The people of Lothringen are neither completely German, nor completely French. Over the centuries, the borders between the two counties of Alsace (Elsass) and Lothringen (Lorraine) have steadily been under, whether German or French, dominion. And, although Alsace deserves no less attention with its picturesque towns, today Lothringen (Lorraine in French) is the one on my mind. It borders with three countries – Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. A few years ago, my friend and I made a short trip to Lothringen, travelling by the Moselle River from Germany. We visited one or two of the countless fortresses scattered around the former duchy, and then we paid a special attention to the two main cities – Metz and Nancy. As we traveled around Lothringen, I could not get rid of the feeling that I was in the South of the Balkan Mountains (or as we call it in Bulgarian – Podbalkan), it reminded me so much of the landscape of Bulgaria. Of course, I had that feeling only outside the cities.
Metz amazed me with its warm yellow buildings in the old town and the alternating bridges over the two rivers – the Moselle and the Seille Lorraine, covered with flowers. But mostly with the monumental Gothic Cathedral “St. Stephen”, which holds the first place in the world in the number of stained glass – nearly 6 500 sq. m. of the windows in it are covered with the glasswork of the Gothic and Renaissance masters, including the notorious Marc Chagall. And from Nancy I will never forget the Place Stanislas square, built in the 18th century by the exiled Polish King who took over the vacated top position in the county of Lorraine. No wonder the square is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. Indeed, there is no such beauty! Gates of black wrought iron, topped with winding gold ornaments and pending old-fashioned lanterns are located at every entrance from the side streets to the huge square, connecting the old with the new town. And, despite its considerable size, numerous street cafes and stylish restaurants add coziness and atmosphere that can be rarely experienced.
When Prussia annexed Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, Nancy remained French. The people seeking refuge in the city in three decades doubled its population. The city bloomed, remaining until this day, the capital of the region. In January 2016, following reorganization, the three districts – Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne, became part of the new Grand Est.
Similar to many border regions, there are different dialects spoken here, but in recent years the Government has imposed French as the official language, which threatens the original Lorraine dialect with extinction. When we were there, my friend found out that she could hardly understand the locals, even if she speaks some French. Well, at least the waiters do their best, thus, after long exhausting walking around the old town we sat down in a small restaurant to eat. To begin with, she ordered oysters and wine making me realize that I do not like oysters. For her sake I did try them, and the wine was good, so I relaxed and absorbed the stories she was telling me. For instance, she told me a ghastly legend of Saint Nicholas, who is venerated in the region. It is believed that he resurrected three children, who were slaughtered by a butcher. That is macabre, isn’t it? Each year, in the beginning of December, there are long processions with torches as a token of gratitude to the miracles the Saint performed.
While waiting for the ordered quiche Lorraine, my friend told me that besides the quiche, typical regional food were also various specialties with potatoes, macaroni or pasta, and the so-called Madeleines, the story of which is quite entertaining. During one of the receptions of the aforementioned Duke Stanislas, he was informed that his master pastry-chef had resigned. However, the Duke’s butcher reassured him that the day could still be saved, and indeed – after a while the guests were served cupcakes in an original shape that just melted in the mouth. The Duke was fascinated and asked for the one who made them to be brought to him. It turned out to be a young girl still covered in flour.
– What is this sweet called? – asked Stanislas.
– It has no name – the girl replied. – It is something we make for the holidays in Commercy.
– Alright. And what is your name?
– Then, from this day forth, the cupcakes shall be called “Madeleine of Commercy”.
Subsequently, the recipe was passed down from one generation to the next, kept strictly as a secret. In the 19th century, somebody came up with the genius idea for the Madeleines to be sold at the railway stations. That was a real marketing trick for its time. Until 1939, there were only six pastry-chefs who were making Madeleines using local products and in the old-fashioned way – surrounded by their assistants who would passed them the ingredients and so forth. Nowadays, there are two companies that continue the tradition – “Saint Michel-Grojean” and “Boîte à Madeleines”.
Still, the quiche remains one of the symbols of Lorraine. And the one we tried in Nancy was something made in Heaven.
Here, I will borrow the recipe of one of the most esteemed chefs, Julia Child.
– 6 to 8 pieces thick-sliced bacon
– An 8-inch partially cooked pastry shell placed on a buttered baking sheet
– 3 large eggs
– 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– Pinch of pepper and nutmeg
– 1 tablespoon butter
Preheat Oven to 375 degrees. Slice bacon into ¼ inch pieces and brown lightly in a frying pan; drain and spread in bottom of pastry shell. Beat eggs, cream, and seasonings in a bowl to blend. Just before baking, pour cream mixture into the shell, filling to within 1/8 inch of the top. Cut butter into bits and distribute over the cream. Bake in upper third of oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until quiche has puffed and browned, and a small knife, plunged into custard, comes out clean. Serve hot, warm, or cold; quiche will sink slightly as it cools.
I hope you are aware that this is an appetizer, and it’s not to be eaten whole, right?