Monday, 25 January 2010

Mulled Wine on a Sunday Afternoon.

Having lived out of England now for about 20 years, I still find one of the joys of living in a foreign country is that things are never what you expect them to be. A couple of days ago we were invited for mulled wine and cake by a neighbour in the village of Chazelle at three o’clock Sunday afternoon. We explained that we might be a bit late as we had a lunch appointment, to which we received a Gallic shrug in return, 3 o’clock, 3 thirty no problem. We duly arrived just after 3 after a dash across the French countryside to find aforementioned neighbour’s house locked up, no dog and no neighbour to be seen. Ummmm... Fortunately Chazelle is not that big a place and so we started to wander around until we found a group of neighbours huddling in a wine cellar near the church, drinking what appeared to be mulled wine. With all the confidence we could muster we followed the noise and went in to find our neighbour serving rather hot mulled wine from large saucepans. There was a large table covered in the traditional cakes for this time of year the Galette des Rois (Kings’ cake) and everyone was busily chatting away and tucking into wine and cake. So what we thought was a quiet visit to a neighbour’s house turned out to be a village party!

 One of Chazelle’s residents is a retired Pâtissier (confectioner) and he of course supplies all the amazing desserts for village parties. He had made the Galettes des Rois for the occasion, beautiful puff pastry pies filled with confectioners custard, very lightly flavoured with almond, nothing like the supermarket cakes which have a heavily flavoured filling that is dense enough to sink a battle ship. But the real excitement about the cake is that there is a “fève” hidden inside it. Fève is just the French word for a broad bean and traditionally a broad bean was put in the cake, but nowadays the fève is a plastic, metal or in our case a porcelain figure roughly the size a of a broad bean.

The person who has the fève in his or her piece of cake is the king for the day. In my best attempt to blend into the background, the last thing I wanted Cees or me to do was find the bean. I spotted the piece it was in and carefully guided Cees not to take that piece, phew! On the next round of cake (there were 8 in total enough to feed about 100 people with only 20 residents in our village) I was too involved in conversation to be careful, and before I could take a bite into the galette, I spotted the bean in my piece, oh no..  too late to put it back on the plate, what should I do? I carefully ate around the fève and delicately put the little figure into my napkin waiting to see if anyone had noticed. No one. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted one of neighbours surreptitiously putting a figurine on to the serving plate, so whilst no one was watching, mine went that way too.

The galette des Rois is in fact supposed to be served to summon the kings for the Epiphany, so ours was a bit late, but none the less tasty. Originally the cake was divided into as many pieces as the number of guests plus one extra. The extra piece called “God’s piece”, “The Virgin Mary’s piece” or the “piece for the poor” was given to the poor after party. We ended up taking home half a cake so they must think we are very poor!

Just a little bit of trivia, possibly because of the separation of church and state or possibly because the French population don’t want the president being King for any amount of time, etiquette says that the President of France is not allowed to “summon the kings”. Being France of course he can’t miss out on an edible delicacy, so he has a special Galette des Rois delivered to the Elysée Palace every year which has no fève in it. Maybe that is an idea for next year’s party, because during the whole time we were there, no one admitted to having found a fève in their piece of cake!

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