CRÈPES

My dad almost always made crepes on Saturday mornings when I was a kid.  We ate them rolled up with butter and granulated sugar.  When I was older and had moved away, I tried calling him for the recipe, but it was one of those, “a little of this, some of that, and I’m not sure exactly how much of….you have to know what it looks like.”

In general, I do not like to start the day with something sweet, but I made an exception because of the abundant cream from the summer pastures and all of our late-blooming blueberries in the orchard.  Someone told me that the local farmer’s market is all out of blueberries at this point.  I think most of the commercial operations plant primarily early blueberries….which had a difficult spring this year with a hard frost after they were blooming.  We got none from the early blueberries, but the late blueberries, so reliable and sweet are so full of berries!

There isn’t really a satisfactory translation for blueberry in French.  There isn’t a word (that I know of) for “berry.”  All the good little fruits have their own names: la fraise, la framboise, la mure.  If there was a word for berry, you could try sticking bleu on the end of it, but there isn’t.  Myrtille is the best the language can offer, and when I tried them, they are different than Florida blueberries.  I think they are really huckleberries.

Crepes are very thin pancakes, consisting of mostly flour, egg and milk.  I have seen ridiculous, teflon-coated “crepe-makers,” and some people seem to be under the impression that you can only make crepes with a special crepe-maker.  This is untrue, and a result of product marketing.  Crepes are perfectly make-able in a good-old-fashioned cast-iron frying pan (seasoned, of course).

A long time ago, back when I was young and adventurous, I was invited by my friend Vincent to come along with him to visit a friend who was farm-sitting for her parents in extremely rural French mountains….I think it was in Limans.  We took a late train, and waited for a long, uncertain time for Auralie to pick us up, and then the long drive on tiny roads perched way up high over rivers and gorges and such in the dark.

In the morning, we could see the green meadows, a pair of horses, a coop of young laying hens, and a flock of sheep.  The house was old, and in the middle of being repaired.  There were wood stoves everywhere in odd places, and I almost got stuck climbing a massive, ancient oak in the backyard, where generations of children had played.

We spent much of the weekend playing what might be called music….Auralie on accordion, Vincent learning guitar, and I on zils….which no one liked much, but I wanted to participate.  It’s almost like playing spoons, they are annoying.  We talked about having a street band in the style of the Commedia Dell’arte, and old-fashioned entertainment.  In the middle of the night Auralie and Vincent decided to make crepes.

We went outside to look for eggs in the barn, and I was absolutely struck by the  stars….I had never seen them so bright and unobscured.  Even in the rural American countryside, there’s always a SuperWalmart in the distance that clouds the sky with light pollution.  Here, the sky was black and seemed to go on forever, and the constellations stood out bold and clear on their celestial journey.

I had the enlightening realization that the lame little star maps I had to memorize for Earth Space Science in 9th grade were bogus….and I had always wondered how they got four distant stars to look like a swam.  The unobscured constellations have shadings and depth from tiny, far-away stars that make them look like real pictures leaning down out of the sky, almost near enough to touch, looking down at you from a different world.

We never found an egg, and so we made egg-less crepes.  They weren’t the best, but they were still perfectly good, and Auralie showed me the trick of using a slice of potato at the end of a fork to butter the pan evenly.  At the end, you can eat it as it is cooked from spreading butter so many times.  We ate them with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

CREPES
 Pour into a bowl 250 grams of flour; make a trough in the middle, mix the flour with a quarter of a litre of milk, a coffeespoon of salt, two whole eggs, a small glass of eau-de-vie.
Mix everything well, let it rest.
Your batter must be liquid enough.
In a pan, melt a hazelnut-sized bit of butter (or lard); when it is good and hot, pour in a spoonful of batter so it covers the bottom.
Brown the crepe on both sides, tipping the pan constantly until the crepes don’t stick.
Serve very hot, with fine salt or powdered sugar.

 

 

 

Crepes (a modern version)
2 cups flour
about 1 cup milk (you can add more to get a thin consistency of batter)
2 whole eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
A splash of eau-d-vie
Butter, or lard, for frying
1.  Put the flour into a bowl and make a trough in the middle.
2.  Pour in the milk, eau-de-vie, and crack in the eggs.  Mix everything up very well, and let the batter rest a few minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.  When it is good and hot, put in a little dab of butter and swirl it around with a spoon.  If you’d like to try Auralie’s trick with the potato, take a small slice of potato and stick it on to the end of a fork for this job.
4.  After you pour in the first spoonful of batter, tip the pan in a circular motion so that the edge of the batter spreads out to be thin around the edges.
5.  Let the crepe cook until the edges look dry and are starting to brown.  Flip the crepe over with a spatula and brown the other side for a moment.
6.  Remove crepe from pan, butter the pan again, and pour in another spoonful, etc.  Always add more butter between crepes (it keeps them from sticking).
Notes:  Warning – the first crepe is almost always ugly, so don’t give up.
Crepes can be sweet or savory, and there are lots of ways to serve them, whether stuffed and rolled up, or on the side.  Lemon and sugar is common, but you could also add creme fraiche, ricotta, berries, ice cream, etc.  For savory ideas, I have seen recipes with vegetables like asperagus, or peppers, or meaty stew-like preparations.  The blueberry filling I made was only blueberries and a few spoonfuls of honey cooked down.
If you are wondering what eau-de-vie is, it is very strong distilled alcohol with a pleasing flavor.  You can use rum, or brandy, or even vanilla extract.

{My grandmother, Claudia Meraud, was born in Nice, France.   She immigrated to the US after meeting my grandfather while he was stationed there as a US soldier in WW II.  We spent several summers together, just the two of us, living with her sister in Nice.  She passed along to me an old French cookbook titled  title is La Cuisine:  Guide Practique De La Ménagère by R. Blondeau, Chef de Cuisine.  It originally belonged to my great-grandmother, Lucie Thomas, who was a native of St. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace.

This cookbook was published in the 1930’s, and was written as a practical guide for a household cook before the days of the fridge and the food processor.  The recipes are delicious, practical, and (of course) packed with good traditional nutrition.

I am creating translated versions of these antique recipes, re-written for the modern cook, and tested with home-grown and seasonal food.}

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s