My mother’s short enough life didn’t get off to a great start. Thinking about it, it didn’t end like a fairytale either, unless you count some of the Grimm Brothers’ work she loved so much, on technicality it qualifies as one.
Born a couple of years after the end of the Second World War, life was tough for most. Beautifully illustrated in Jacques Prevert’s poem “Barbara”, Brest had been levelled by the allies, as well as Lorient, the city where she was born. Raised by her grandmother, her own mum had gone for a brave fresh start in Paris. To make ends meet, my great Gran made pancakes while my mother would deliver them, on foot or with her bicycle. Sometimes, I believe, people would even come in the kitchen of the small dwelling to enjoy the notorious crêpes. The stories of this small enterprise gave my sister and I great entertainment at bedtime; the little girl, who through hardship by selling crêpes with her grandmother, grew up to become a teacher.
Funny enough, rare were the times when she made them in the house; “it’s too messy” or “I don’t have time”, “maybe on Wednesday”… Never mind. Once a month at least, we went to the Crêperie; Italians gave the world Pizzerias, us Bretons, the Crêperie. That’s it. That is just the way it is, “get over it!”
My routine consisted of three crêpes, or rather one galette and two crêpes. Savoury, galettes were simply made with the nutty and wholesome buckwheat flour, trademark of the Breton cuisine. The most popular was with ham, cheese and egg; when one ordered, the waitress would ask how would you like your egg? “Brouillé” (scrambled) or “Mirroir” (mirror, meaning not scrambled I guess), either way, an absolute nightmare to pronounce for the English speaking visitor! Another popular choice was with scallops and leek fondue or a rustic sausage and braised cabbage; the surf and turf of our peninsula.
For dessert, it had to be only one thing. Dark chocolate sauce, make it two actually, uncompromisingly delicious and so rich! My father enjoyed his forth with gently stewed apples and flambéed with our local poitín called “Lambig”. We were too young for cider, even the mild stuff; well at least not in public; the odd time we might get a “go on then, just a sip”. This over indulgence often resulted in my complexion to rapidly turn duck egg green like, close calls but never deterred! “Until next time folks!”… Until next time.
This week was “pan cake Tuesday”; we have a similar day in Brittany but it is a bit earlier. Called Chandeleur, it has religious origins too, but takes place forty days after Christmas. It is said that one would toss a coin in the pan; depending on the landing, the year would be believed to be good or bad… Very native! I was in and out of the house to take some pictures to illustrate my little story. I sat in front of the fire, determined to eat the models that posed for the shoot. Even though I enjoyed it very much, I couldn’t help thinking: “This is like sipping on a pint of Irish stout at the terrace of a harbour bar in Lorient… Just not quite the same”.