04 February, 2009

Crêpes for Candlemas.

In a country that tries so assiduously to be laïque, or secular, where you cannot wear small religious insignia to school, the old Catholic ways, even if watered down, recede rather slowly. Take the feast of Candlemas, or la Chandeleur. Held forty days after Christmas, this is the celebration of the presentation of Jesus at the temple; then again, for others, it's all about Mary, and her purification. At any rate, blessing is involved, in this case, of beeswax candles, which confer auspicious events in the new year--if the candle can be carried home without the flame going out. While the holiday has an accepted Catholic timeline going back to the 300s A.D., there are a number of Roman, and later Celtic, elements that were incorporated into the occasion. Some insist that this day had far less to do with baby Jesus, and centered more around celebrating light, winter's end (amen!) and efforts to ensure a good harvest. Over time, superstitions also took their place, as evidenced by this British saying for example:

"If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again."

In the US, the superstitions were liberally reinterpreted, becoming Groundhog Day. Seriously.

Lacking groundhogs of their own, the French turned to culinary ritual, as is their wont, taking the lead from Gelasius I, who was pope in the late 400s. In addition to introducing the benediction of the candles (hence Candle Mass), he fed the hungry pilgrims gathering in processions around Rome a galette, the heavier precursor of the dainty crêpe.

Thus, here in France dessert crêpes reign on the Chandeleur evening of February second. Specifically, after 8 pm. If one can flip a crêpe in the pan while holding a gold coin in the other hand, well, prosperity in the coming year is all but assured.

Whatever the true, entire story of la Chandeleur may be, it makes kids big and small happy, mine included. I made a gateau de crêpes aux pommes, using a recipe from the February edition of Cuisine et Vins. Caramelized apples, almonds and Calvados-soaked raisins were tucked between delicate layers of crêpe. We all agreed the result was delicious, and my never having found a gold coin to clutch was forgotten in the haze of post-prandial bliss.

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