Joe is just 12, the same age as his brother and sister were when we started living in France full time. But how different he is to them in his attitudes towards food and his experience of it! Our Sunday lunch today brought it home to me more than ever. His sister and her boyfriend Jean-Seb are down for the weekend from their flat near Paris and in the excitement I had forgotten to do a dessert.
Joe’s face fell when I suggested there were several brands of yoghurts in the fridge as well as various chocolate mousses and liégeois, fruits and cheeses. Luckily the boulangerie is still open on a Sunday until 13h for just such hopeless cases as myself so in a flash (I have never seen him exit the door quite so quickly) he jammed on his trainers and grabbed my purse and was gone.
A rather tense few minutes were to follow – I could see that Jean-Seb was very interested in the outcome – before Joe appeared proudly carrying an exquisite box full of delicious pastries which he and the Boulanger had carefully chosen.
Our same Boulanger is famed throughout the neighbouring communes for his prowess with bread. The other day I stopped off on the way home from school so that Joe could go and choose a pain to go with our rabbit stew that evening. He came back to the car with a baguette viennoise and launched into a paean of praise in French over it. Admittedly it smelled delicious but making a poem up about it seemed a bit over the top.
Another time he told me how his friends at school had been telling him how to judge a good pain – how to tap it and listen to the crackles to see if it was a good consistency and so on . . .
. . . It is becoming clear to me now how the French revolution was started!
And as for school meals: I remember warring with his brother and sister back in the day about what they selected to eat from their lunch boxes. Usually the packet of crisps and the Penguin type biscuit was all that did get eaten; if I was lucky they would perhaps deign to eat the yoghurt. They would then come home and be ravenous, devouring all sorts of rubbish before launching into chicken nuggets and beans in between racketing around our estate with their friends. But now I see Joe: he came home the other day moaning about their lesson finishing late so his class missed out on their starter. He was very happy when they got moules/frites one Friday though!
He is always willing to discuss food – indeed I get the impression that he and his school friends spend a lot of time talking about it! When watching one of the French TV channels such as TF1 we always notice that the majority of adverts are about food in one form or another and we realise that we have perhaps been here long enough when we spend time pouring over the selection of steaks on the meat counter or judging the different fish on offer.
But perhaps the really telling thing is that he and his father watched the French version of Masterchef for hours! And I wonder how, back in the UK, we gave such an important part of family life so little precedence. It is what makes the world go round; particularly on those desperately miserable rural winter Sundays when the only activity in the village is people rushing to the boulangerie, that the whole family can get together from as far-flung places as Angers and Paris and Ilminster and Mayenne. We can spend a few hours round the table eating some of the best food France has to offer and catch up on each others’ lives and affirm our family ties.