Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Crêpes and Groundhogs

Tonight I made crêpe batter for the very first time. Up until this point, I have shirked all crêpe-making duties, pleading ignorance. After all, my husband is much more qualified than I am. He grew up in Nantes, which is in Brittany (the Crêpe Capital of the World), and I grew up in Southern California. And while I feel very confident choosing a ripe avocado, when it comes to crêpes, I am daunted. Because in France, everyone has his or her special crêpe batter. Not that it’s all that hard to make, but everyone has a recipe that he or she has inherited from Tante Mimi, or Oncle Marcel, or, in our case, Mamie Georgette.

So it was with great trepidation that I embarked on my crêpe-making journey. I’m delighted to report that so far, I have come out of it unscathed, aside from a lightly grated knuckle, a casualty of the lemon zesting process. I say “so far” because we haven’t made them yet, and who knows what heinous crêpe making crime I will be accused of once the batter hits the pan.

Why am I making crêpes tonight, anyway? Because it is Chandeleur, of course. For reasons that are shrouded in the mists of time, February 2 is French National Crêpe Day. According to Wikipedia, Chandeleur is basically Candelmas, a Christian holiday that celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple. The road from Jesus to crêpes is tortured, however: Wikipedia puts forth a theory that Pope Gelasius I offered pilgrims crêpes when they came to celebrate the holiday in Rome. This seems a bit of a stretch and I prefer to believe it is linked to an earlier Celtic holiday that had to do with the “end” of winter, though how anyone in their right mind could believe that February 2 is the end of winter is a mystery to me. Then there’s another bit about bears coming out of their hibernation at this time, which was another subject of a pagan rite.

Which brings me to another fascinating and equally tortured link between this holiday and Punxsutawney Phil. It was only this evening that I realized Chandeleur was in fact, Groundhog Day. And if you look up explanations for Groundhog Day, you come up with the same Celtic festival, Imbolc. So by all rights, Phil and his colleagues should not come out of their burrows and look for their shadow—they should eat a crêpe.

But to get back the batter. It is Wednesday, and my husband doesn’t get home until 7:30, and it seems that the batter absolutely must rest for one hour before it goes into the pan. God forbid we should use tired batter. Hence, I must make the batter before he gets home.

Right now the batter is resting and I must admit, I’m jealous. It looks so calm and mellow that I’d like to jump in and swim around in it. This was my day “off” (kids don’t go to school on Wednesdays in France) when I get to take my son to soccer, make lunch for him and his squirrely friend, clean the house, fold the laundry, and do the shopping. But I am looking forward to our crêpes tonight. Perhaps we will even throw one on top of the armoire, which my father-in-law insists is traditional, but then he’s Gascon, and they have a tradition of telling tall tales. No other bona fide French person has ever confirmed the existence of this custom, so for all I know he is pulling my leg and chuckling about it with my mother-in-law. (“Can you believe it, Monique? She believed me!”)

Either way, the crêpes will be tasty. That much is sure. I’m looking forward to it. Really.