As we were leaving Niall picked up a leaflet from the display. It was about saffron. So he hummed the refrain "I'm just mad about Saffron" from the '60s Donovan song 'Mellow Yellow'. It stayed lodged in both our brains for the rest of that day!
Anyway, back to saffron. The leaflet announced that Preuilly sur Claise hosts two saffron festivals. One on the third Saturday in February to celebrate the spice, the other on the 1st Saturday in July to sell the Crocus sativus corms--the plant which produces the saffron filaments.
Yesterday was the 3rd Saturday so off we went to the Saffron Fair. I have, on a very rare occasion, cooked with saffron and know it is commercially cultivated in Spain but didn't know it is grown around here.
|removing the saffron threads photo: Les Safraniers de Touraine|
The English word 'saffron' comes via Latin safranum from Old French safran. The source of the word can be traced back to either the Arabic for 'yellow': asfar; or Persian for 'having golden stigmas': zarparan.
The whole harvesting process is done by hand. The flowers are picked, in autumn, by hand and then the the red-orange stigma and styles are carefully removed from the the rest of the flower; again by hand. This, and the fact that each corm only flowers once so it's cormlets need to be dug up split and replanted make it so incredibly expensive. You need between 120,000 and 150,000 flowers to produce 1 kg of saffron and that equates to 370 to 470 hours of manual labour! Thankfully a few filaments or strands are enough to flavour a dish (aboout 1/10 of a gram).
|12th Saffron Fair, Preuilly sur Claise|
There was a wide range of products made with saffron on sale as well as the little pots of the filaments. We saw producers of jams with saffron, saffron infused cordials and drinks but the most popular was pain d'epices [spice cake] with saffron.
|rapidly shrinking pain d'epices|