Now that New Year’s Eve has passed, I can wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. In France, it’s considered bad luck to do so before midnight on 31st December. Although we have turned the corner of the year, I will still be writing last year’s date on cheques and official forms until April.
After Christmas and New Year and before January’s cold reality sets in (it’s set in pretty well already: minus 10 C here this morning – written in 2019), one last fête occurs in France: Épiphanie. This is the day the three Magi visited Jesus and offered him gifts. In France, it is celebrated either on 6th January (Twelfth Night) or on the first Sunday in January.
We celebrated this event a little early last night when we attended l’Assemblée Générale (AGM) of a local association, Caylus Notre Village. CNV exists to highlight and safeguard local heritage sites and was the force behind the restoration of our local lavoir, which was completed in 2018.
Despite the cold, more than 20 people turned out to hear what had been achieved the previous year. As always, everyone uttered the usual formulae, Bonne Année or Meilleurs Voeux, with the talisman phrase appended, “Surtout pour la santé” (above all, for good health), accompanied by a blizzard of kisses. We do three kisses here, so it takes a while to get through everyone. The close personal contact and the wishes for good health are, perhaps, rather contradictory, but we’re happy to participate. [NB Written before Covid put paid to such salutations.]
No meeting in France is complete without a drink and something to eat. Yesterday, this consisted of cidre rosé (pink cider: quite pleasant) and the special cake consumed at Epiphanie, la galette des Rois, the Kings’ cake.
La galette des Rois
The recipe varies between regions, but around here it is made of glazed pastry and filled with almond paste, called frangipani. Last night, a version filled with apple purée was also served. What is special about this cake (which, frankly, I find a bit bland) is that a fève is baked inside. Formerly, this was actually a fava bean. These days it’s more common to find a porcelain figurine or trinket in the cake. It is still known as the fève.
During le tirage du rois (or cutting of the cake), the person who finds the fève is named king or queen for the day and gets a cardboard crown to wear, which the boulangerie provides with the cake. The monarch also chooses a consort.
In fact, the French eat la galette des Rois throughout January, not just at Épiphanie, and you’ll find special displays in the supermarkets for a few weeks to come.
Several years ago, we were invited to dinner with French friends and some other guests provided the galette for dessert. When she cut the cake, Marie-Jo, by sleight of hand, made sure I drew the fève. It was a tiny porcelain coffee grinder, which I still have (see photo above). I received my crown and appointed our host Jean-François my consort.
This is a rather nice tradition and a way of making the fêtes de fin d’année last a little longer.
If you’d like to know how to make a galette, my friend and fellow life in France blogger Jacqui Brown has a recipe.
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