Ardèche Oranges . . . ?

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We drove up to Paiharès, a lovely little mountain village, over the week end to stock up on fruit juice. We climbed the twisty road amid snow flurries, and the village came into view, clustered around its little church. Paiharès is located 200m higher than les Sarziers, and is well known for its apple trees, which are happier up here than in the drier conditions of the Doux valley.

About ten years ago a small pressing and bottling plant set up to produce apple juice, soon diversifying in to quince, apricot, peach and all the other local fruits. Called Nectardéchois, it is yet another small co operative enterprise which prides itself on providing a local service and making use of local produce. Anyone with 100kg of fruit can bring it to be pressed and leave with their own bottles of juice complete with personalised labels.

They make some delicious flavours, such as nectarine, cherry or strawberry and mixtures like apple, pêche de vigne and quince, but the reason we were there was to celebrate their first cuvée of orange juice.

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Oranges from the Ardèche? What’s this all about?

Still faithful to their ideal of using local produce, they have come up with a very smart idea.

In Aubenas in the south of the Ardèche Sabaton, a venerable but less widely known company than Clément Faugier, have been making wonderful things out of chestnuts, truffles and ceps since 1907.

In the 1920’s Paul-Roch Sabaton, the original founder of the company joined forces with Jules Reynaud and began to diversify into fruit products – principally jams and fruit in syrup. They cornered a particular niche market in England with the export of blueberries in syrup. Blueberries are known to improve the eyesight of people working in poor or artificial light and they were imported principally into mining areas, to help preserve the sight of the miners. This may sound far fetched, but I was once prescribed blueberry extract and found that it did indeed have a beneficial effect.

Can label of Sabaton chestnuts in syrupDuring the war years sugar was severely rationed, and there were no more marrons glacés for the duration, but the company came up with various ingenious ideas for making erzatz jam using concentrated grape juice as a sweetener. Cans and jars were at a premium too and in order to obtain them little trips to the suppliers with a basket of Ardèche saucisson, cheese and butter were occasionally necessary . . .

Sabaton chestunt purée labelOn the death of his father, Paul Sabaton bought out his partners and the firm reverted to its original name. In 1961 he added a new line: crystallised orange peel. After a few false starts and adjustments to the recipe, Sabaton oranges really took off with pâtissiers and in the 1980s, with the other fruit products suffering from competition with imported and frozen fruits, they started to produce strips of candied orange peel which, covered in chocolate make the delicious orangettes for which Sabaton is now famous.

Back in Paiharès, Nectardéchois had the bright idea of purchasing the peeled oranges from Sabaton and pressing them for the juice, which enables them to work in the winter when there is no other fruit around. As they point out, although the oranges are grown in Valencia in Spain, they are purchased from an Ardéchois firm. The result, by the way, is delicious.

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A regrettable unforseen circumstance however is that there are a number of very frustrated inhabitants of Aubenas who have lost their traditional supply of unused oranges.

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