When I moved to France for a year, I had a splendid going away party, for which I attempted to order a large number of croissants from a local bakery. The baker was lovely, but he said he didn’t make croissants in his bakery, because they are hard; they require a lot of time and energy, and don’t always come out very well. Since he was not going to make his own, he didn’t want to sell them. He said the bakeries in the area that did serve croissants almost all purchased their dough from a single source and passed it off as their own–in other words, I’d do just as well buying grocery store croissants as going to any bakery in the area. An industrial bakery was making pretty good (or, at least, extremely consistent) puff pastry, selling it to smaller bakeries, and we all got to eat pretty good croissants as a result.
A photo of me at my Bon Voyage. Croissants not pictured. I believe they came from our local Rainbow, RIP.
I can’t say I have a reason to disbelieve this information, but it was passed off to me twelve years ago (and memory is finicky), and I have not done any research whatsoever to verify this claim. However, every time I have a sub-par croissant in the Twin Cities, I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.” Also, every time I have a perfect, to a T, honest to goodness, French croissant in the Twin Cities (I have only ever had one at Patisserie 46), I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.”
I sometimes make similar assumptions based on the quality of croissants in other cities, guessing that the croissant racket it more or less the same throughout the country.
I did defer to an expert on this subject for the purpose of this post, and a former Patisserie 46 employee says that they do make their own croissant dough, further enforcing my bias.
In preparation for my honeymoon, I messaged my host families that I would be visiting, and they asked me what food I wanted to eat. I told them I wanted Belcastel bread, Marcillac wine, and Aligot.
I have a very clear idea of this bread. It comes from a gigantic, round loaf, maybe 2 feet in diameter. I remember my host dad, Pascal, sending me into a bakery to order it on more than one occasion–instructing me on how to order just a section of it, instead of the entire, giant loaf. The crust is so dark, it is nearly black, and thick; thicker than any crust you’d see in the United States. The middle is spongy and nutty in scent and flavor. I imagined its size was due the medieval practice of villages having one communal oven. If you have to share the oven, why not just make one loaf and share it?
The bread Belcastel does not exist. There may be such a bread, as I have described, but it is not called Belcastel. There is no bread, nor any other food (not even wine), in France (or anywhere else) called Belcastel. There is a town by that name, in France, near where I lived.
Memory is finicky.
It appears I may have to abandon my belief that my favorite French bread is called Belcastel. Then again, the bread my host sister found, while similar, was not two feet in diameter and didn’t taste as good as I had remembered. So maybe my favorite French bread is but a memory, and I can accurately say, that Belcastel is still my favorite.
At summer camp, a counselor once said that mosquitoes are attracted to people who eat bananas more than people who don’t. Friends, I no longer eat bananas. Also, I don’t like bananas, but like, what if she was right? I’m really avoiding two evils, the taste and texture of bananas and mosquito bites. If I do eat a banana, I eat it only when the last mosquito of the summer is dead, and the first mosquito of spring has yet to hatch.
This is convenient-to-believe pseudo-science, rather than something I wholeheartedly believe, but that doesn’t prevent me from acting on it and, occasionally, sharing it with others, despite doing so with caveats, like this.
We make assumptions and believe things all the time with little to no evidence. While the word of the baker (someone who is probably an authority on the industry he works in) can be presumed to be reasonably correct, my memory of it, or even initial understanding, may be flawed to the point of misrepresenting it to myself and others over the course of more than a decade now. How many people have I told that Belcastel is my favorite French bread? Dozens. While I now understand why, even 12 years ago, my host brother Julien gave me a quizzical look when I told him that was the best bread, I never investigated further at the time. I told myself that I had pronounced it wrong or that it was not very common, but never-ever had I imagined that I simply got the name wrong. Had I never returned to France, I could have gone on wrongly telling everyone about a bread that didn’t exist.
These are inconsequential examples, amusing, even. At worst, they misattribute the work of a few dedicated bakers in the Twin Cities Metro Area, deprive me of a source of potassium, and make me look silly in front of my friends. There are a lot of other things we believe, spread, and act on that are of greater consequence. They might malign entire continents, races, genders, etc. They lead to job discrimination, alienation, and even cruelty from others.
I was able to challenge my belief about Belcastel, because I talked to some of the only people on the planet who would know for sure, a few people in France who live near the town of Belcastel. It’s a lot easier to tell if your socio-political convictions are true–things that are measured regularly, to a great depth. Use google. Read broadly. Meet new people. Ask yourself “does this opinion hurt someone in power or someone disenfranchised?” The answer will tell you a lot about how true it is as well as how harmful or harmless it could be.
Also, eat your bananas.