Bread Man bought my baguette this week and handed it over with a little flourish. “Zis” he said, “zis ‘umble baguette I made with my very own ‘ands, is a UNESCO-listed treasure you know.”
And he’s not wrong. This week UNESCO accepted France’s application for the baguette to be listed under the heading of intangible cultural heritage – savoir-faire (know how).
French bread is a way of life
In honour of the occasion, Bread Man came in for a cup of coffee. It’s been a bit cold this week so I had the wood fire lit, FatCat and Mimi the Marmalade Moggy were lying on the hearth and barely opened their eyes to acknowledge our presence. Tigger the kitten jumped on to Bread Man’s lap and curled up making eyes at him while we sat chatting. Ronnie and Reggie the Labrador puppies looked hopefully at the baguette on the table.
“’Ooo would ‘ave thought it” he said, “me and UNESCO…”. I think he feels personally responsible for the baguette making the list. “Just four ingredients you know, really it’s five, but you won’t read zat in a recipe because you can’t see it, it’s passion.”
Bread Man learned to bake bread as a child, his dad was a baker too. His daughter is learning the arts of baking and cake making and will join her papa one day. His wife is also a baker. It isn’t an easy life being an artisan baker. Early morning starts, copious amounts of paperwork in running a small business, rising costs, and not huge profits. You definitely need passion to be a baker.
A long history
Strangely, no one knows when the baguette was first invented. Bread Man poo poos the theory that Napoleon invented them so that his soldiers could carry the thin sticks in their pockets whilst marching. He adamantly disagrees that they are Austrian in origin (like the croissant). His preferred provenance is that the baguette as we know it is an evolution of elongated loaves made in France since the 1600s.
“Baking a baguette is a bit of magic when you think about it” he said. “You squash 4 ingredients together, put zem in oven and out comes something delicious. Life without baguettes would be long comme un jour sans pain” and he laughed at his own joke. It literally means ‘as long as a day without bread’ which the French say to mean the same as ‘as long as a month of Sundays’ or very, very dull. Passing Tigger over to me, he pulled on his coat waved goodbye and resumed his rounds delivering a cultural treasure to the rest of the village…
More on bread
Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.
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