A Salute to Food Heritage in France

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FrancemoulinToday is July 14, Bastille Day, France’s Fête Nationale, so here’s a shoutout to that nation’s serious appreciation of food heritage.

Dedicated “foodies” will not be surprised to learn that France, considered by many to be the mother country of Western cuisine, is the home of more museums about food, and more initiatives to preserve food heritage traditions and sites, than any other. Food and drink matter to the French, even if they do stop off at the traiteur to pick up a moist serving of ratatouille and a creamy slab of pommes de terre dauphinoises, of a work night. Despite the inroads of fast food, and the presence of “le micro,”  the microwave, in many French kitchens, region by region and town by town, people are coming together to preserve and protect the country’s food heritage. 

“History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of the kings' bastards but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly." Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre, 1823-1915

Photo: Le Moulin de la Falaise, Batz sur Mer

Francemoulinsign

If you had a Euro for every French place name that includes moulin you would be very rich indeed. The Babylonians pumped water using windmills about 4,000 years ago but the use of wind power to grind grain came later, and may not have reached France until the 11th century. Under the creaking arms of this restored 16th century windmill, near the sea where the wind almost always blows, you can buy the freshly ground organic buckwheat flour, or ble noir, of the miller himself, Xavier Phulpin. His recipe of flour, Guerande salt, an egg and water, well stirred, makes fine galettes. Galettes are buckwheat crepes.

The sign invites families to visit, to hear “the mill turn and sing with the wind,” as it grinds flour.

From our book Gastronomie! Food Museums and Heritage Sites of France, Bunker Hill Publishing, 2006.