Focus, meaning "fire" or "fireplace" in Latin, is at the root of the French and English terms "foyer" — in French, foyer [fwah-YAY] is one word for "home" — the place where the family lives and cooks and eats together. The fireplace is the center of the home, its focus.
The same word has given French and Italian a string of words for bread. The best known term in America is the Italian one, focaccia. In French, as a result of progressive phonetic erosion over the centuries, the word evolved into terms like fougasse [fou-GAHSS], fouasse or fouace [FWAHSS], and finally fouée [FWAY]. Focaccia or fouées are flatbreads that were traditionally cooked on the hearth or in the hot ashes of a fire.
According to the Wikipedia article on focaccia, in Italy "by far the most typical focaccia is simply baked dough topped with olive oil and a simple herb like rosemary or sage, and salted with coarse salt." The versions we are more familiar with are large flatbreads resembling pizzas, topped with melted cheese, herbs, olives, and meats.
The Touraine fouace or fouée is a little flatbread in the style of those simpler Italian focaccia breads. It's a specialty of the Touraine and Anjou regions along the Loire River, and it has a long history in French cooking and bread-making. The fouée dates back to the Middle Ages, at least. The great Touraine writer François Rabelais — born ca. 1490 in the Chinon region — mentions fouées in his satirical novels Pantagruel and Gargantua.
Thanks to the blog
Ô Miam Miam de Soso
for this picture.
The fouée is alive and well in Touraine. For example, there's a restaurant in the historic quarter of the city of Tours that serves a menu made up of freshly baked, hot-out-of-the-oven fouées along with bowls of white beans, pots of the traditional shredded pork spread called rillettes, and ramekins of the little pickled gherkins called cornichons. The restaurant advertises that it will serve you fouées à volonté — all you can eat — with your meal.
The restaurant is called Comme AutreFouée and it's located in the Place Plumereau area. The name is a play on words because « autrefois » in French means "other times" — the past, the olden days. Walt and I have had lunch there and the food is very good, typically Touraine-style, and served with a bottle of local Chinon or Bourgueil wine.
In the Saint-Aignan area, the bread bakery out in the vineyard up behind our house (Le Chêne du Renard) makes very popular flatbreads that the baker calls fougasses, topped with smoked pork lardons and melted Comté or Gruyère cheese. Actually, goat cheese would be a more authentic Touraine topping, because the only cheeses made in this region are made with goat's milk. Cow's milk cheeses have to be "imported" from Normandy, Burgundy, or the Alps.
The Touraine-style fouée is a kind of pocket bread, like a pita bread. You could call it a galette in French. You can split the little round fouées open and fill them with cooked vegetables or meats. In Touraine white beans and pork rillettes are the traditional fillings. Remember, when fouées were everyday fare in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, there were no tomatoes or potatoes in Europe. Those came later, from the Americas.
There is a small husband & wife business in the area that specializes in catering fouée breads for parties and other events. Véronique and Willy will come to your place with their portable bread oven, which they say they have invented and patented, and cook up fouées for your crowd. They can put 50 of the little breads at a time into the oven, so it doesn't take long to feed everybody. Here's their web site, called Fouées à domicile.
Here's a French blog with a recipe and a picture. And here's another that has step-by-step instructions and photos.
I'm writing about fouées because we're going to make some for lunch. I'll have pictures later. With our snowy, icy weather on Friday and Saturday, the bread lady — la porteuse de pain — hasn't made it up the hill with our daily baguette since last Thursday. We need to fend for ourselves. Sometimes in these situations we make cornbread or Southern biscuits, but today we are having a more traditional Touraine bread.