Bread, as everyone knows, plays a big part in the daily life of the French people – in fact 12 million people a day in France visit a bread shop.
From baguettes to boules, the long thin sticks of light bread, to the round tasty balls of bread, bread in France is part of the daily fabric of life.
Since 1996 a festival of bread has been held to celebrate the art of making real, traditional French breads. Taking place across France the festival runs for a week each May close to the 16th May, which is the Saint’s day of Saint-Honoré, the Patron Saint of bakers.
La Fête du Pain takes place in cities and towns across France and artisan bakers (there are more than 2000 traditional artisan bread shops in France) organise fun events in shops and at markets to promote their breads and pastries. Their aim is to show customers why artisan bread is so much better than the industrially produced alternative.
Saint Honoré (also known as Saint Honoratus) was born in the 6th Century near Amiens, Picardy. He became the seventh Bishop of Amiens and on hearing the announcement of his appointment it is said that his nursemaid was astonished. Baking bread at the time, she said that she would only believe it if the peel she had been using to bake bread was to put out roots and grow into a tree.
Legend has it that the peel, once in the ground, sprouted and grew into a fruiting blackberry tree.
The Bishop died in 601AD and numerous miracles were afterwards attributed to him – including the ending of a period of severe drought – brought on by honouring the Bishop’s relics.
600 years after his death, a baker named Renaud Cherins donated land to the council of Paris to build a chapel to honour Saint Honoré. Thanks to his patronage the Chapel prospered and the Rue du Fauborg Saint-Honoré, now one of the most fashionable addresses in the world, was named after it.
Two hundred years later a group of Paris bakers established their guild in the Church of Saint Honoré and decided to celebrate his feast day – May 16th.
Louis XIV, the Sun King, who was a man who enjoyed good food and promoted French interests, commanded in 1659 that all bakers should henceforth observe the feast of the Saint.
Many years later a cake was created in the Saint’s honour – Saint Honoré cake is a classic French dessert. Puff pastry, choux pastry, cream and sugar make this a firm favourite to this day.
The Fête du Pain which takes place each year continues to honour the Saint and to honour great French bread.
Find out what’s on during the week of la Fête du Pain.