I’m in the Tarn, otherwise known as the Pays de Cocagne. The cocagne being a compacted ball of shredded pastel leaves which historically has been an important source of blue dye. The kind lady in the Puylaurens tourist office has given me a leaflet about pastel but the flowers in the photo are bright yellow (it’s a cousin to rapeseed) while the green leaves, moulded into a ball that resembles dried elephant dung, somehow end up as a delicate pale blue.
Many of the local houses have window shutters painted this colour and souvenir shops sell blue-dyed textiles and fragrant blue soaps. The pigment produced by pastel also has natural fungicidal and insecticidal properties, so it is also used in cosmetics and healing remedies.
Not far from Puylaurens is the medieval village of Lautrec, which boasts that it is one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”. It was once the family seat of the Toulouse-Lautrec family, ancestors of the famous painter whose work can be appreciated in the museum in Albi. However, the other main tourist draw of the village is the production of pink garlic, resulting in yet another grand title: “Site of Remarkable Taste”. The woven garlic bulbs are easy to find in the local farmers markets and it’s used to great effect in the many restaurants throughout the region.
There’s a recipe for pink garlic soup on the recipes page.