Though, Gérald and I, as empty nesters, will dine tête a tête this Sunday, our hearts are filled with memories of holidays past when our children were younger and we were surrounded by family. As with every celebration in France, Easter begins and ends à table.
Normandy is appreciated the most at mealtime when land and sea are perfectly marinated. Mamie cooks the traditional Easter favorite, leg of lamb. At the head of the table, Papie carves the tender meat fresh from a newborn romping on the rolling green hillside only days before. But back up, each course is an event worth savoring.
First a toast of champagne and a light amuse bouche aperitif. Next act is naturally an egg based, a soufflé as light as cotton candy, followed by a platter of seafood: shrimp, crab legs, clams, oysters, bullot, something for everyone’s palate.
The main lamb course is always served with flageolet, a mini lima bean, that reminds me of the word flatulence and of course, bean jokes inevitably enter the conversation, sending the children into gales of laughter. Mamie always has a special dish for every family member, so a garden of vegetables -beans, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes – also grows out of the linen tablecloth.
The children eat with the adults where they risk being reprimanded to sit up straight. However, I never notice table manners; my fork and knife are usually in the wrong hands. Softhearted Mamie excuses the grandkids early and they scamper upstairs to read Lucky Luke or Astérix comic books until called for dessert.
Each course is accompanied by wine, a light white Burgundy for the seafood starters and then a heavier Bordeaux for the meat and cheese. Every big meal is followed by a green salad and cheese platter with triangles of creamy local cheeses like Camembert and Pont L’Evêque.
Dessert always includes seasonal fruits, which in the spring means luscious strawberries. Like little elves, the children reappear to gobble up berries dipped in fresh cream. The kids magically disappear again when they smell the coffee brewing. Papie ceremoniously opens the antique Normand hutch and pulls out his bottle of Calvados offering, “a little taste.” True Normands swear that the fiery apple brandy aids the digestion. During weddings and christenings, the “trou Normand,” a shot served on sorbet in the middle of the feast, is customary.
Throughout each course a lively repartee of sarcasm, word play and arguments ensue that to a soft-spoken Norwegian American sounds like verbal abuse, but is only part of the French art de vivre and their love of language and debate.
Just when you think your belly will burst, Mamie rings a bell and the children race downstairs, for in France, bells, not bunnies, deliver eggs. As a token of mourning for crucified Christ, church bells remain silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. On Easter, when the chimes ring again, children rush outside to see the bells fly home to Rome, after dropping chocolate Easter eggs from the sky.
The children crowd onto the wrought iron balcony to find eggs tucked behind the potted geraniums and tulips. While they devour the chocolate figurines, the adults, too, savor a delicacy from the local chocolatier. Everyone moans of stomachaches and swears they will never eat again, but a few hours later after a stroll by the sea, we are à table again discussing the favorite French topic, food.
Our family had leg of lamb for Christmas when I was young, or so I recall. So good, but I shed a tear when I think of it as a newborn romping on the rolling green hillsides only days before. I feel full just from your description. I’ll be going where there’s a feast on Easter and I’ll try not to think about where some of my meal came from and just enjoy it!
The French consider some of the most bizarre animal body parts as delicacies and each culture seems to have its own favorites. My Norwegian relatives make wonderful stews out of reindeer (don’t tell Santa.)I plan on doing a piece about squirrel meat, which in my American family is sacrilegious, for we feed the wild critters like pets at our summer cabin.
I wondered what was traditional for Easter in Normandy. I had heard about the bell although I am told the bunny is taking over. Lamb and seasonal veg – how perfect.
Thanks for stopping by…I enjoyed seeing your blog, admiring your chaumiere Normand and of course can appreciate your love of Normandy!
Lovely description of a perfect Easter family celebration!
Thanks Nan…is Chris over here now? Would like to have him over for a meal by my famous French chef!
Oh my goodness, I am hungry just reading this. Wish I could be at Mamie and Papie’s for Easter breakfast, lunch and dinner rolled into one! Sounds like quite the extravaganza. Happy Easter!
In all your globe trotting, if you & Jono have never been to Normandy, you must put it on your itinerary next trip abroad…not only for the find dining, but also for the rich history. When you coming back over?
Pat, your last two posts about Normandy evoked sweet memories for me too. I remember the beauty of the area and Mamie’s delicious meals. I wish we could pop over and share Easter dinner with you and Gerald. Instead, I will be thinking about family and the blessing we are to each other. Happy Easter!
Hopefully when we are retired, we can take you & Cliff back there to see the landing beaches and enjoy the fabulous foods!
What fun to read, and I loved seeing the pictures of the children. I enjoyed the references to Asterix, too. When I was in grad school, our teacher had been talking quite a bit about the Asterix books, and when I was leaving to take the final, my husband told me I’d better know who wrote them. I learned it quickly, and they were actually on the test! I still remember Goscinny et Uderzo!
Oh Carol, what a wonderful French teacher you must have had. I was stunned that you knew knew Asterix was but could also name the authors. Joyeux Paques!
Pat you certainly did make me hungry, or it could be the smell of the Easter ham that Patsy is baking upstairs! A tradition that we have had for the past fifteen years is our easter egg bash. Did you know that if you knock two hard boilked eggs together only one cracks? We make a tournament of it and ask everyone to bring two decorated eggs with names and end up with the champions name being added to the easter bunny that my Mom made many years ago.
Oh yes, Paul, I heard all about the competitive Easter egg bash from Kar & the girls. What wonderful traditions the Carlson’s have created to pass on to the kids, grandkids and great grans! It creates memories that make family time so priceless. Happy Easter to the whole clan!
Love it! And love YOU even more! Happy Belated Easter Sis!
P.S. I did not win the egg bashing contest this year. I believe it was bro in law Doug! with 30some competitors, it is always more the event than actual champ that makes a lasting memory! The names of the mighty eggs are pretty eggcellent too!
You do make me laugh! I can just picture the whole clan battling. I bet family members can even remember the year they won. Did your name ever get added to the Easter bunny?
What a lovely Easter memory. I love the story of the bells flying home to Rome as chocolate eggs fall from the sky!
Thanks Rebecca. What are the traditions surrounding Easter in Italy besides devouring chocolate?
Great eats, fun times and wonderful memories to last a lifetime…what a beautiful way to spend Easter!
Peace & blessings,
What a lovely read…would love to experience some of these wonderful European traditions…you make me feel like I was there. Thanks so much!
Thank you Shellie. Have you ever been to Europe? Do they have alumni or other groups from the college that travel abroad? How are things in Eureka?