MCM and I are just back from a visit to his parents' house in Brittany and, as promised, here's a report on what we ate.
My MIL is, in many ways, a very traditional French cook, particularly in her insistence on many separate courses and on the strong emphasis on lunch over dinner. She would probably be surprised to hear that, because she likes to try new recipes and many of the dishes she makes are innovative - meaning, chiefly, not from her region of France. For example, she considers Provencale food quite exotic. But the fact that she still makes multi-course meals on a regular basis, as was the norm 50 years ago, is rare, even for her baby boomer generation. (I don't know any French people my age who do this - comment if you do!)
Note: portions are not enormous - this will sound like a huge amount of food, but actually it wasn't. If lunch was big, we had a lighter dinner. Bread is always on the table and eaten with most courses. We drank wine with the meals (not breakfast!) but they use very small glasses, so the actual alcohol consumption was very low.
- Aperitif (white wine); little toast rounds spread with tapenade and pesto; cherry tomatoes (all eaten in the living room, with the nibble passed around on a plate)
- Starter: melon (small canteloupe-like, served in a wedge, eaten with a spoon)
- Main: small local white fish, whole with the head removed, served with wild rice and some steamed carrots and zucchini, lemon-butter sauce on top.
- Salad and cheese: green salad with simple vinaigrette, plate of 5 or 6 cheeses.
- Dessert: a raspberry charlotte (a molded cake made with purchased ladyfinger-type cookies, cream and berries).
- Coffee or tea.
- No aperitif
- No starter
- Main: a provencale tian (casserole of sliced eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, with lots of herbes de provence)
- Salad and cheese (cheese plate leftover from lunch)
- Dessert: kouing amman (a Breton pastry with obscene amounts of butter, mmm) and/or leftover charlotte and/or a piece of fruit from the fruit bowl (brought to the table) and/or one of the blueberry muffins I brought. First time in my life I've seen a muffin eaten for dessert with a knife and fork! (See my scones post for context on this one).
- Coffee (drunk from a bowl with no handles)
- orange juice
- toast (leftover bread from Friday and some brioche)
- a selection of jams (she makes her own and artisan jams seem to be popular gifts amongst her friends who come to visit)
- fruit from fruit bowl (white peaches and apricots)
- Aperitif: olive-goats cheese cake (quick bread) from Picard, in little slices; a glass of white Port; dried apple slices.
- Starter: a special local, summertime treat: langoustines (like mini lobsters), steamed and served cold with a homemade lemony mayonnaise
- Main: rouget (red mullet) steamed, served with a roasted pepper and olive side dish, boiled potatoes (served in their skins - everyone peels their own on their plate).
- Salad and cheese
- Leftover charlotte or fruit.
- Dined out at a creperie, the tradition in Brittany: ate the buckwheat galettes , filled with ham, cheese and mushrooms
- Dessert was a crepe filled with cooked apples and the local caramel, which is made with salted butter
- Same as Saturday
- Aperitif: little toast rounds spread with tapenade; cherry tomatoes; rataffia, a liqueur made in Champagne
- Starter: melon
- Main: pork ribs, marinated in honey and herbs and barbecued (exotic!), served with green beans
- Salad and cheese (still working on the same cheese plate)
- Dessert: mirabelle plum tart (made with store-bought puff pastry) or leftover charlotte
- Coffee. A bar of chocolate was produced to accompany coffee.
So, is it absolutely amazing?
It's very nice. MIL is a good cook and I feel privileged to get to experience a disappearing way of life. That said, I absolutely used to dread these meals when I first started dating MCM - they are quite long, my French was limited, I knew that I was not doing a lot of things "correctly", and I created some diplomatic incidents by not trying all the cheeses. I feel more at ease now, although I can't see myself ever doing this on a regular basis. It requires so much time and organisation (even with some purchased foods and the use of leftovers), plus I just don't find it necessary. I come from a family that puts very strong emphasis on large family meals together, but they are much less formal and they're not structured into so many courses. It's a bit like how, on our honeymoon, MCM and I loved going to restaurants every day, but by the end we were quite happy just to have a simple meal at home after all the fuss.
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