Daily bread is the sine qua non of living in France, which fact is embodied in the proverb: “it’s a long day without bread”. There is a bakery open in every village every day, or a “depôt de pain” if the bakery is closed. Being able to choose bread according to my mood, or to the food that I am going to cook later that day is a joy. The seductive quality of colour, crust and texture entice me as surely as a finely made lure hooks a fish. Unlike the landed fish, I am delighted that I have succumbed to temptation. Good bread does not disappoint. It is heart warmingly normal to see people hurrying home from the boulangerie whilst tearing off, and eating, chunks of the still warm bread that they purchased just minutes before. This illustrates the pleasure taken in the simple product without the addition of fats or fillings. The selection in a boulangerie can be daunting. Here, breads are still made in a multiplicity of shapes as well as flours. Spelt, buckwheat, corn, rye and wheat breads abound. Caraway, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and flax seeds adorn or are studded into breads. Not only are the interiors of loaves filled with these delicacies, but the glossy dark crusts are also adorned with clusters of crisp seeds.
I remember my first visit to the Poilane bakery in the rue du Cherche Midi, and seeing the huge round sourdough loaves ranged on wooden shelves, their golden brown crusts emblazoned with the letter “P”. My daily visits to our local boulangeries still provide me with similar pleasure. There is always an interesting fruit or nut bread, a small “pain de noix et fromage”, or garlic and butter laden “prefou”, a local speciality. The appetite for brioche, and the butter milk equivalent”gache”, is gargantuan. Oddly enough Rabelais wrote his classic allegory of good and evil, Gargantua and Pantagruel,whilst living in this area. Our life here has led to some very simple gastronomic epiphanies. The fact that bread is not a vehicle for carrying various fats and spreads, but is a foodstuff unto itself, with a range of tastes and textures that defy the imagination, being amongst them. The farm on the hill behind our house grow their own cereals, on about 30 hectares of land, and have the grain stone ground by a local “meunier”. They sell the most wonderful flour from their little farm shop, and on occasion, make the best tasting brioche. The fact that a peasant tradition still exists in our area bears witness to the profusion of artisan foods. It should be noted that the peasant tradition “exists” rather than “thrives”, which is sad but predictable. Happily, everyone seems to grow fantastic tomatoes of every shape and hue. Grilled bread, smeared with garlic, drizzled with olive oil and topped with these tomatoes is a good as it gets – until the next great taste.