Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crêpes and Such

As I browse amongst my friends' blogs on France I realize I neglected to mention la Chandeleur, or the mid-winter celebration marking the slow return of the sun. It is always fêted with piles of crêpes.

As I do my research into this celebration, I learn its pagan and Celtic roots: amidst the many references of Latin and Roman times, is one to a Northern European tradition of chandelours, or the equivalent of the American groundhog day but in favor of watching the behavior of the bear as he creeps out from hibernation as an indicator of the length of winter, ours meaning bear. The imagery is rather marvelous, no?

Then there is the day of Brigid or Imbolc the 1st of February, linked to the Celts, and a day of candles, or chandelles, bringing purification and fertility to the land before the spring plantings.

As generally happened, the Christian church chose the dates already on the celebration calendar to position a festival of their choosing. In this case it became the day to mark Jesus' presentation at the Temple, and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Thus, the use of blessed candels is approved, and all is made right. He who brings a lit candle all the way home from church without it being snuffed out by the cold wind will not die this year.

Celui qui la rapporte chez lui allumée
Pour sûr ne mourra pas dans l’année

However, those crêpes which persist as the layman's symbol are rich in imagery: the round disk of the sun, the golden possibilities of a good harvest, lay away the first made and the year will be bountiful, flip it with your right hand with agility and perfection while holding a gold piece in your left and your luck will be assured throughout the year...

As does still happen on occasion, my American roots overwhelm my French persona and I am more in tune to Presidents' Day and the fall Jewish holidays (I am a former New Yorker) than to the French holiday calendar. And so, it was my children who announced to me as we drove home from school on February 2 that it was crêpe day and thus my other offers of other snackfoods were swept from the table.

Happily, these children are pre-teens and children of cooks all, thus with but a bit of guidance from me (I made the pâte à crêpe, batter, and cut it with water as I really didn't want to see all the milk I'd just gotten at the farm Sunday be used up by Tuesday afternoon!)they attacked the project with gusto.

I also suggested -- remembering a past crêpe event this fall -- that they put their small ladelful of batter in the pan, swirl and then pour out the extra into the mixing bowl, to ensure thin crêpes, even if this method leaves a bit of a tail on the crêpe.

Stacks of crêpes were made for their afternoon snack. But then, it didn't stop there. Carnival was slated for Thursday at school and the older classes were to bring in ten crêpes each as their contribution (for Jonas' class the request was fruit juice and home made cakes). Thus the project was repeated Wednesday night.

Being the mom I am... I was fine with them cooking and using all my utensils, but... I draw the line at being the clean-up slave. With more than a bit of nudging, I was able to get them to clean up the stove top of cooked-on drips, and their pans, bowls, whisks, spatulas, etc., The floor was my job. No one's perfect.

And as I do so, I remember the canon about the Jour de Chandeleur that we sang during my Steiner/Waldorf training... if only I could grasp than the first line in my head.

Our crêpe batter for a very large pile:

La Pâte à Crêpe

3 eggs
enough flour whisked in to make a paste
1/4 cup of water whisked in to thin the paste
more flour till thick again
milk slowly whisked in till thinned to a batter texture
now switch to water and keep adding till you've a light cream texture
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
and optionally: a 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or a scrape of a vanilla bean

Ideally you have a short sided crêpe pan, but if not, a non-stick frying pan will do. We do rub it with a bit of butter on a paper towl nonetheless, get it hot and pour in a ladel of batter. Swirl around to cover the bottom and pour out the excess. With practice you'll get the size of your ladelful just right and no longer need to pour out the excess, improving the overall look of your crêpe.

Cook till it starts to bubble up with air from below, flip with style or with a spatula. Let cook a couple seconds on the reverse side and flip out onto a plate. Continue.

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