“Huh?” I hear you saying. You’ve never seen a raw sausage sitting on top of a dinky vintage toy cleaning set? Well perhaps you might want to settle in so I can explain a little. More than a decade ago, arriving in France completely green, clutching a sheaf of less than a dozen words of french, I discovered straight away the existance of a host of linguistic minefields. There were words I would make a detour far, far around to avoid accidentally saying something that will make me sound an utter fool. But because I like you, and I am a tad more toughened up by embarrassing language slip ups under my belt, I can share with you at least an absolute doozy of a confusion that beseiged me at the very beginning of my french life.
Now I suppose that most english speakers have heard the word ‘ménage‘ and most certainly with the words a trois after it. Are you cringing yet? For my debut in France, I had my previous ‘understanding’ of the concept, but can’t honestly say that I gave a lot of thought to what specifically a ménage was, other than thinking it was racy! Standing at the kinder gates with other mums one morning and hearing a woman state with a sigh that she was going home to ‘faire (do) le ménage’, I was silently agog, thinking, “well gracious, aren’t you just up front about it then?”. I mentioned the incident to my husband who peeled back in laughter and explained that to ‘faire le ménage‘ was to do the housework – ahhh, so this woman wasn’t some chandelier swinging social broad with a peculiar, resolute kind of waywardness!
From then on as a housewife, I encountered the word quite a bit, with a constant background noise of tv ads for cleaning products, and with other mothers often complaining about tidying up. At that point in a haze of french, I didn’t actually click back to the original idea I had for ménage or ask for an explanation about the infamous ‘a trois’ and the housework. I had completely forgotten about it and ménage as housework took over as my understanding. Some weeks later then I was completely perplexed when in a market place I discovered at a charcuterie stall a pile of beautifully linked plump sausages labelled ‘saucisses de ménage‘. Well what the hell? I mean, that was just nuts! I mentioned it to my husband and in his really loud guffawing laugh he verbalised my though process out loud, ‘well what are you cleaning with that?’! So it was at that point that I did finally learn the definition of ménage, being ‘household’. Oh how dull! Yes, we had established that applied to cleaning, doing the ‘menage‘ is the housework (even though the word to clean is ‘nettoyer’, to work is ‘travailler’ and house is of course ‘maison’….OK… ), to a sausage, well that was just a plain one. With reference to a trois, it smugly refers to household of three. But somehow it sounds a lot more innocent doesn’t it?
In the last week I have completed a very large, rather late ‘ménage du printemps’ (spring clean) which I have just technically finished before today’s start of summer!! Normally I enjoy cleaning, yes, I know, very strange! But I have just positively waltzed about sprucing up everything I can get my hands on, with my favourite product ever, savon de Marseille! For 600 years soap has been produced in the provence region of France, with olive oil, Camargue marine ash and Mediterranean sea water.
It is sold in the iconic large pale green cubes stamped with 72%, indicating the quantity of vegetable oil; the ‘real’ savon de Marseille was in 1668 protected from conterfeit versions flooding the market by the edict of Colbert when King Louis XIV put his foot down. Sadly today however, the name Savon de Marseille is not protected with an AOC to control its usage and it can be produced elsewhere in the world with the same title, with huge swathes produced by Turkey and China. But perhaps cold comfort can be found in the fact that so famous is the actual process of production that this itself has taken on the name of savon de Marseille, rather than a geographic demarcation. If purchasing savon de Marseille, would be horrendous to use anything but the ‘real’ version, which was traditionally used to do the laundry, wash the body and also used to relieve all kinds of rhumatic ailments! With the development of laundry powders the use and production of savon de Marseille went into decline but there are still manufacturers in the area of Provence and more further a field. Then of course there is the famous savon noir for cleaning positively everything in the house! This ‘black soap’ it is made from olive oil and comes in a shimmery dark olive liquid format or as a spookily dark green paste so thick that you hear the suction as you lever it from the 1kg bucket! I am the hugest fan of Marius Fabre products from Salon de Provence, created since the year 1900 and they are so pretty, well I just want to play with them! With a little on a sponge, I find it really satisfying to clean the bath, sink or even the greasiest of stovetops with no effort at all. It is completely environmentally friendly and not only that – it really bloody works! When my family has all left for work or school, I can often be found having my snow white or sleeping beauty ménage moments: with a nice orchestral trill I find myself shrilling about the place with my brushes and sponges and soap. It is really lucky that I actually enjoy cleaning, as with three spaniels, that makes a lot of tidying up. One spaniel creates a great deal of hair, but one spaniel shedding multiplied by three creates an amount of hair that seems to magically exceed all expectations on a daily basis. But heavens, who cares? They are so beautiful, so cuddly, silly and funny that a constant clean up is definately worth it! Plus, they are so regularly washed (yes, in savon noir as suggested by the manufacturer on the bottle and recommended by veterinarians!!) that their hair is clean, so i am just cleaning up tumbleweeds of wonderful puppy-dog love in fact!
Blocks of savon de marseille and the liquid and paste versions of savon noir, are all tremendously good at removing stains, nourishing the parquet floors, making the tiles shiny, fresh and clean. It is wonderful to actually come full circle from the use of all kinds of heaven knows whatever chemical with 99.99% surety to kill all nasties (and probably us to boot) to reverting to using natural alternatives. Some people wish to drip in a few drops of pure lavender oil to the cleaning water or sponge to add a pleasant smell to the product which some claim is odourless.I actually think it smells quite distinctly of the olive oil and I really like the scent. Lavender oil is refreshing and can add a summer-all-year-long kind of fragrance. I am of course talking about 100% pure lavender oil, not some hideous, sickly concoction of heaven knows what else. But mainly, I just clean the house from top to bottom with hot water and savon noir.
Saucisse de ménage aux lentilles
On one of the days last week whilst I was cleaning, I was reminded of the saucisse de ménage confusion whilst walking through the market and so decided to do a little food clean up as well, by using a few leftovers to make a simple lentille saucisse de ménage recipe for dinner. A few stray and lonely veg, a few handfuls of lentils and a bouquet garni made of leaves from our own garden and those collected during a forest walk with the dogs.
The saucisse de menage is a boiling sausage that is just a little bit saltier than normal sausages are. Please shuffle around the seasoning to suit what you are able to find where you are as I understand completely that the saucisse de menage is not on everyone’s supermarket shelf, if anyone’s at all!
2 saucisse de menage or 2 thick pure pork sausages
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion peeled and studded with two cloves
1 large celery branch, diced
2 carrots peeled and diced
1 large leek, trimmed, whites chopped to pieces of about 1.5cm
2 litres of water
1 tomato, chopped or a little diced or pureed tomato
200g green lentils
2 small stock cubes (I use cube d’or, 1 cm sized, don’t get stock snobby please)
300mls white wine
Bouquet garni – sauge leaves, laurel leaves, thyme, rosemary
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 bunch of parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Warm butter and oil in a large saucepan and saute the celery, leek and carrots gently until they soften. Add the water, wine, sausages, tomato, stock cubes, bouquet garni and garlic to the pot and bring to the boil, skimming any foam that rises to the top.
After simmering well for about 30 to 40 minutes add your lentils and cook for as long as directed, mine usually take about 30 minutes. It is also up to you as to whether you reduce your dish down to a more hearty lentil and sausage stew or whether you wish it to remain more as a soup. If you wish to have it as a soup, about 10 minutes before the end of cooking, take out your sausages and replace them in the pot by chopped parsley and season to taste. If you prefer, you can toss in further chopped or crushed garlic, depending on how much you adore this little white bulb.In a frying pan, gently brown the sausages and then leave to cool a moment before cutting into angled slices.
Serve soup topped with sausage slices and a chunk of crusty baguette.
If you wish to ramp this recipe up to make it more meaty, add 2 chopped rashers of bacon to the sauteing vegetables at the beginning of the recipe.