The American cry of freedom as taught to us from history class, ‘give us life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” does not really work in France. It seems after many trips to the country that not only gave us the Statue of Liberty and Brie cheese, but champagne and chardonnay wine. It seems they must have a different, a much different motto. For them, it seems “give us wine, women (or men depending on who is talking), and the pursuit of fresh bread.” I cannot comment on wine or women, but it is about the baguette I write.
The baguette is something so quintessentially French that to be deprived on one’s daily allotment would be something like depriving a phone call to a prisoner or medicine to the sick. Everywhere it seems is the omnipresent boulangerie, or French bakery. Here where we are staying in St. Denis de Oleron they have two, fifty feet apart. Every morning everyone lines up for their morning allotment, priced somewhere between .75 and 1.25 Euro.
Many people think the French are not enterprising but when it comes to baguettes, throw everything else out. We were at a French campground and at precisely ten o’clock the small red baguette van showed up at the gate, horn blaring and French campers young and old came up to the woman in the baguettemobile like rats to the pied piper or children to the Good Humor man.
It seems the only time I see happy looking French people is walking away with a fresh baguette in hand. In the morning in France is a place to see baguettes in backpacks on bicycles, baguettes in bags, and children scurrying home with breakfast. Mind you the baguette is also a lunch staple as well as the first course to any fine French dinner.
So, you may ask, what is different about the baguette? We have “French bread” in America or at least you can buy French bread here and there. French bread is not really French at all. Well first of all, the days a fresh bakery in small town America has been replaced by either no bakery or a poor substitute in a Grocery chain. Secondly, there is a special process to make the baguette using a traditional stone oven that just don’t exist in America anymore, if they ever did. Third, for some reason our American tastes have become something more akin to wonder bread. This type of bread is actually called “American bread” in France and shows you how far American cuisine has fallen. There is nothing like a fresh warm baguette with European butter, tasty, sweet, and creamy or smothered with fresh preserves. European and New Zealand butter can be found in American grocery stores and is superior, in my opinion, to our homogenized counterpart but our preserves, probably thanks to grandmothers, are still adequate.
Today was a typical day in France. Wake up and go to the boulangerie and buy baguettes for breakfast. We ate them with butter. We also bought some for lunch which we cut them open and had them as sandwiches with cheese and meat. Then for dinner we had boiled mussels with cut baguettes on the side. It was a perfect food day.
The whole of this issue brings up larger questions. Why can’t we have decent bread in America? Who actually decided spongy bland bread was OUR birthright? Hostess? Tasty Bakery Company? Are we in that much of a hurry? Don’t we care or have no sense of taste? …or are we just that cheap that we put no value in good bread?
I once read where the grocery store closed in a Maine town leaving only the Food Co-op open. There has always been a belief that the poor people ate what they did out of desperation or their situation, they just couldn’t eat decent food. The food co-op in this town took this to heart and with the members approval, they actually changed their prices to allow food stamps to buy a loaf of real bread for the same as the cheaper Wonderbread variety. It was their chance to help. Well the local poor had a response to this act of seemingly generosity. They wrote letters complaining. WE WANT OUR WONDERBREAD BACK! They didn’t want the bakery fresh bread. It seems they have become accustomed to this mass produced overmarketed bread.
It is a sad state of affairs that I may have life and liberty but can only pursue my happiness with fresh bread in France. It is also sad to see so many bakeries closed or reduced to simple donut shops. I have fond memories of tasty baked goods from mom and pop bakeries of my youth. I can’t remember the bread but it had to be better and fresher than the prepackaged stuff from the grocer.
Oh well, I’ll enjoy it while it lasts and then I’ll go back to South Dakota and suffer through our American bread until the next time I’m in France. We brought the pizza back from World War I but the baguette just didn’t make it, oh well. C’est la vie….oh that was a title from another blog. Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry…well maybe not your hungry send them to France.
Bon appétit my friends,