Which wine to choose ? Maybe a good red Bordeaux …or a white one with the French special omelette. (Meaning if you are to eat them with an omelette. Perhaps a good Viognier or Sancerre?)

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A very special addition to any dinner. How fortunate the French are to be able to walk out their door and Mother Nature is there to provide, in the most gourmet way possible!

Just a last word: before cooking you must clean them …with a very smooth brush please, because the numerous gills under their cap are often very dirty (sand, leaves, small slugs and so on).

I must taste them right now …….hum so good .

Santé!

I am very excited about hunting one of my favorite fungi foods (my frig is never void of them) next year. Chanterelles and Truffles here I come!