Les œufs

On a fine spring morning when people are outside in the garden hunting for Easter eggs, it seems as good a time as any to dedicate a few lines to that most perfect of foods: les œufs.

The challenge with eggs in France is not eating them – we have no shortage of farm-fresh eggs and specialties ranging from omelettes, quiches, mousses, meringues and flans – but to spell and pronounce the words properly.

First we must get past that funny little vowel configuration created by the ‘o’ and the ‘e’. When these two characters get overly familiar and become one as in ‘œ’ this is called a ligature and has its own particular sound, somewhere between the two vowels. A bit like the ‘ou’ sound in enough. But it changes slightly depending on what comes after.

Un œuf (uhf) in the singular becomes des œufs (euh) in the plural. Put like that, it seems easy enough. But for some reason I’ve always struggled with these words.

For one thing, in French they have a weird similarity to eyes. Un œil (oy) and des yeux (yeuh). Am I imagining this?

Les oeufs dur

Eggs in France are almost always brown in the shell rather than the sterile white I grew up with in North America. They sometimes bear scraps of dirt and feather on the shell, reminding us of their origins. They are date-stamped with either the ‘date de ponte’ (date they were laid) or the ‘date limite de consommation recommandée’ (DCR or use-by date).

I recently learned of an easy trick you can use to tell if an egg is still fresh.

Here are a few of the ways you will find eggs on the menu in France:

  • Œufs au plat: fried eggs, usually served sunny side up
  • Œufs durs: hard-boiled eggs
  • Œufs à la coque: soft-boiled eggs
  • Œufs brouillés: scrambled eggs
  • Œufs pochés: poached eggs (my personal favourite)

And of course, les œufs de Pâques. Easter eggs. Preferably au chocolat. Hope you are enjoying the kind you like best on this holiday Sunday.

And, in case you’re wondering, this year the Easter bunny will not be on the menu.

Joyeuses Pâques!

Quelque chose qui cloche

shutterstock_26340932The French expression “quelque chose qui cloche” (literally: something is off) describes a situation that doesn’t quite add up. A cloche is also a bell, and Easter tradition has it that the church bells (“les cloches”) fly away to Rome and return at Pâques full of chocolate eggs which they hide in the gardens for children to collect.

When I first heard that story, I scoffed. Flying bells bringing Easter eggs? How far-fetched can you get?

But upon reflection, is it any more ridiculous than the idea of a bunny bringing Easter eggs? Or of Santa bringing presents to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus? While we’re at it, what have chocolate eggs got to do with the resurrection of Christ? Isn’t there “quelque chose qui cloche” in that whole story?

The fact is that the pagan festival of “Eostre” was conscripted by the Catholic church for its own purposes. Eggs, like rabbits, are fertility symbols.

Today, Easter is celebrated in France, as in many countries of Christian culture and tradition, primarily as a chocolate fest. Children hunt in the garden for chocolate bunnies and hens and eggs. People sit down for a traditional meal of roast leg of lamb. The whole thing coincides with the coming of spring and the rebirth of nature.

And it’s just as well that the bells are the hero of the story in France, where the Easter rabbit may just as well end up on the menu.