Thursday, February 02, 2006

Boats and biscuits.

Today, February 2nd …

If you were to be in Marseilles on this day, it would be difficult to avoid eating “navettes” – small orange-scented dry biscuits shaped like little boats – and indeed, why would you want to avoid them? Ideally you would have bought them from the bakery near the abbey of Saint-Victor, where they have been made continuously since 1781.

Navettes are popular all year round, but they are particularly associated in Provence with the Christian festival of Candlemas. The pagan roots of Candlemas involved the lighting of candles to symbolise the light of spring ending the dark of winter, and in Marseilles the candles used to be set upon little boats, with the hope that as many as possible would arrive still alight at their destination downriver. Somehow this became transformed into the baking and eating of little pastry boats. The pastries also serendipitously symbolised the little boat containing the Saints Maries (Magdalene, Jacob, and Salome) and Saint Lazarus who, according to local legend fled the Holy Land after the crucifixion and were washed ashore in the Camargue region at the site of the town now called Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Naturally, navettes are also a specialty of this little town.

The best known speciality of the area is of course Bouillabaisse, and every town claims its version as the authentic one. The people of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer justify their claim by divine providence: they say that when the exhausted saints woke on the beach after their ordeal, they found the local fishermen preparing fish stew for their special guests.

For your Candlemas or end of summer (Southern Hemisphere change of reference!) celebration, please have fish stew and follow with navettes.

Flour 500gm; Sugar 250 gm; Butter 75 gm; 3 eggs; zest of one lemon, 1 teaspoon each orange-flower water, water, and milk; 1 egg yolk.
Mix the flour, sugar and peel, add the butter, eggs, water, and orange-flower water. Add the butter and eggs, and mix to a stiff dough. Set aside for an hour. Separate into small balls, about 50gm each, roll each into an oval, and pinch the ends sharply (to make the ends of the boat). Put on a greased tray, and slash down the centre of each (to open up the boat). Set aside for 2 hours. Brush with yolk and milk. Cook in a medium oven. They will keep well.

Husbandry and Housewifery.

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