Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Mastery of Bread and Butter

West side of Guadeloupe, on the Caribbean Sea

There are French islands between Dominica and Antigua—Guadeloupe, of course and then the smaller ones, Iles des Saintes, Marie Gallante and La Desirade.  We haven’t visited them all yet, but we will.  Anyway, we passed through them again as we returned to Antigua.  Carl’s daughter is flying in from Colombia to Antigua to spend the Christmas holiday with us.
"Main" street on Iles des Saintes

Stopping in the French islands again prompts me to say something about bread and butter. We have been thrilled about the wonderful boulangeries (bo-lawn’-gurries) which sell fresh breads all day long!  This is a fabulous thing, in my estimation. Even late in the afternoon, a little queue of customers can be found there waiting for their two or three baguettes, fresh out of the ovens. 
One of my breads made in Minnesota 2009

Slender, lightly crusty bread as long as the length of my arm, from elbow to the tip of my middle finger.  I like the miche (meesh) as well.  I made pain miche back when I lived on land, and I now realize what it’s supposed to turn out like. We’ve also tried the Pain de Cereal and croissants, of course.  Shelves of other beautiful breads are there, and I can’t tell from looking at the list written on the chalkboard (in French) which name goes with which bread. In this case, my finger works well enough to get me by.  My pointing finger, I should say. 
A bread called a Fougasse, for its' shape. 
Made in MN 2009

As we sail between the islands (usually an easy day sail from one island to the next) I work on my French pronunciation.  I am gearing up to ask whether there is a whole-wheat bread (pain de ble’ entier).  Even with that goal in mind, I have to say that frankly, we’ve been eating too much bread of late, and I’m sorry to say that it is going to have to be curtailed to a degree.  I already gained weight in 2017, starting with those weeks of lying on my back before surgery in May.  From then and on, it’s just been plain moral laziness on my part—I have simply enjoyed eating far too much.
One of my breads, again

There is, however, an additional problem with curtailing bread intake while on the French islands and it is this—the French have mastered butter.  
Fertile Acres Brown Swiss Farm.  The milk went to make Land O' Lakes butter.

Yes, yes, our Minnesota dairy farm’s milk was made into Land O’ Lakes butter, and I have stated with absolute certainty many times in my life that it is the best butter you can buy.  
Two families raised on Land O' Lakes butter

A new cruising friend told me that in spite of my experience with Land O’ Lakes, that I must try the French butter or beurre.  “It is really something special,” she said. ‘Hah,’  I thought.  But, I took the challenge.  

That's me at age 5, fearless wielding a switch to drive the cattle.
I tried one brand of butter made in France.  It was….exquisitely delicious—so creamy and light.  A total fluke, I figured.  So I tried another brand, the cheapest French butter I could find.  Equally marvelous!  And then another brand—again, absolutely mouth-watering!  I was astonished!  So, it’s true!  The French have perfected butter!  And this from a woman who came within an arm’s length (or two) of having her head carved in butter.  

You know about the head carvings in butter? It’s a Minnesota phenomenon.  Every year, each county conducts a Princess Kay of the Milky Way contest, sponsored at least in part by the ADA.  (That would be the American Dairy Association, not the Assistant District Attorney—that would be an entirely different kind of phenomenon.)  Fifteen to twenty-five dairy farmer’s daughters compete for the title of Dairy Princess of that county. 
This is how many milk in 2017, an automated milking
parlor.  Amazing!
This is how we milked in 1975

It is a serious contest; the young lady’s knowledge about the dairy industry is of paramount importance.  At least it’s supposed to be, (Lord knows I came prepared to answer questions about butter fat content and the attributes of various breeds of dairy cattle) but then it turned out that one of the Princess’ attendants came from a farm that had only one milk cow!  One! I found that more than a little fishy.  Anyway, she and I and one other girl (who was truly worthy of the crown, she having already begun developing her own herd of milking cows) were chosen as the royalty. After the banquet, the royal entourage is available to ride on parade floats and baby blue Buick convertibles throughout the rest of the summer.
My expertise with butter
goes way back.

So, yes, I went on the road trip to the Regional competition. Yes, I did the evening gown competition, (there was no swimsuit competition thankfully) but at the Region, I don’t recall being asked even one question about the dairy industry.  Again….fishy. I met the previous year’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way at the Regional competition, and noted with some disdain that she was a hard core gum-snapper!  An exuberant gum-snapper! Hmph. I’m not sure just what it was they were looking for in a Princess Kay but I wasn’t it.  Yours truly did not progress from the Regional on to the State competition. My head would, alas, not be carved in butter.  
I took this heifer to the
MN State Fair, 1971

The three young women selected as royalty at the State Fair would have their heads carved in butter and they would be displayed (in a refrigerated glass case, of course) throughout the days of the Fair.  The skilled butter sculptor must practice on other mediums when there are no large blocks of butter on hand because those heads are very life-like.

MY head would have looked
kinda like this carved in butter.

But when the Fair is over, who wants to take home a life-size head of butter?  What do you do with it? I heard a piece done by MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) a while back about those heads of butter.  Apparently, someone or other at MPR had found their curiosity piqued about what the royalty did with their head of butter after the Fair.  Turns out that many of those heads are taking up about a human head’s worth of space in the bottom of their parent’s chest freezer, probably in the basement, even several years afterward.  “Oh, Aunt Frieda, when you retrieve the fish out of the freezer down there, don’t be alarmed if you see Susie’s head underneath.”
They even name hills after bread --
Pain du Sucre (Sugarloaf)

A head of butter is not like the top of a wedding cake that you eat on your First Wedding Anniversary.  Do you take the head out to show guests? Maybe only the guests who come for dinner? For how many years? Do you finally eat it? In little pieces?  Like, maybe eat the eyes, ears and nose for Halloween, the hair for Thanksgiving, the chin and cheeks for Christmas dinner? 

Bourg des Saintes, on Iles des Saintes
After harboring your offspring’s head (of butter) for fifteen years in the freezer on the family farm, does mom call her daughter and say, “Honey, we’ve been hanging onto your butter head for a long time.  Whaddya say we eat it? Is it time? Not sure it’s any good anymore. Or should we donate it to the Salvation Army breakfast fundraiser?”  “Hey, Frank, who’s the chick in the butter? She looks good.”

At any rate, I can state with absolute certainty that it is the French who have perfected butter.  And bread, of course. 

And don’t even get me started about the creme fraiche.


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