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French~American Day
14 July 2021

The American Community Survey, compiled between 2008 and 2012 and being the most recent analysis, identified 1% of the total population of Bedford County as descending from French ancestors.

Known as Bastille Day in the United States, the 14th of July has been celebrated by French~Americans as the day that the Bastille in Paris was stormed by patriots in the summer of 1789, and the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison that also served as the armory for the French Army's arms and ammunition. The people imprisoned at the Bastille tended to be political prisoners who had been jailed for unspecified crimes. In the summer of 1789 there actually were only seven prisoners in the Bastille. In the summer of 1789 as Louis XVI began to remove supporters of the Third Estate from his court, the citizens of Paris came to fear that the King would unleash his army against them. They stormed the Bastille to take control of the arms and ammunition stored there. The common people attacking the Bastille were joined by the French Guards, who normally guarded public buildings. Some historians believe that the storming of the Bastille was a turning point in the French Revolution.

As a result of the storming of the Bastille and its capitulation, the National Constituent Assembly became the effective governing body of France. Their first act, on 4 August, was to abolish feudalism which had survived in the nation since the Middle Ages. They also composed a Constitution for the nation.

The French people refer to this holiday by the name Fete Nationale (National Celebration). It was first held on the year following the storming of the Bastille, and during that first annual celebration on 14 July 1790, King Louis XVI swore an oath of allegiance to the new Constitution. The holiday, therefore, is more of a celebration of the unity accomplished between the Legislative Assembly and the King than it is of the storming of the Bastille. Over the years, interest in the holiday dwindled, It was revived in 1880, at which time on 6 July it was declared a national holiday by the Legislative Assembly.

Every year since 1880, a military parade is held in Paris. Neighboring countries' militaries are often invited to participate in the parade.

The music of France is often the classical and romantic music associated with Claude Debussy, Georges Bizet and Maurice Ravel. Other French composers, including Erik Satie and Albert Roussel, pioneered the electronic and industrial-inspired music that is commonly called 'New Age' music today.

Bastille Day is a day to engage in casual physical games such as petanque, a lawn game similar to boules in which competitors toss hard balls to knock their other balls closer to the main target ball. The balls started out as all wooden spheres covered with nails but eventually developed into light-weight bronze-aluminum alloy spheres. Certain cities hold foot races as a way to memorialize the storming of the Bastille.

French descendants in the United States celebrate Bastille Day with performances of traditional French music and dinners of traditional French food. Those traditional French dishes include ratatouille, crepes, quiche Lorraine, croissants and escargots.

Of the foods mentioned, Crepes are perhaps the quintessential 'French' food. They are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Crepes are basically pancakes, but they are so much more than mere pancakes. Crepes consist of flour, eggs, milk and butter mixed together to a smooth consistency. The batter is spread thinly onto an eight-inch skillet that has been heated slowly. When the crepe's edge is starting to brown and the center appears firm, it is flipped over. When it is solid and appears dry across the surface, the paper thin crepe is removed from the skillet and can be eaten immediately. Some people dust the crepe with cinnamon or powdered sugar. For a crepe to be eaten with a simple dusting, it is folded over on itself and then folded over again to form a quarter-wedge. For savory or sweet crepes, a filling is spooned down the center line and then one side is folded over the filling and it is rolled over on itself. For a savory crepe, it can be filled with ground or shredded meats or cheeses. Mushrooms are often used to fill 'savory' crepes. For a sweet crepe a filling, such as sliced fruit, fruit preserves, honey, pudding, whipped cream or cream cheese is spooned onto the center of the crepe.

French cuisine is noted for soups and stews. Ratatouille is a vegetable stew consisting of eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, onion and garlic. The dish originated in the region of Provence. Its name means 'rough stew'. The onions and bell pepper are lightly sauteed. Then the tomatoes are added to provide juice to cover the onions/peppers. The pot is seasoned with the garlic and salt and pepper to taste and the whole brought to a boil. After the stew has cooked a short time, water is added as necessary to keep the vegetables covered. The stew is cooked another five minutes, and then the eggplant and zucchini, are added to the pot. The heat is reduced and it is left to simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes. Competing with ratatouille for popularity is Soupe a L'oignon, or as French~Americans might know it: French Onion Soup. Onions are caramelized to where they become translucent. They are then added to a pot of beef broth and brought to a boil before having the temperature lowered to a simmer. The soup can be thickened if necessary by the addition of flour. The thick onion soup is ladled into bowls and dry bread or croutons are placed on top. Some recipes call for grated cheese, such as Gruyere, to be sprinkled over the bread and the bowl placed under a broiler to melt the cheese. A stew called Blanquette de Veau consists of pieces of veal soaked in a creme fraiche sauce, a less sour form of sour cream. The stew also may include rice pilaf, onions and/or mushrooms. Piperade is a stew that is very similar to Ratatouille but often prepared with the addition of eggs and diced ham. The peppers and onions are sauteed, mixed with the tomatoes and then eggs are beaten and heated to form creamy curds before being added to the vegetables. Diced ham can also be added to the mixture making the dish a main course rather than a side dish. Perhaps more of a casserole than a stew is Cassoulet. Duck or goose, or variously lamb or pork sausage, is the main ingredient of this dish. White haricot beans (i.e. navy beans) are soaked overnight in water. The water is drained and then new water is added and the pot is heated for about an hour. Bacon is fried in a skillet just until it is lightly browned. Carrots, celery and onion are added to the bacon and the whole heated. In the meantime the meat chosen for the dish is browned in another skillet or pot. When the beans, bacon and vegetable mixture and meat are finished heating, they are all mixed together in a large stew pot or crock-pot and slowly heated for an hour or more. And lastly, a stew that is quite well known, as far as the name is concerned, is Bouillabaisse, although few people might know its ingredients. The dish contains at least three types of fish. The traditional ingredients are European conger (a type of eel), red rascasse (a type of scorpionfish) and sea robin. Although those three are the most commonly used fish, the monkfish, mullet or European hake may be substituted. In fact, many French~Americans use the more readily accessible halibut in this dish. A stock is prepared by cooking shrimp and various herbs in a large pot of water. Tomatoes are added to the stock pot and the whole cooked for a half hour or more. When finished cooking, the solid pieces are strained out and the stock is set aside. The fish are filleted and seared in oil. The fish are then cut into pieces and added to a pot in which seafood such as scallops, mussels and crabs are to be cooked in the shrimp and tomato stock. A baguette slice is laid on a plate and the bouillabaisse is spooned over it.

Another food that is quintessentially 'French' is Escargot, or cooked land snails. Escargot is usually served as an hors d'oeuvre before the main course. The dish is prepared by removing the snail from its shell, cooking it in garlic butter, wine or chicken stock and then reinserting it into the shell (to then be removed by the diner). An appetizer, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, are scallops poached in white wine and then laid over a bed of mushroom puree. Moules Marinieres are mussels which are cooked in a white wine and butter mixture seasoned with onion, bay leaves and thyme.

Quiche Lorraine is a type of pie consisting of a pastry shell filled with a custard made from eggs, cheese, milk, sour cream and some sort of meat, such as bacon or seafood. Quiche Lorraine is made by baking a pie crust until light brown and then filling it with a mixture of the other ingredients. The milk, sour cream and eggs are whisked together and then the meat and any additional ingredients are mixed. The mixture is poured into the partly baked pie crust and the whole baked until firm.

The French enjoy pizza as much as anyone else. They make two kinds of pizza, neither of which include a tomato based sauce. Pissaladiere consists of a thin, flaky dough covered with a fish base and then caramelized onions, black olives and anchovies. Herbs such as thyme are added to the onions as they are being heated and caramelized. The 'pissala' (or fish base), consists of sardines and anchovies mashed together with fennel and cloves. The dough is spread out on a pan and then the pissala is spread evenly across the dough. Overtop the pissala is spread the onions and then the olives and anchovies and the whole is baked. Tarte Flambee, is known as an 'Alsatian pizza' that originated in the region of Alsace bordering on Germany. It is variously called a Flammekueche. Tarte Flambee, like the pissaladiere, also starts with a crunchy crust. The dough is rolled out nearly paper thin and then covered in creme fraiche, or sour cream, mixed with cottage cheese. Bacon and onions are spread evenly across the surface and the whole baked.

For those who want to celebrate Bastille Day with a meat dish, there is Steak Tartare and Confit de Canard. Steak Tartare is one of the most bizarre foods enjoyed by the French and their French~American relatives. Like the old saying "You ain't seen nothing yet", if you think that escargot is a strange thing to put in your mouth, you might want to skip over this paragraph. The name 'tartare' refers to the origin of this dish ~ the Tartars, or Mongol warriors who brought this dish to the attention of Europeans in the 13th Century. Steak Tartare is ground beef steak that is eaten raw. In fact, in many of the countries in Europe and Asia, the meat used in the dish comes from the horse. If beef is used, it is ground or minced and then mixed with egg white, onions, capers and Worcestershire sauce. The patty is formed into a neat cylinder and an unbroken egg yolk is placed on its top. As noted above, the dish is then served 'as is' without being cooked in any way. It is often served with rye bread. Confit de Canard is duck that is cooked slowly. Often only the legs are used in this dish, but the whole duck may be used. The duck meat is cooked in its own fat after it has been marinated in salt and other spices, such as thyme and garlic for up to thirty-six hours. The cooking process employed is poaching, meaning that the meat is submerged in water or broth and cooked at a medium temperature for up to ten hours until the meat falls off the bone. It is then served with potatoes. Coq au vin is chicken braised with wine and cooked with bacon and mushrooms. Braising involves searing the chicken at a high temperature in a skillet and then transferring it to a pot with enough wine to cover the meat which is then cooked at a lower temperature. The mushrooms and bacon can be added to the pot while it is cooking or simply added to the plate when the dish is served.

Many main courses in French cuisine are accompanied by a side dish called Salade Comtoise. It consists of a mixture of diced boiled potatoes, sliced sausage or frankfurters, Comte cheese (a semi-hard 'Alpine' cheese made from unpasteurized cow milk), lettuce, tomatoes and croutons tossed with a vinegar and mustard dressing. Gratin Dauphinois, or potatoes au gratin, consists of thin sliced unboiled potatoes baked in a sauce of creme fraiche and butter seasoned with garlic. Some cooks add grated cheese but purist claim that cheese must not be sprinkled over the potatoes.

A number of dishes mentioned above have been claimed to be 'quintessentially French' dishes. But perhaps the most popular French food is not a 'dish' at all. It is a type of roll eaten with the other dishes. Croissants are very flaky and buttery pastries formed in a crescent shape. The word 'croissant' translates into English as 'growing', suggesting how the pastry rises and 'grows' into the crescent shape.

French and French~Americans tend to drink a lot of mineral water, such as the brand Perrier. They also drink a lot of wine, for which the French vineyards are famous. Besides wine, the French are known for cocktails, or mixed alcoholic drinks. The French 75 is cocktail made with gin, lemon juice, sugar and champagne. Its name is derived from its similarity of its 'kick' with that of the 75mm field gun. The French Connection is a mixture of Cognac with Amaretto. The French Kiss Martini is a mixture of vodka, Chambord Liqueur and pineapple juice. Gimlet is a cocktail composed of gin, lime juice and soda water. Cointreau is an orange-flavored liqueur that is traditionally drank at Christmas.

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