PHOTO: a musical fête in Givry.
It’s no wonder Peter Mayle spent a year going around to small french village fêtes, and wrote a book about them. They are uniquely French, often delightfully campy. The French love them, and summertime is brimming over with them.
There are fêtes for figs, for apples, for noisettes or escargots, and various other food groups; medieval festivals; boules or fishing competitions; wine festivals, of course, fêtes for music or theatre. Costumes are often involved.
PHOTO, Men in Tights: a group of our friends, in the spirit for a medieval festival. L-R, Pete, John, Eliot, Tony, Monty, and Rudy.
Our friends Gerard and Maria went to the Ciné-Pause recently, in the tiny village of Donzy-le-National. This is an annual rural film festival that lasts a few days, and they attended the opening night festivites. Sadly we weren't there, but we got the scoop.
The outdoor evening included dinner, a concert, and a movie. It was held in the village square by the church. A big crowd—300-ish people—turned up, twice what they expected, so our friends were not optimistic about dinner. Many people had dressed up as their favorite film stars, for a festive touch.
The evening began as ALL French events begin: with speeches. The French love to talk, and anything from a concert to a village meeting will begin with speeches by those invovled in the planning, plus the mayor, and anyone else who is inclined to address the crowd. They are always lengthy, but I notice they don’t really say much. As our friend Tony says, the general theme Is: "the village is wonderful, the fête is wonderful, you’re wonderful, I’m wonderful, life is wonderful."
So on this occasion the organizer, gaily dressed in top hat and tails and accompanied by a woman pimped up for the red carpet in a slinky evening gown, got up to begin the monologues. Now there is a little poultry farm next to the church (I told you it was a small village), and turkeys are very curious. So as soon as monsieur started his speech, they all came over to the fence to see what was happening, and started gobbling loudly in response. Perhaps they were asking him to keep it short. “And then,” said Gerard, “a group of guinea hens thought the turkeys had a brilliant idea, and they started shrieking loudly.” There were also a few ducks, quacking. Monsieur was nearly drowned out by the chorus, but he bravely soldiered on. PHOTO, Tough Crowd: beware of avian feedback.
Next up, the woman took the mike, but couldn’t figure out which way was up, and began talking with the mike upside down. This, combined with the ever-louder bird concert, made it impossible to hear. “People in the crowd were yelling at her, saying they couldn’t hear her,” Gerard said. “Then she yelled back that she couldn’t understand what they were saying. And so it went.”
When they had had enough of this madness, and anticipating the dubious nature of dinner, Gerard and Maria slipped through the crowd, jumped in their car, and made their esape. They went to nearby Cluny, where they had a blissfully quiet meal, en plein air, sans speeches and poultry. Bonne fête, quand même!
So, here's what we're cooking that's festive, for summer:
RECIPE: Peach Pie Biscuits
I wanted to make some sweet biscuits the other day, and I had loads of beautiful fresh peaches. Hmm, could I chop them up and add them to a biscuit, or would they get all mushy? Though I didn't use her (scone) recipe, many thanks to Joy the Baker for the idea to actually stuff the peaches inside the biscuits. The technique worked great. These are remniscent of a peach pie, only easier to make! Photo: OK these are not beautiful and perfect, but they sure were good. Plus we scarfed up half of them before I remembered to take a picture.
- 2 cups unbleached flour (250 gr)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons (72 gr) cold butter
- 1 cup light cream
- 2 or 3 fresh peaches, peeled
- 2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pre-heat oven to 400 (200 C). Add the first four dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times. Cut the butter in small pieces, add it in, and give it 10 one-second pulses until it's well mixed, but full of very tiny lumps. Pour it into a bowl.
Make a well and add the cream, stirring quickly with a fork until it sticks together and forms a ball.
Flour your surface, and knead the dough 2 or 3 times. Roll it out, in this case pretty much as thin as you can get it. Line the peach slices up like little soldiers, nearly to the edge, on HALF the dough. Don't overlap them, but they should touch. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Fold the empty half of the dough over onto the peaches and cut the dough into squares. Sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture. Gently lift them off with a spatula, onto a baking sheet, and bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
Favorite Reads: If you want to know more about French fêtes, try Peter Mayle's charming book, French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew, in which he visits all sorts of French food festivals.