In the brochure no 11 is described as The House With The Stone Door’. But the door of the house is a perfectly serviceable dark green wood with a very stiff lock.. To get to the stone door you have to cross the wide kitchen floor, go through an open archway, cross what I have imagined as an old alleyway (see earlier post) to the back wall , where sits this heavy black stone basalt door more than six inches thick, two foot by two foot in size.
This is the door to an oven which used to be the heart of a boulangerie – baker’s shop – that used to occupy this space. The hinge of the door alone is a work of of the ironmonger’s art, its strength relying on the fact that the iron is embedded right around the stone, so the stone’s own strength works with the hinge rather than against it.
We meet our landlady Madame C in the cafe by the port. After assuring her how much we love the house and admire the way her updating is in harmony with the history of the building, we mention the oven.
She beams. ‘Do you see inside? It is amazing. Like a church!’ She sketches a cupola with her hands.
We had been nervous of actually opening the door. ‘It’s all right to open it, then?’
‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘You must see it.’
(A note here to say that all Madame’s houses – she has five – are unique and wonderful. Each has its own character and there is art in the way she tackles the need for bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and terraces, while respecting and showcasing the idiosyncratic historic nature of these buildings in the old town, making the almost random connections between floors and rooms work as a charming whole.)
When we get home Séan - the strongest man in the company - opens the door. Madame has supplied a light so we can see the interior. It is amazing. As Madame C said, it is like the interior of a small church, with lines of red brick rising to the high domed centre. Our resident cooking guru (lickedspoon) tells us that it might have taken up to a week to fire the oven to the correct basic temperature and the fire would then be maintained day by day to maintain it. ‘Licked Spoon’ says the stone door will have preserved steady high heat for long stretches of time.
An article on the wall in French (the memoirs of a boulangere born in 1919) tells us that the ovens were normally fired with faggots of vine clippings gathered from many miles around. The boulangeries – in this boulangere’s time -there were 25 in this small town – served their own close districts, every day producing different breads favoured by their customers. She said they made special longer lasting bread for poor customers who could not afford to buy fresh bread every day. She told how they would allow special customers to bring their own cakes and casseroles and other large, more communal, dishes to bake in the cooling oven.
So now into my imagination stream all these people coming here day by day for their favourite bread, or bringing their large dishes of cassoulet, or wheels of fougas – sweet bread - to cook in the oven with the stone door.
It’s worth noting, however, that the oven did not bring unmitigated delight. It made our other housemate, Writing Junkie, shudder (avriljoy.com) You’ll have to read her post to see why.