Pain Rustique [Alamy image ref. BD7KNJ]

Both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year were ones of enforced but welcome simplicity. I say enforced not because there was little money to splash out, but because the hotel where we currently reside was empty… the owners having gone away for the weekend. So we had the place to ourselves… free range above a well stocked bar and kitchen which, to many, would seem like all our Christmases rolled into one! But, for our meal I made a simple omelette with a salad, followed by a yoghourt… with nothing alcoholic to drink. It was as much a complete opposite to excess as I could manage and our heads and stomachs felt all the better for it.

I attended Midnight Mass on Saturday evening at the abbey church across the road followed by the normal Sunday morning Mass a few hours later. Being in French I lose much of the nuance of the sermons and readings… but the words of the Lord’s Prayer which always stick in my mind and make me thankful are, “Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour”  or “Give us this day our daily bread.”

I do like bread here in France… there are so many varieties because most bakers have their own personal flour suppliers, tested recipes and cranky ovens – supposedly identical loaves on the shelves of two bakers on the same high street probably being completely different in taste and texture. I know of several people who make a daily round-trip of 20 kilometers for the bread and croissants baked in a wood-fired oven in the next town of Martizay rather than buying equally good bread two minutes walk away in this town of Preuilly-sur-Claise… because they like the added aroma of the Oak logs used by the boulanger in the neighbouring Indre département.

In the past – before I forsook car for bicycle – I did a similar round-trip two or three times a week to a neighbouring village at sunrise… the above image showing a typical loaf which would have been sufficient for two or three days consumption. This “Pain Rustique” is a rustic loaf of bread with a nondescript shape in that it usually has no pre- or final shaping. Because it has a rather vague name and is not a traditional variety, the shape and texture varies widely. It can be round, oval, rectangular or triangular. It is usually made with unbleached wheat flour and can have a soft or coarse texture and an open crumb. In this area it is sold by weight rather than by unit. It is also a hard bread and requires a heavy hand wielding a sharp serrated blade to cut a generous slice which can be liberally spread with butter and a choice of cheese or pressed to mop-up remaining thin traces of soup rather than the questionable habit of using one’s tongue.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for world-wide distribution for three years in a textbook with a 10,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

French Walnut bread. [Alamy image ref. BJ40E8]

I’m an almost lifelong vegetarian and generally fit and healthy through also walking and riding a fixie bike every day… but I’m certainly not a foodie nor a fitness freak. However, I do take great interest and care – with no real attitude towards price – as to what I buy from shops here in France. I’d hardly ever visited a supermarket whilst living for most of my life in the UK… and in France for the past decade they are only an occasional destination for household essentials rather than for bodily sustainability.

Most boulangeries I’ve lived near are not just bread and cake shops… they are essential meeting places for a local population who go there for a baguette probably twice every day – baguettes only stay tasty and chewable for a few hours so are baked throughout the day in order to be fresh between normal 6am to 8pm opening hours.

The boulangerie just across the street from here has the following on their shelves from about 8am (you only find “baguettes” and “pains” wheeled behind the counters in wicker baskets for the first couple of hours of opening) including Pain Cerèal, Complet, au Son, Moulé, Farine, Epi, aux Figues, aux Abricots, aux Noix, Solognot, Campagne as well as Grosse et Petite Boules, Gros et Petite Batards, Pavé Tradition and the popular long  Baguette staple food “sticks” made in extra varieties such as Cerèal, Moulè, Festive, Festival and, in February when the Crocus are in bloom and harvested for the world’s most costly spice, as Baguette Saffron. I’ve probably missed a few… but you get the drift. The variety is large and very interesting compared ot my last experience of  Welsh bread shop which offered White, White Sliced (wrapped), Hovis and a small Harvo (wrapped).

So when I buy my daily bread I look at what looks particularly photogenic – the regular baguettes do look different from day to day (sometimes a little burnt and therefore more visually interesting from a photographer’s point of view) – and on occasion decide to buy a more expensive loaf such as the “Pain aux Noix” illustrated above. As you can see, each slice contained a few Walnuts and looked particularly rustic.

Although feeling extremely peckish from the smell of recent country baking, I restrained myself long enough to quickly photograph the food before consuming it in one go… and I can tell you that creamy farm butter spread on slightly warm slices of Walnut loaf – with a cup or two of hot rich Arabica coffee – are elevenses you want to eat every hour or so throughout the day. Having photographed first, eaten second and downloaded the still-life shoot to my Mac third, my morning felt rewarding… which turned out to be true when the above image sold under my “a la France” pseudo to an American magazine with a 50,000 circulation as a single page repro for one month for a fee a hundred times what I paid the the loaf… so there’s obviously plenty of dough in French bread!

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