|Right just back in blighty again after a mammoth three week long French tea tour of departments 41,56,22 and 61 (Loir et Cher, Morbihan, Côtes d'Armor and Orne ). Now I'll make no bones about the fact that when in France the NCOTAASD team slip comfortably into cake mode. Given the dazzling array of them in the average boulanger as one buys the morning bread it's difficult to start the day without a few croissant aux almond or an oranais or two (extravagant croissant beasts augmented with chewy baked almond paste or custard and apricot halves and generally needing a custom built box just to make it out the door in one piece). However, there is still biscuit business to attend to and setting the enormous flans, boxes of individually prepared cakes, slices, tarts and gateaux to one side I did manage to pick up one new, previously unexplored box of biscuits.
The breakfast biscuit is something of a lost art in the UK with Huntley and Palmers famous Breakfast biscuits having long since disappeared before I could become aquatinted with them. The general idea of a biscuity item that can be consumed for breakfast has been taken up by various chewy bars designed for those who want to eat their breakfast whilst on their way to work or having made it to their desk. Indeed the original H&P breakfast biscuit went down a storm in France over a hundred years ago so it seems they are quite open to the idea of biscuits for breakfast.
I have nothing but admiration for the French and their staunch support of their mother tongue (as well as their cake shops obviously). However, I've always thought they weren't really trying hard enough when the came up with Petit Dejeuner (little lunch) as their name for breakfast. I learnt precious little French in my one year's worth of French lessons at comprehensive school. Some of the blame for this I attribute to finding out that the French in addition to not having made a convincing attempt at naming their breakfast couldn't come up with a satisfactory name for the number eighty. They had to cobble something up using some twenties and a four and reaching one hundred comes as blessed relief after the painfully awkward ninety nine and its mates (quatre-vingt-dix neuf (four twenties a ten and a nine)). It's not a good advertisement for a language if some of its words have clearly been made up in a bit of rush with seemingly little thought. My disenchantment was complete when I found out that potatoes were earth apples, and they would readily drop the earth bit to maximise confusion. In fit of peek and not really envisioning that I would ever visit France I switched to Latin for the next two years and then quickly wished I'd stuck with French.
None the less I've been told that the French language is one of the few in the world which is actually contracting rather than growing. The Academy Francaise who police the French language are fond of banning interloping words that have been in common use for some time such as 'le weekend'. We on the other hand have our yearly news item on all the new slang which has made it to the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
I remained ever so slightly irked at the French over their 'small lunch' until probably my early twenties, when holidays in France kindled a desire to communicate with the natives in order to buy their beer, cakes, cheese, wine, sausages etc. Now in my forties I happily chat to the French who continue to pretend that don't understand me despite my three years of self imposed lunch time conversational French lessons.
So with all of this personal history set to one side and still with out a full and exhaustive grasp of French breakfasts, I clasped a box of LU Petit Dejeuner biscuits in my hand and headed for the till in the local Intermarche. The biscuits were set aside for our return to the UK as the NCOTAASD rules of engagement with the French clearly state that we are mostly eating their cakes, apart from the odd packet galettes which many of you will have gather by now I approve of.
Back at HQ I quickly dispensed with any thought of adopting the most blindingly obvious approach to these biscuits and had some just before lunch. I had some again about mid-afternoon and finally the next day managed to have a few about 9:45 am on my way out the door which I suppose was quite close to breakfast. The most startling thing about the biscuits wasn't the fact that they would form a woefully inadequate breakfast. No it was the fact that though they were very obviously a muesli type of affair they tasted strongly of orange peel. Sure there was an out of focus orange pictured behind the biscuits on the pack but I thought that was just set dressing. Eventually a thorough search of the box revealed in the small print on the bottom that these were indeed biscuits with orange, and the ingredients listed all sorts of orange stuff too.
Once again the French are seeking to un-foot me just as I mistakenly think I'm getting to grips with it all. A stealth orange biscuit disguised as early morning muesli. They are nice enough, but they certainly aren't going to see off a few slices of toast, let alone a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea, and the croissant section of the bakery can still expect my full attention.
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