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Les Potagers


The potager takes its name from the word 'potage' soup, which was made on most days in homes throughout France.

Until the last war, many house holds in France cooked upon an open fire and baked in a wood fired oven. The potager was a supplementary aid to this way of cooking.

The potager consists of an elevated masonry platform with two openings in it. The openings house cast iron grates in to which are placed hot embers from the main fireplace. The ash from the embers fall through the grate and accumulate in the void beneath the platform.

The potager is used to cook dishes which need to cook a long time at low temperature, or to keep warm dishes cooked previously on the open fire. In contrast to the open fire simmering is much easier and a pan on the potager can free up the fireplace for other functions.

Prior to 1500 there is no tradition of the potager in the the form described below, making it a relatively recent addition to the French kitchen.




A traditional farm house kitchen from the end of the 19th century. Isère. Though the wood burning stove is relatively modern, the original cast iron fire back is dated 1698.

A closed potager is located in the wall to the left of the fireplaces avaloire.

Patrimoine en Isère Trièves - 1997 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France




This open potager is built into the original passageway between two formerly connected buildings.

According to a man born and raised in the house, the ash dump was once fitted with a steel door. The wall was originally rendered, as was the masonry below the platform and around the ash dump.

Zuberoa




Detail of the tiled platform. The recessed grate to the left is seen closed with a wooden cover.




The cast iron grate can be lifted out of its housing.

The platform consists of a lime mortar slab rather than a single stone as in all the following examples.




The grate and wooden cover plate.




This potager is to the left of the main fireplace, in the kitchen of a house restored to its condition in at the turn of the last century.
Now open as a municipal museum.

Beaurepaire Isère.




There are no examples of potager with avaloirs, the fumes from the embers would spill directly into the living area. In a dwelling contaminated with the smoke from several open fires and possibly an oven, the gasses produced by the potager would be unnoticeable. Even in situations where the potager is located close to the avaloir of the main fireplace, or beneath a window, this is probably more for the convenience of transporting embers, and the additional light, than for ventilation of the potager's gases.




The potager in the kitchen of François 1st at Chambord. C.1550




FRF

Mertial Morice de Sax's heater in Chambourd




An open potager in St Martin de Uriage Isère. Drawn by Lionel Pingrieux.

Some later potagers were built beneath windows, to profit from the light, and ventilation.

Patrimoine en Isère Pays de Domène - 1995 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France




An open potager. The ash from the potager would be sieved to remove contaminants, and used to wash cloths. This ash would be cleaner than ash taken directly from the fireplace, which could be contaminated with soot, creosote or flakes of iron.

Patrimoine en Isère Trièves - 1997 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France




The layout of two closed potagers which have been positioned so that the open fireplace heats the void when the doors are closed.

The potager is located directly behind and above the cast iron fire back , in the room behind the open fireplace.

Patrimoine en Isère Pays de Bourgoin-Jallieu - 2009 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France




To the right of the avaloire, this closed potager has a tunnel running left through the wall finishing directly behind and above the cast iron fire back.

Patrimoine en Isère Pays de Bourgoin-Jallieu - 2009 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France




A closed potager. Saint- Luce Isère
Note the opening to access the ash dump is carved into a single stone.

Patrimoine en Isère Valbonnais, Matheysine, Beaumont, Pays de Corps - 2006 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France




Typical Kitchen with vaulted ceiling Isère: drawn by PY Carron.

An open potager is to the right of the avaloire. Proximity to the fireplace facilitates the transporting of embers. And possibly helps evacuate fumes from the embers in the potager

The door to the left opens in to a room directly behind the fire place, called 'La piece de Paelle'. Heat from the fireplace is radiated through the wall, making the small 'piece de paelle' one of the more comfortable spaces in the house.

Patrimoine en Isère Valbonnais, Matheysine, Beaumont, Pays de Corps - 2006 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, Patrimoine en Isère Valbonnais, Matheysine, Beaumont, Pays de Corps - 2006 / Service du Patrimoine de l'Isère, Conseil Général de l'Isère, France


Marcus Flynn

2009



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