Thanks to its mill along the Vièze River and the cereal crops of the valley, Troistorrents has been able to harness the resources of its environment to develop true expertise. In his book “Through the Landscape and the Water”, Pierre-Alain Bezat traces this tradition.

The cultivation of cereals in Troistorrents

In 1930, fewer than 30% of the inhabitants of the municipality of Troistorrents lived off agriculture. By 2005, this sector accounted for only 2% of the workforce. 1

The community’s sedentarization only became effective when housing took root, that is, when people could produce their bread locally.

The favorable location of parcels destined for cereal cultivation, their layout on the best and most preserved lands from any natural risk, often decided the location of families and the village. In Troistorrents, the seeded areas would never exceed 20% of the exploitable land. These are measured areas, where sunny slopes still bear witness to the work undertaken by humans to take possession and retain this land.

In return, this effort, this hardship, leaves a deep imprint on the space. Before the introduction of the metric system, the plowed field was measured in “journal,” that is, the area worked in one day. Its value differs from one region, one locality to another according to the soil facilities and the tool used. Thus, in Monthey and Val-d’Illiez, the journal is worth 31.01 ares. In Troistorrents, what is it, God? Twice that. 2

For a long time, and even after the arrival of the potato in the 18th century, the essential crop remained wheat, or rather wheats, or rather wheats, should we say, as F. Braudel rightly points out. The term encompasses all cereal grains, whether for bread, porridge, or gruel. And Olivier de Serres goes even further: “this word ‘wheat’ is generally taken for all grains up to good vegetables to eat.”

Leading the way, of course, is wheat, the all-around champion, the favorite of the inhabitants. It is closely followed by barley, resistant to cold and growing well at altitude, and finally oats.

As for rye, prized in the mountainous regions of Central Valais, it is very rarely cultivated in the District of Monthey, both in the plain and in the mountains. It is only consumed mixed with wheat flour, and even then, only in case of scarcity or if there is no other option. 3

Barley and oats belong to what our ancestors commonly called “Easter or Lenten wheats” because they were “sown” in spring, around the time of the Great Feast of the Resurrection. These two species (are used for) making bread, mixed with wheat flour or even rye, but mainly for making various types of porridge and soups. Here too, local varieties, commonly known as “white” oats and barley from the valley, remained intact for a very long time. We also found barley and oats and, more surprisingly, three cereal species that have disappeared nowadays: einkorn, also called “small spelt,” starch wheat, and millet. 4

As early as the 17th century, the Valaisan Diet legislated and prevented any “flight of wheat” from the country. Around 1850, the introduction of the railway, the improvement of roads, opened the valley to cereal imports from overseas, at prices defying all competition. This was the end of indigenous production. Little by little, the cultivated plots disappeared, making way for pastures, dairy production, and livestock farming. At the end of the 19th century, Swiss domestic production covered only 20% of the need for bread cereals, compared to 50% in 1850. 5

The Bread

In the midst of the 18th century, … bread was thus a complete food in itself and not what it has become today, a mere “accompaniment” to the meal. … In the 17th and 18th centuries, an adult commonly consumed between 1.2 to 2 kilograms of bread per day; sometimes more, if engaged in strenuous labor. For example, in the year 1740, workers on the construction site of the Tine bridge received a daily ration of 3.5 kilograms of bread each. 6

Every good household management requires that bread be made at home. It is commonly referred to as “household bread” to distinguish it from that of the baker. Each family has its own recipes, its own secrets stemming from the maintenance of the sourdough starter as well as the subtle blend of flours and other ingredients. 7

Heat and bake, oven

The community of “quartier d’Enhaut” has several ovens which are either owned by individuals or operated collectively. On September 27, 1457, Robert Dubosson, also known as Malliet, acknowledges holding from the Duke of Savoy, a house with attic and oven. The whole is located in the territory of Troistorrents in the place called Fribor de Macherel. In 1620, on November 24, Pierre Marclay admits to holding the eighth part of a newly built oven, in Collaire, on Claude Guerrat’s meadow. Around 1742, Joseph Donnet de Chenarlier, on the other hand, held the functions of oven keeper and miller of Le Pas.

Around 1457, there were eight ovens in the municipality of Troistorrents: 2 in Macherel, 1 in Collaire, 1 in the village itself, 3 in Propéraz, and 1 in Le Pas.

The use of the oven extends over three or even four days. When the oven belongs to the community, the heating, which requires more wood, is carried out in turn by each family. Subsequent households benefit from the heat produced by the previous batches. The baking of bread only takes place three or four times a year. Once baked, the loaves are stored in the attic on boards suspended from the ceiling, to protect them from rodents. In the first fifteen days, the bread is still easily eaten, then “it becomes so hard that it is wrapped in a cloth and broken with a wooden hammer. Then it is softened by dipping it in soup or milk. …

The head of the household never cuts into it without first tracing a cross with the knife on its underside and having the other members of the household make the sign of the cross. Moreover, nothing is wasted, the crumbs are conscientiously collected down to the last one, and when a piece is spoiled, it is kissed before being thrown away. 8

Excerpt of “Along the Landscape and Water: The Long History of the Mills of La Tine in Troistorrents” by Pierre-Alain Bezat, 2005

1 / page 33
2 / page 35-36
3 / page 37
4 / page 39
5 / page 42-43
6 / page 46
7 / page 48
8 / page 50