Sunday, 4 October 2015

The quinces of Cotignac

About 35 kilometres north-west of Les Arcs-sur-Argens, nestling against a high rocky outcrop in the hills of central Var, lies the beautiful little town of Cotignac.
A delightful place to dine - the long central square in Cotignac framed with restaurants.

The town has an attractive centre, surrounded as usual by shops and restaurants and edged with shady trees.  Its weekly market is well known and a ‘must visit’ for tourists in the area.
The name Cotignac – a corruption of the old Provençal ‘Coutignac’ – gives us a clue as to the town’s specialty. In English the word ‘cotignac’ translates as ‘quince paste’ – and for all those gourmets among us, that is a reason enough to visit Cotignac.

Quinces and Ceramic Bottle by Alan Leishman.

If Aix en Provence can set aside the first Sunday in September honour the sweet ‘calissons’ (see post 'Blessed Calissons' September 12), then Cotignac can surely mark the first Sunday in October as a day to honour the humble quince, known in France as ‘un coing’.
The town centre with the high cliff face behind.
The town and surrounds boast a variety of quince trees – cognassiers – and a committee of townsfolk has organised an event in honour of the trees, the fruit and the products produced from the fruit.
And so the ‘Fete des Coings’ was launched as recently as 2002. Not only does it honour the town’s famous quince jam – confiture des coings – but also other products such as preserves, savoury and sweet dishes produced with the quinces and of course, quince paste.

One of the sweet delights produced for the children is the pain-coing – literally, ‘bread quince’.

Traditionally children in the village would gather quinces to bring to school on the first day after the long summer holidays. The quinces would be given to the local baker, who would wrap them in pastry, bake them, and return them to the school the following day. What a treat!
But Cotignac’s fame dates way back to the Middle Ages when the town’s church, Notre-Dame des Graces, became known for its miracles.

From Secrets d'histoire - Stéphane Bern.
At that time King Louis XIII and his wife, Anne of Austria, had been married for 23 years without a son and heir.

A monk told the Queen that he had been given a revelation, to make a novena at the chapel in the sure hope of her success in bearing a son.

His series of prayers ended on December 5, 1637 and nine months later, on September 5, 1638, the future Louis XIV was born.

As a child, Louis XIV was known as 'Louis Dieudonné' - Louis, the God-given.
In appreciation, King Louis XIII and Queen Anne visited Cotignac in 1660 to thank the Virgin Mary and lay a commemorative stone at the church. That stone is still there today.
On their visit they were presented with 24 pots of ‘confiture de Cotignac’, which was already a local specialty, but now carried the imprint of royalty.

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