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Daily Bread

I enjoy cooking, but I leave bread-making to the professionals. We were given a bread machine when we lived in Suffolk and John occasionally made herb bread for parties. Soon after we arrived in the Morvan, however, we lost one of the paddles and never bothered to try to replace it. There is no incentive, as the local boulangerie does such a great job.

As with all small businesses, our motto is ‘Use it or lose it’. Our visitors enjoy walking the mile or so to Cervon to pick up their breakfast baguette, croissants and pains au chocolat.One regular visitor is particularly partial to brioche, the lovely eggy, buttery loaf which makes the best bread and butter pudding in the world. Our baker at Cervon makes beautiful brioche. He also bakes pain aux lardons. My trusty HUP defines lardon as ‘piece of sliced bacon’. Chunks of still-warm pain aux lardons feature prominently in all our local get-togethers.

Digression: Un lardon is also slang for a kid, as in ‘Maman, Papa et les trois lardons’.

Baguettes, batards, flûtes, ficelles, couronnes: we love them all. Type ‘french bread images’ on your PC and drool over the beautiful pictures.

Digression: Baguette is a versatile word. As well as being the commonest French loaf, a baguette can mean an ordinary stick, a divining rod, a conductor’s baton or a magic wand; and manger avec des baguettes is to eat with chopsticks. Imagine Simon Rattle conducting an orchestra, or Merlin making magic, with a French stick. Gerard Hoffnung or Ronald Searle would have had a field day.

French bread has its own website www.frenchbread.org.uk which enthuses:

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Oh, I simply love French bread! It’s just too easy to eat! The classic buttery taste and large size make it the right bread to have with the dry foods of French cuisine, and to soak up the extra-rich gravies of gourmet French food. But French bread is really good for health too as the French food industry has a rule where no preservatives* are used to make French bread. As a result, the bread can go stale very fast as compared to other commercially prepared foods.

*Have a care! Un préservatif is a condom. A preservative is un conservateur, which can also mean a Tory, a godsend for those with boggly minds.

It’s true: French bread is perfect for mopping up your gravy. I was taught as a child that the mopping of gravy was not acceptable in polite society, but on my very first visit to France I realised that what was frowned on at home was positively compulsory abroad. Many years later, in the university canteen at Poitiers we were issued with one plate and one set of weaponry for the entire meal. So unless you mopped as you went along, you ended your meal with apple tart and gravy. Our French friends mop their plates so meticulously that only the most perfunctory rinse is required before the crockery goes in the dishwasher.

Just for fun, I searched under ‘mopping plate bread‘ and found posts from an army of enthusiastic moppers. The French and Italians seem to mop the most, probably because their sauces are so delicious. In extreme cases bread has the same function as chapatis in authentic Indian eateries. I had an H M Bateman moment when I asked for a fork in a curry house in Bradford – but I digress.

Bread from the bread counter of French supermarkets is OK, but generally speaking supermarkets use industrial dough which has been deep-frozen before being baked on the premises. Our local Aldi has a huge hoarding promising ‘Pain Cuit sur Place‘ (bread baked on the premises) with a pretty lady biting into a baguette, but they too use deep-frozen dough. Bread counters selling this kind of bread are not allowed, by law, to call themselves boulangeries.

frenchbread.org.uk is also right about the lack of preservatives. However good for one’s health this may be, it means that a delicious fresh baguette goes stale in a matter of hours, while a commercial sliced loaf is full of substances to prolong its half-life for several days. John and I rarely consume a whole baguette at one meal. I come from the ‘waste not, want not’ generation, so I have devised ways with half a stale baguette that my Scots granny would have loved. Cheapskates like me wait until they have the oven on for something else – electricity is expensive in France.

• Slice the stale baguette and dry it out in the oven, then process into crumbs to coat fish, croquettes, etc. Bought breadcrumbs always look suspiciously colourful.
• Sprinkle yesterday’s baguette with water and bake for 5 minutes in a hot oven.
• Croûtons anyone? Cut stale baguette into chunks, drizzle with olive oil, garlic, chopped herbs and salt and bake in the oven to serve with soups and salads.
• Make garlic bread (butter, chopped garlic, salt, herbs) to bake immediately or wrap in foil and freeze.

This piece will probably end up as one of the By the Way items in Murmurs from the Morvan, the book I have written in aid of Combat Stress. Will any readers who would like to read it before official publication, please email me (my details are on the Charity Cottage website www.charity-cottage.org.uk) for the dropbox address to enable them to print a copy for themselves and make a donation to Combat Stress, www.combatstress.org.uk , the veterans’ mental health charity, mentioning Murmurs from the Morvan. Several friends have done this already, and every little helps while I explore my publishing options.

Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas. Rosy runs Charity Cottage in aid of Combat Stress. The cottage has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk , which has links to Combat Stress.

The Rabsons are taking bookings for 2015.

Rosemary Border Rabson

In 2005 Rosemary Border Rabson and husband John Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy, where few other Brits have ventured. Their chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas which they run in aid of Combat Stress (money donations) and Help for Heroes (free accommodation). Since 2012, when Charity Cottage won the Daily Telegraph’s Best British Charity award, the total amount raised for Combat Stress, comprising UK royalties and donations from visitors to Charity Cottage, is nudging £10,000.