Table manners

There’s a lot of advice on the web about table manners in France, many of them implying there’s a lot of formality. Possibly that’s true, I guess I just don’t move in those circles! My own experience has been much more of informality, particularly for the kids.

Now, in Ireland, cooked school dinners don’t exist. For ten years I made packed lunches every schoolday for first one, then two, then three kids. Man, that’s a lot of sandwiches. And as a result of eating out of plastic boxes during their formative years, a lot of Irish kids are a bit vague as to what to do with knives and forks, particularly when so much convenience food is served up at home. My own guys when they were little often ate their tea with a spoon if it was cheesy pasta or something with rice, or with just a fork.

Not so in France. From maternelle upwards, children have a four-course cooked lunch at school which they eat with all the correct implements. The dinner lady sees to that! So even if they live on crisps and burgers at home, they learn how to use tableware. But not in quite the same way as English or Irish people do. The difference lies with the fork. The English way is to hold your fork between your thumb and forefinger and delicately spear your food to hold it still for cutting. Now here Ruadhri here demonstrates la mode française. The fork is gripped in a fist and plunged into whatever it is you want to cut up next. In her early days at school, Caiti would remark on this and think it was bad manners. But it wasn’t long before she was doing the same thing. So at our meals these days, Chris and I eat one way, and the three kids the other! Just another of those funny little cultural differences that make being an ex-pat so interesting.

And since we’re talking about food, I’d better include a recipe. You won’t need your fork for this, though. It’s homemade speculoos spread. Speculoos are spicy, gingery Belgian biscuits, very popular here in France. After Tintin, they’re probably the next best thing to come out of Belgium! You can buy ready-made jars of speculoos spread, but the DIY version is cheaper and tastier in my opinion.

175 g speculoos (or any sort of spicy biscuit)

300 ml of condensed milk (ideally non-sucré, but if you can’t find that, use the ordinary sort)

Crush the biscuits very finely with a rolling pin or blitz them in a food processor. Next, heat up the condensed milk, but don’t let it start to boil. Take the condensed milk off the heat and mix in the biscuit crumbs. Pour into a jar and let it cool to room temperature when it will thick and creamy. Don’t worry about the calories – just enjoy!

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