Our colum­nist cre­ates a lunch honour­ing the French meal’s Unesco sta­tus.

The French meal’s Unesco sta­tus in­spires Carol Drinkwa­ter to cre­ate a lunch to savour

France - - Contents -

In 2010, the ‘Gas­tro­nomic Meal of the French’ was awarded Unesco World Her­itage sta­tus. One usu­ally thinks of mon­u­ments or lo­ca­tions bear­ing this dis­tin­guished ap­pel­la­tion. How­ever, Unesco has a fas­ci­nat­ing list de­scribed as ‘in­tan­gi­ble cultural her­itage for hu­man­ity’.

Its ex­perts de­fined the im­por­tance of French gas­tron­omy as a ‘so­cial cus­tom aimed at cel­e­brat­ing the most im­por­tant mo­ments in the lives of in­di­vid­u­als and groups.’ Eat­ing in France, they claim, em­pha­sises to­geth­er­ness; it unites friends, fam­i­lies; it strength­ens so­cial ties.

What a re­mark­able feat the French have achieved. Those long lunches that have be­come the tra­di­tion for Sun­days in the coun­try. Sul­try af­ter­noons be­neath the shade of a spread­ing fig tree, quaffing wine, slowly devour­ing gen­er­ously filled plates around groan­ing wooden ta­bles. Dozens of guests, rang­ing from babes perched on their moth­ers’ laps to the nona­ge­nar­i­ans; laugh­ing, shar­ing sto­ries, build­ing mem­o­ries to cher­ish.

From this per­fect and leisured ac­tiv­ity, the French have also cre­ated great works of art such as Édouard Manet’s Le Dé­je­uner sur l’herbe. Re­mem­ber the mem­o­rable film, Babette’s Feast, where the French refugee pre­pares a gourmet meal for her hosts?

Unesco’s list­ing fol­lows a fixed struc­ture com­menc­ing with an aper­i­tif, fol­lowed by four suc­ces­sive cour­ses: starter, meat or fish with veg­eta­bles, cheese, then dessert washed down with liqueurs. It in­cludes the mar­ry­ing of wines with the food.

Such a repast set me think­ing of or­gan­is­ing a huge al­fresco lunch for loved ones, of­fer­ing them quintessen­tially French dishes.

Let’s be­gin with es­car­gots. The es­car­got is an ed­i­ble land snail, al­though not all land va­ri­eties can be eaten and some are too small to bother with. Served with gar­lic, pars­ley and but­ter as an en­trée, they are a del­i­cacy. For very spe­cial oc­ca­sions, I pro­pose snail caviar.

Do you know that if you buy live snails, you can­not trans­port them on a high-speed train in France? Ac­tu­ally you can, but the snails must have their own ticket. Se­ri­ously. If you have not bought a ticket for your mol­luscs, you can be fined.

On to the main course for that fam­ily gath­er­ing. Suprême de pigeon, which is half the breast and a wing. De­li­cious when served with chest­nuts or cèpes. The pi­geons are farm-raised. You would not be serv­ing a bird trained to carry mes­sages or a wild one nabbed from the vil­lage square. There are ex­cel­lent pigeon farms in the Loire Val­ley. Other choices might be sizzling roast chicken from the Bresse re­gion or duck from the south-west.

Cheese. France pro­duces be­tween around 450 types of cheeses and these are grouped into eight cat­e­gories. The na­tion’s an­nual out­put is close to one bil­lion tons. You can eat cheese ev­ery day of the year and never choose the same one. Charles de Gaulle fa­mously de­clared that it was im­pos­si­ble to run a coun­try that had so many dif­fer­ent types of cheese.

Tarte Tatin. This in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned dessert was re­put­edly cre­ated by ac­ci­dent in the late 19th cen­tury by one of two sis­ters, Stéphanie and Caro­line Tatin, at their ho­tel in Lamotte-beu­vron in Loir-et-cher. One story goes that Stéphanie, while pre­par­ing a pie, over­cooked the Reine des Reinettes ap­ples, which caramelised. To dis­guise her er­ror, she placed the pas­try over the top and placed the tarte in the oven. When it was cooked, she flipped it over, and Caro­line served it to din­ers, who ac­claimed it.

Some­time later, the owner of Maxim’s, who was hunt­ing in the re­gion, stopped for lunch, dis­cov­ered this mar­vel, ‘stole’ the recipe and added it to his Paris carte. The rest is history. The Hôtel Tatin, a restaurant gas­tronomique, is still in busi­ness if you pre­fer to take your loved ones out for that mem­o­rable slap-up feast.

Carol Drinkwa­ter is the best-sell­ing au­thor of The Olive Farm se­ries. Her lat­est work is The Lost Girl, a novel set in post-war Provence and mod­ern-day Paris. Con­tact Carol at car­oldrinkwa­ter.com

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