An écclade is a traditional cooking of muscles in the Charente Maritime. The entire coastline is renowned for its seafood – as indeed is any coastline, I guess – muscles and oysters being the staple diet of the local people. An entire culture has evolved around muscles and oysters, accompanied by a whole world of “knowledge” about the type of oyster or muscle, and an entire vocabulary to go with it. For this particular speciality, the muscles are arranged, tier by tier, in a circle on a fireproof – usually a large cast iron platter – dish or even just on the sand. They are carefully balanced, facing inwards (this is important) so that they eventually make a kind of rounded pyramid. All guests must stand in a circle and admire. Pine needles are then placed over them, about two inches thick, and everybody must again admire. Words like “ooh la-la” are uttered. At a given signal (a mystery to this day) the pine needles are set alight. They are allowed to burn (along with further ooh la-la) for about three minutes and then are brushed away, hopefully onto sand or similar where they will die out. All guests then help themselves to the pine-scented cooked muscles.
This is altogether more complicated than it seems. The muscles are not only too hot to touch but also black with pine ashes, and the ones that were not facing inwards – or which fell to one side during the various ooh la-la-ings – are also filled with black pine ash. After we’d attended two or three of these functions we discovered that vast quantities of kitchen roll are essential for wiping blackened fingers, and vast quantities of chilled white wine for washing down the ash. Even so, we didn’t bother with them again.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are on Amazon and Kindle, or can be ordered from most big book stores and libraries. More about Catherine Broughton, to include her entertaining blogs and stories from around the world, on http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk