When I was a kid, we had something at school called the “Cantine”, a self service refectory, subsidized by the State and for a mere £1 or 10 Francs at the time, you could get a three course meal. We didn’t realise then how lucky we were, just more interesting by what was on the menu. Yes, every Monday morning, during the 10 O’clock recess, a sheet of paper would be stapled on the notice board under the giant wooden porch. We gathered around, impatient with the excitement of youth, full of false expectations, a reminder that we were in here for the long haul, most of us against our will. So the menu, knowing what we were going to eat that week, was a little ray of sunshine, our way to cope with the long days ahead even if the week was broken in half, Wednesdays off but a long way to the Saturday’s lunchtime bell, the relieving sound of a long awaited short weekend…
A Breton Far Story It was the winter of 1985, like every morning, my Donkey Kong – now vintage and completely obsolete – pocket game rang 6 am… It was a normal December morning, crisp, frosty and bright; my eye lids were still stuck together, shimmering glitters of somewhat pleasant dreams. I washed my face and quickly headed downstairs for my cup of cocoa; a fat slab of bread and butter and the other with apricot jam; waiting for me. All seemed to be fine, but there was a more than usual sense of anxiety in the air. We were radio heads; always on, and our national weather forecaster, René Chaboud’s voice was disturbingly grave. To be honest, it went way over my head. I had other things on my mind, as Noël/ Christmas was closing in, meaning no more 6 O’clock in the morning “ding-dong”, no more 10 miles bus journey, and at the end… “Pressies” under the tree… Before I rushed outside to catch the communal bus, my dad grabbed me by the elbow; he handed me two pieces of “Far”, a healthy Breton Flan-like cake, made of eggs, flour, sugar, rum and butter; I loved the prunes that made the bottom layer. He just said: “Share that with your sister, will you?”… “Sure.” As if I could eat more than a 5 cm2 of my mother’s “Far”… Seriously.
We arrived at school at 8 am, sharing the usual pleasantries with my comrades, the ritual exchange of probably toxic jelly sweets, puerile gossip and innocent speculations about what our Christmas presents were going to be… For sure! The dreary bell of this old giant military hospital that was our national school, felt like a funeral knell… Well, a bit more than usual. By lunchtime, the skies had fallen over our little Atlantic town, with unusual heavy winds filled with thick snow. Uncontrollable excitement overwhelmed our history teacher, who joined in the effervescence of soon to be teenagers. The screeching sound of the internal speakerphones started to call one after another the names of each bus companies we came in with, gathering outside for an emergency “extraction”… Could this day get any better?
The truth is, it did. You see, in those days, there were no mobile phones, no quick social media messaging and only one payphone for 1,200 kids. So when your Breton Mammy said “never take the bus home in the evening”… No matter how dramatic the situation was that day, the thought of upsetting a strict matriarchal order was out of question. So under an amazing blizzard, huddling like two frozen Herring Gulls, we waited outside the gates of our school, which started to look like an Arctic penitentiary… That is when our Breton Far pieces came handy, warmed up our hearts as I was breaking bread with my little sister. Good times. My Mother’s 1975 Opel Kadett pulled outside the gate, driven by a friend of the family and colleague of my Dad, an almighty truck driver who absolutely relished the challenge.
We made it home safe; the weight of the heavy snow, knocked a few electric cables, but that was ok. We were all home sound and well, the candles were lit, the coffee was making a trickling sound as it was being hand poured ( as always) through the old red Melitta filter holder: “ More Breton Far Mr René?” said my mother… Somewhat grateful.
Recipe in the recipe section 😉