Food is taken very seriously in France. It may be changing in the cities where apparently France is one of the major growth countries for McDonalds but here in la France profonde, change happens very slowly. Burgundy may be the capital of the wine world, thousands may flock to Beaune for the annual ‘Vente des Hospices’ but we are still a rural community at heart. This means at 12 o’clock sharp everything stops for that most hallowed of time ‘le déjeuner’. Many nursery and primary schools finish their timetable at half past eleven to allow mum to collect her offspring and return home in time to ensure lunch is on the table at midi.
For those pour souls who have to stay at school all day because maman works too far away to come home at lunchtime, then the school goes to great lengths to provide the equivalent of a home cooked lunch. Jamie Oliver would be proud of our local school lunches as the education of the Frenchman’s palate is something that is taken very seriously. Packed lunches are not allowed and the only time I saw chips posted on the menu, it did say ‘au four’ after it
To ensure that children have a balanced diet, the menu is posted outside school so that maman can plan the family’s evening meal around what has been eaten at midday. Except in this household it is papa who does most of the cooking, on the basis that he arrives home earlier than me.
This is menu is for children aged from two and half years old, they have to sit quietly, use full size cutlery and crockery, observe table manners and eat everything they are given, all four courses. This prepares them for the rigours of family dining, especially the marathon that is Sunday lunch.
In our corner of France and I suspect most rural areas, Sunday is still considered a family day where extended families eat an extended Sunday lunch. Teenagers do not hang out in bus stops and on corners as unfortunately all their contemporaries will also be putting in a command performance chez mammie and you do not look cool hanging out all on your own. The usual form is an apero at midday, followed by a lengthy four course meal with wine, topped of with coffee and digestifs at around half past four. They then meander home well fed and rested ready to face the arduous 35 hour working week that will be demanded of them.