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Patricia Lynne Duffy

 

from the heart of Chelsea, NY…

 

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Baguettes United!

 

by Patty Duffy

 


 

     One of my favorite sights in Paris is Parisians walking out of bakeries or along the street, carrying nothing but a single fresh baguette. I am always struck by how each of these individuals has gone out for no other reason than to buy just one loaf of bread, la baguette, to accompany their breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And this custom seems to be a common denominator, cutting across different ages and ethnic backgrounds: the young, the middle-aged, the elderly, those who descend from Europe, Africa, Asia or elsewhere. 


One of the Parisians we encountered
with her daily baguette

It is fitting, perhaps, that an early name for the centuries-old style bread was pain d’égalité (“bread of equality”). In eighteenth century France, the government decreed that standardized ingredients be used in making baguettes so that all buyers would get the same quality bread. But perhaps pain d’égalité has evolved in yet another way, now expanding the sets of ingredients to create an assortment of baguette types to please a new diversity of tastes in the population from the classic baguette to a whole grain baguette to a version inspired by Turkish bread.The baguette has proved its resiliency by exhibiting that essential survival trait: the ability to evolve, adapt, transform.

 

Even newcomers or “temporary” Parisians (i.e., travelers, those studying/working in the city short-term) adopt the baguette-buying practice before too long. During our precious two-week summer stays in Paris, either my husband or I go out early in the morning to buy a baguette from our local boulangerie.

This is a key daily event for us, standing in the queue, taking in the wonderful aromas of freshly-baked breads, listening to the stylized ‘musical' voice of the counter person, “Qu’est-ce que vous voulez, Monsiuer/Madame?” (“What would you like Sir/Madame?”). I look at the variety of baguettes behind the counter: how much it has expanded since I first started coming to Paris in the 1970’s.

 

The baguette has proved its resiliency by exhibiting that essential survival trait: the ability to evolve, adapt, transform.

 

This survival trait has shown itself throughout the baguette’s centuries of history. The baguette’s very shape is a mark of its adaptability. Why is the baguette so long and thin?

 

    

“Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor.All bakers will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality.”

 

 

One story says the baguette‘s shape was designed to match the sword holders of soldiers. In the eighteenth century, Napoleon mandated that his soldiers be well-fed by carrying two long baguettes that fit neatly into the sword cases they carried on their hips.

As Napoleon wanted his soldiers to be generously nourished, a baguette could be up to two meters (six and a half feet!) long in that era.

Today, the typical baguette length is about two feet (2/3rds of a meter) or just under two feet. The length and width also vary depending on the type of baguette—and these days a baguette buyer has many types to choose from.

 

Whether one chooses the baguette traditionnelle, or the baguette aux céréales (whole grain), or the ficelle or flute (particularly thin baguettes) -- to acquire and eat the baguette is to take in one of the beautiful and alive aspects of a beautiful, vibrant, and evolving city and its culture.

 

In our Paris quartier, La Butte-aux-Cailles, in the 13th arrondissement, (a quarter noted for being the last hold-out of the post-French revolution Paris commune) two merveilleuses boulangeries are Lorette and L’Essentiel,

 

To aid you in your further explorations of the baguette, here are links to a web sites that provides more fun facts and info:

 

https://www.finedininglovers.com/stories/french-baguette-facts-figure/

 

https://curiousrambler.com/2015/03/20/legends-laws-and-lengthy-loaves/

 

 

 

 
 

 

Patty Duffy

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