When I was a kid my parents used to wake me up with the scent of home-made pancakes on Sundays. They added a sweet filling in them, usually fruit jam or marmalade and thus the second day of the weekend used to become a pancake-flavoured for the whole family. Obviously, also other nations have got a specific day of the week dedicated to the eating of pancakes and they have become inseparable part of their daily life. One of these nations is the French and the citizens of Breton, in particular.
Brittany (or also known as Breton and Bretagne) is a north-western French region which is famous for being too wild but extremely attractive at the same time. Green fields are followed by cliffs and rocky shores. Unfortunately, local soils have never been very fertile in the region. Anne of Brittany (Duchess of Brittany) realized this fact and that they were suitable for growing buckwheat, and she stimulated and encouraged the cultivation of the crop in the 15th century.
I will open a bracket here. Buckwheat is, actually, an East-Asian crop that entered Europe in the 12th (according to some sources, even later). It was brought in the saddlebags of the crusaders. The French word for buckwheat is sarrasin and as a matter of fact, it stood for Muslims in the Middle Ages. Bracket closed.
So, the Duchess loved her region and was known as its great supporter. Even though she married two French kings she managed to keep the independence of the Duchy. Her loyalty to it was enormous and she cared for the locals very much. The starvation among the people of Brittany at that time made her order the cultivation of the dark flour for the first time and thus she saved hundreds of thousands of poor souls from hunger. Thus buckwheat was spread out in Breton and its Duchess was immortalized and proclaimed as a protector of the region.
After having become such a common crop, buckwheat became an inseparable element of Breton cooking and meals. Later in centuries the people of Brittany started preparing buckwheat pancakes cooked in billic (this is the Breton word for a flat, circular frying pan heated by the embers of the hearth). Locals prepared them from buckwheat, liquid and salt as a base. After some time they started adding an egg, ham and cheese. And finally their Breton crepes became true masterpieces because they consisted of salty butter and the caramel syrup (the temptation of the 17th century corsairs) spread at the buckwheat-liquid-salt base.
Step by step the buckwheat pancakes of Bretagne (both sweet and savory) turned into a true delight for the French and one of the flagship French specialties worldwide. As to the people of Brittany, each family has always had a particular “pancake” day of the week when the whole family indulges in buckwheat pancakes. Normally, that day is Friday since it’s the last working day and family members avoid eating meat. So, if you happen to visit Brittany, don’t miss the chance to have a buckwheat pancake with a cup of buckwheat Japanese tea. Bon appétit, guys. 🙂