You know, when it comes to legends and superstitions – or rather popular beliefs- Brittany is not too far off Ireland in that department. Hollsent is our Hallowe’en, when we celebrate the dead, the departed to another world but the rules don’t always start and end in October! Oh no! We have a whole lot of characters that most of us take very seriously, oh yeah! We have of course An Ankoù, from the old Celtic God of Death Ankouvos, the tall, skinny and lanky valet of Death, patrolling our beautiful country at night to collect the passed over souls with his horse, as meager as him, his squeaky carriage for the lift. If you are unfortunate enough to cross his path at night, well, it was nice to meet you as you are probably on the list and I think it’s too late I am afraid… If you hear the creaking of his cart’s axle, the tip is to run away in the other direction, home will do, hide under the duvet and keep singing “lalalalalala…” and you might have a chance to live for another year!
I don’t really go back home to Brittany often and if I do it is in September, sometimes in May, but most likely in September. Nine years ago, we went in October, almost to the date and around my sister’s birthday. The weather was amazing and my Father drove all of us to the North Western coast of the Celtic peninsula, an area I have always been a bit less familiar with, yet with breathtaking beauty, giant boulders of granite, cute villages and lonely lighthouses…
As the annual Dawn Chorus approaches, I remembered a lovely story from years gone by, a story of ornithology, environmental convictions and a rare bread that has now been almost lost. Once the pride of Vannes and its county ( or Department as we call them), I wanted to recreate this recipe from memory. Not an easy task… The action takes place in 1988 I think, I was 14 or 15, wishing to be 16 or 17, like we all once did. I was – since the age of 11- passionate about wildlife and especially ornithology, the study of birds ( please don’t start, I have heard all the jokes about it!)… One day, I got my first telescope, two years after my first pair of binoculars that lasted me nearly 20 years… Life was sweet!
Rennes, Capital of Brittany, February 1992. For the last year or so, I found myself crossing the city, heading towards my favourite hitchhiking spot on National 24, just outside the Citroën car assembly point; yes, plenty of room there, nice and safe for the generous soul that would bring me closer to Vannes and my Rock’n’Roll mates from the Cactus bar and like the chorus of a song I once wrote, looking forward to “ walk down Butcher Street, with my black leather jacket”; I was just 20, leaving behind for a couple of days my life as a musician for the “Smoking Dogs” theater company, swimming in a pool of doubt and uncertainty like most of my peers, dark, fun and life loving, hopeful. I am always hopeful, even in my most pessimistic days. The anxiety of a young adult then, now and to be… I don’t really know why I was making that weekly journey, partly because I wanted to see some of my friends who weren’t really friends, partly feeling guilty for moving to “The Big City”, afraid of being judged and secretly weaning myself off the provincial town that saw me grow, unfriendly to our lost kinds, “them Rockers”with long hair and short ideas, guys and gals who had to hide in the back streets of this self proclaimed pseudo bourgeois town, to entertain our love and hunger for rebellion, music, identity and art… We were beautiful, we didn’t care… Rennes fed us and nurtured us in a way our home towns and villages couldn’t anymore.
When I opened the big gate of adolescence, a frightening squeak from a giant cast iron secondary school entrance welcomed and absorbed me in a solemn vacuum. Of course, and like today, there were kids who just wanted to blend in, ride those teenage years under the radar with minimum collateral damage, wanting to be acknowledged and noticed, yet having the skills to keep your cards close to your chest; not showing too much, dodging rain drops and other potential scraps or punches because you looked at, or aggravated with smart words a tougher kid with social or rather deeper personal issues than yours. Some built themselves with a strong and bold shell: Punks, Goths, Skinheads and Red Skins (the left wing ones; their Doc Martens were burgundy rather than black), right down to a couple of old fashioned black leather jacket bullies with learning difficulties, easy enough to manipulate if you knew how to; keeping them sweet by sharing candies, giving a few test wagers that would up some grades, preventing them from repeating the class… Again. I was a “bullet dodger”, or at least that is what I have been called once by that big fucker – who was actually pretty smart- as he tried to pound my face into the granite wall of the refectory. I used words, and it seemed to work.
I believe that this time of year is for planning holidays… I can’t blame you really; if you lived in a country like ours, having our fair share of wind, rain and snow that is never really over until the end of March or even April, you’d be thinking of sunnier shores. Saying that, and while you are behind your computer, you might want to check Brittany out; not only you would make an excellent choice of destination, but you will also realise first hand, what global warming is all about… You see, Brittany has been plagued for years with a reputation of a cold, windy and very rainy country… I blame the Parisians. When it is cold and miserable in their beautiful city, I’d rather be on the Atlantic coast and get a full blast of South Westerlies while looking at a demented sea. Sadly, it is no more – or not as much- temperatures have risen, frost and ice are a rare occurrence, there is a vineyard on the outskirts of Quimper, and yes, you might get the odd shower… Sometimes. But this is the least of your problems…. And I want you to be prepared, that’s all!
“Bara-Kornek” means “bread crescent”in Breton. A Hungry Breton’s creation…
To celebrate the apple season and the end of September, I wanted to do something a bit special. Also to illustrate my previous story I posted a couple of days ago, “Boxin The Fox”, when I had to raid an orchard as I was so hungry on the road… I hope you will like it, this is not a traditional recipe, rather original… You never know, it might enter a Traditional Breton cookbook one day?
First, I decided to make a nice flaky pastry, cut them into discs, fill them with homemade thick vanilla custard ( or Crème Patissière) and gently stewed cubed apples from the garden… This is how it went!
It was a few years ago to the date, August 2010 in Dublin airport. I was picking up my Uncle and his wife for what was going to be their first visit in Ireland; the second time only I was going to meet him. This was a special moment, a reunification after so many years of tears and sorrow, questions unanswered and self inflicted silences. By hugging each other in the busy terminal, we were finally making peace on behalf of our own stubborn late mothers, unaware of the tragedies that had unfolded before our time, keepers of only a few pieces of a puzzle, fragments of broken lives; this jigsaw was going down!
As promised, here is the recipe for my Cherry Flan Tart( or is it Cherries Flan tart?), featured in one of my previous post a couple of days ago in “The Cherry Picker”.We are right on cherry season, so many memories, especially in my Grandparents’ house, climbing the tree by the terrace and gorging ourselves with this wonderful summer treat! Before you ever start to do this dish, make sure you taste the cherries first. If they lack zing or a bit of body, you can soak them in some Kirsch or even lime juice for a couple of hours. It will give your tart an extra dimension when it comes to the final taste. Just dry them well before putting them in the cast, that’s all. But hey… First things first, the secret to a great tart, is a great homemade shortcrust pastry. And this is how I do mine…
The great thing about schooling in France has to be the canteen. No lunch box here, I am talking proper refectory, with chefs, commis and a couple of lovely dinner ladies. Believe me; I have eaten in worse restaurants, with worse service! The head chef, Mr Raymond, was a big brash colourful character, quite partial to kids who acknowledged and complemented on his trade; as a reward, he would look at you with a doubtful pouting frown and a raised eyebrow, before topping your plate with extra sauce or roasted potatoes.