Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Celebrate Groundhog Day by Eating French Crepes!

All about crepes. Punxsutawney Phil photo courtesy of
Other photos by Frog Mom
To celebrate Groundhog Day, you can feast on wild grasses, grasshoppers, flowers and snails like all groundhogs do. Or you can have crêpes for dinner - tough choice but justified historically. Here's a bit of history before a recipe and flipping tips to satisfy and impress the young crowds.

For not-so-obscure reasons, Groundhog Day and the French Crepes Day known as Chandeleur take place on the same day. In fact they dig their roots in the same event, a Christian festival called Candlemas that commemorates the presentation of Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth. Now, why the crepes? Why Punxsutawney Phil? At first glance, rodents and French desserts are not exactly the best match but start scratching and you'll find some interesting tidbits.

Marking the potential end of winter, February 2nd was already celebrated by the Romans as a rite of purification with a Lupercalia festival - deliciously pagan - where young patricians ran around in bloody goat skins around Rome, lashing away at women to max up their fertility. Imagine the frowns when the Christian church started replacing pagan festivals. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius 1st would have none of Lupercalia anymore and replaced it with a Christian candle festival  called Candlemas. In honor of the Lord's presentation to the temple, big processions with candles were organized, purification rites were performed and pilgrims came all the way to Rome. To reward them for their long trip, Gelasius fed them flat crepes made with wheat from the previous year's harvest. The round golden shape of the crêpe symbolized the sun and eating the past harvest carried hope for an abundant new harvest.

Many countries have their own version of Candlemas. In France, the food idea stuck around and is now a solid winter ritual to be enjoyed with hard cider. In the US, the celebration of Groundhog Day began with Pennsylvania's earliest settlers who brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day. According to the Germans, on Candlemas Day the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate. "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May..." There, groundhogs and crepes reconciled. While Northern America awaits for Punxsutawney Phil's shadow (or not), the Gallic nation gathers around the kitchen at dinnertime and people take turns flipping savory buckwheat and sweet wheat crêpes for dinner.

Enough of the boring stuff. Let's eat!

Crepe. Photo by Frog Mom
Crêpes Recipe
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • grated rind of a lemon
  • 2 oz melted butter
Basically, you simply mix all the ingredients in a big bowl and refrigerate the batter until it's cold. I usually prepare mine before dinner so I can flip the pancakes for dessert. 30 minutes to a couple hours is good.

Note 1: no sugar in this recipe. You can eat the crepes sweet or savory.
Note 2 - Buckwheat version: substitute 3/4 cup buckwheat flour to the 3/4 cup all purpose flour and add an additional cup of water.

Flipping it! Photo by Frog Kid #1
Flip it!
Show time folks! When you've got a pint-size audience ready for some tricks, watching someone else flip the crêpe is half the fun of eating it.

First, you got to get a non-stick crêpe pan. Cuisinart makes a 10-inch crepe pan that's very nice and Le Creuset makes a cast iron pan that's dang heavy and requires wrestling-quality biceps if you're gonna flip anything. I got my pan in France (Tefal brand, available at any Monoprix store) and it's delightfully light.

Before I get in flipping mode, I start with an announcement such as "People of this kitchen, hear hear! The time for flipping has arrived and the grand master of ceremonies is ready." If anything, it distracts the youngsters and my girls usually react by stopping any bickering over who gets the first. If you've got a minimum of stage craft, there's definitely potential for a good show.

The Cuisinart crepe pan
Now step back, stand on your two feet, hold the pan in two hands low and give a quick and energetic flick of the wrist. Up the crêpe goes high in the air! Catch it before the cat does. To begin, a simple flip is enough. All you need to achieve is getting the crepe on the other side.

With a little experience you can do double, triple and quadruple flips. Your ceiling's the limit! And the floor too if you miss. I gather anyone reasonably good at catching a ball is good at flipping crepes.

How do you eat your crêpes?
My girls like theirs sprinkled with sugar, rolled tightly and cut in two. Sometimes they like to take them to school as recess snacks. I like mine spread with a berry preserve or honey and rolled. Some people like theirs with Nutella and folded in four. The savories are delish with ham and cheese. There's no wrong way to eat a crêpe and the good news is - you can keep them in the fridge for a couple days.

What's your favorite way to eat a crêpe? 


Amy said...

Love the crepe flipping photo!

Dominique said...

Thanks! It is truly a show in the kitchen! An additional thrill for French people of all ages in france was to hold a coin / a gold coin evn better/in the hand while flipping the crepe . The hope was to be prosperous all year, but for us kids it was a lesson in numismatic as a couple of precious Louis and Napoleons came out of a tiny bag. I was entrusted with something rare and precious for few seconds... And ah of course if the crepe would miss the pan your luck decreased dramatically .
Love your narrative and precious tips, and above all the sense of wonder for the bay area that I share with you.

Frog Mom said...

@Amy, I'll pass on the compliment to my 8-year old who took a dozen pictures of me flipping crepes with hit-or-miss results last night. A few crepes were butchered in the process but we got a good pic! @Dominique, thank you for the additional lore that I absolutely love. We've never done that in my family that I've read about it. Another Frog Mom reader just alerted me to the Shrove Tuesday tradition of pancake tossing races in the UK and Australia. Ain't that awesome?

Dallas said...

Fun tradition! We discovered crepes when we were living in Belgium. Many restaurants offered them as dessert with powered sugar or nutella, but my favorite way to eat them is with ham and cheese. I think that was more from the Dutch side. Speculoos, or Biscoff spread, is another great topping for crepes. Happy Groundhog Day!

Frog Mom said...

@Dallas. Actually ham, cheese and egg is a staple filling for savoury buckwheat crepes and is called "la complete". It's my husband's pick at any crepe place. I'm more of a mushroom 'n cream or smoked salmon 'n cream kind of girl.

A Little Yumminess said...

Love the photo of you flipping crepe!