Sunday, February 5, 2012

La Chandeleur

February 2 was “la Chandeleur”- a holiday in France.  For the previous two weeks, the supermarkets had displayed an assortment of flours, sugars, oils, jams, honeys, milk (UHT, which doesn’t require refrigeration and can therefore be exhibited with all the other ingredients), as well as Nutella, with half-off sales on Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and rum (I bought a bottle of Grand Marnier).  Near the presentation of ingredients hung all sorts of crepe pans of various sizes and qualities, next to a table stacked with boxes of electric table-top crepe griddles.

Carrefour supermarket's advertisement
Yes, la Chandeleur is a holiday for eating crepes.    
I asked two ex-Catholic French friends what’s the meaning of la Chandeleur.  It’s just a holiday to eat crepes, they replied.  Not a satisfactory answer, because the translation for Chandeleur in my dictionary is “Candlemas.”  I consulted Wikipedia.  In brief, Candlemas is a holiday commemorating both Mary’s emersion in the ritual bath (the Jewish mikvah) 40 days after Jesus’ birth,  and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  The word “chandeleur” comes from the French word for a large candle, “chandelle” -- which, it is believed, refers to large candles that were burning in the Temple (are they referring to the menorah?).  La Chandeleur had been a Christian adaptation of Roman celebrations in which people walked with candles in the streets during the first week of February to commemorate their gods and dead ancestors.  The festival then became a holiday in which priests blessed candles.   
Again, what do crepes have to do with candles, or Mary’s ritual purification, or Jesus being brought to the Temple in Jerusalem?
Crepes for la Chandeleur, according to my devout French Catholic friend, Catherine, represent the sun, and in February we realize that the days are getting longer and we see the sun more. 
The groundhog, as well, comes out of it’s burrow on February 2 to look for the sun. 
In other words, la Chandeleur is just one of many religious holidays whose agricultural and pagan origins have been absorbed and glossed over with Biblical interpretations.  Crepes of one sort or another undoubtedly existed in France before Christianity came here.  Round like the sun, crepes represent hope, the future, springtime, warmth, the harvesting of wheat.  And they taste good, too.

Making Catherine's Crepes at the table
Catherine’s Crepe Recipe (I translated the French, but not the metric measurements)

1 egg per person
Beat all the eggs together with a little bit of salt
Add a glass of milk
Add 2 rounded tablespoons of flour for each egg 
Mix to obtain a smooth batter
Add 3-4 soup spoons of a neutral oil [I, CERN Wife, used melted butter]
Mix in the quantity of milk necessary to obtain the batter as you like (as an aside to me, Catherine said that she uses a liter of milk for a batter made with 5 eggs)
The ideal is to make the batter a bit in advance so that the flour swells, and you then you have to add a little bit of milk.  But if you don’t have the time, it’s not essential [to make the batter in advance].
Catherine’s Recipe for Caramel au Beurre Sale (salted butter)
75 grams sugar
35 grams salted butter
10 cl cream (not the light kind!!!)
Make a caramel with the sugar and a little bit of water, until light brown.
Add butter and cream (beware of hot splashing).
Cook until it reaches a nice “honey-like” consistency.
Have fun and treat  yourself!

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