What do we eat in February?!

I have just spent a good 30 minutes or so, writing a witty post. I then carefully saved it. I then, just as carefully deleted it.

Maybe I should blame the cat…

I can only promise you that the previous post was much better written than the following. How tragic that it is lost…

SO…

It is difficult enough to try to lose weight in France, with the delicious cheese, and patisserie, and charcuterie and bread. Temptation is at every turn, whatever season of the year it is. But I’m starting to believe that there is a secret Government conspiracy to make it particularly hard to stick to a diet in the early months of the year…

You have made a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight! Hah! I spit on your resolve! I will break you like a twig!!

First of all, in January, the French celebrate Epiphany with a Galette des Rois – or King Cake. I think these might take different forms in different regions, but here in 42, the most common is this:

It’s basically a puff pastry pie, with a filling of almond paste, which is delicious; it’s usually eaten with a glass (or two) of cider, at a family event, or a get together with friends or colleagues. The Galette should be divided such that each guest receives a slice, plus an extra, symbolic slice for any unexpected visitor, or poor person, that should pass by.

In each Galette a fève is hidden. This was originally a dried bean, but is now a porcelain or plastic figurine; in the past a King, but more and more they are of Disney characters, or Asterix, or other things. The person who discovers the fève in their serving is declared le roi (the king) or la reine (the queen) and gets to wear the golden paper couronne (crown) that is always provided with the cake. If it’s a mass produced Galette it will be in the box, if you buy it at the boulangerie, the crown will be handed over with your purchase.

To avoid accusations of “King fixing”, it is traditional during the slicing of the galette to have the youngest child at the gathering sit underneath the table to call out the name of the person to receive each slice – Le prochaine c’est pour Papi – so the server can’t be accused of playing favourites!

I remember my first experience of a Galette des Rois was with my first night school class, in about 2009: they fixed it so I received the fève, and I still have the little plastic King on my desk.

Here’s our collection of fèves – all rather high quality ceramic ones, except my King – a green chicken with gold stripes, a porcelein advertising plaque, a smart green boot (I’d like a pair of these in my size- though obviously not in ceramic!) and a curious black cube with A, Z and C on its sides. We keep these on the kitchen shelf.

We’ve not had fèves recently as it’s now possible to buy mini-Galettes, just enough for two people, which, although they are just as delicious, don’t come with the crown, or the fève.

So having recovered from eating puff pastry and frangipane, we move onto Candlemas, 2nd February, when it is traditional to eat pancakes, or crêpes.

The tradition of eating crêpes at Candlemas is attributed to Pope Gelasius the 1st, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims as they arrived in Rome.

It is also said the tradition of eating crêpes started as it was a good way of using up the extra wheat before a new harvest. Symbolically, as a round crêpe looks like the sun, it was also a good reason to rejoice as the days started to get longer.

As well as eating pancakes or crêpes during Candlemas, all candles in the house are lit, and the feasting takes place by candlelight. Also on this day, the Nativity scenes are put away as it signals the end of the Christmas season. I’ve just noticed that the Christmas lights around the village have been taken down – I noticed them a couple of weeks ago, but now they’re gone, presumably for the same reason. Mind you, some communes keep the lights up all year round, but just don’t illuminate them until December!

But not only is one supposed to prepare your pancakes by candlelight, you also need to flip the crêpe in the air with your right hand, while holding a gold coin in your left hand, and ensuring that the crêpe lands properly back in the pan.  The symbolism attached to this way of flipping your crêpe dates back to the late fifth century and is linked to a fertility rite.

It is also said that the first crêpe made should be put into an armoire (wardrobe) to ensure your plentiful harvest later in the year. I don’t know how long said pancake shoud remain in the wardrobe, but I have to say that as my first pancake is usually a disaster a better place to put it would be in the bin!

So, if you have feasted on Galettes, and then pancakes, what’s next…?

Once Candlemas is over, in our region at least, the bugnes start arriving. Bugnes are rather delicious little doughtnutty things…

A French social media site tells us that bugnes are: Languette de pâte boursouflée par la friture et servie saupoudrée de sucre. On les appelle merveille ou oreillette selon les régions. – Mon grand-père faisait des corbeilles de bugnes au printemps. (Trans: strips of batter puffed up in hot oil, served with icing sugar on top. They are called fritters or little ears depending on the region. My granddad made baskets of bugnes in Spring)

I like my bugnes dipped in jam!

If you want to practice your French this site explains a little more, telling us that indeed bugnes are only from the Auvergne-Rhone Alpes area, and giving recipes too.

Bugnes are around until Shrove Tuesday, when, of course, all delicious things are given up for Lent. Or not, depending on one’s religious leanings…At least you can take 40 days before the chocolate feasting begins…as the flying bells drop chocolate into your garden.

What?

Flying Bells?! What about the Easter bunny?!

Well, Church bells are – or used to be – an intrinsic part of French life, but they are traditionally silenced on Maundy Thursday, then on Good Friday, no bells in France are rung in honour and remembrance of Jesus Christ being crucified.

It’s believed that the story of the flying bells was created as a fun way to explain the absence of bell ringing to young children. Parents tell children that the bells sprouted wings and flew to visit the Pope in Rome for a blessing. Once there, the Pope presents the bells with delicious chocolate bells and eggs. On Easter morning, the bells fly home to France. Then laden with chocolate, but needing to ring out for Easter Sunday, the bells drop the chocolate treats in the gardens all over France for children to find.

Bells? Bunnies? Who cares…it’s CHOCKLIT!!!!

PS The title of the post comes from today – I saw there were bugnes on sale at the Boulangerie as I bought bread, so I bought six for a treat. I came home with the bread and the bag of bugnes.

“Wotcha got there?” said MrFD as he spied the bag.

“What do we eat in February?” I replied

BUGNES!” we said, in unison.