The success of a crumble recipe book in France marks a change in attitudes to British food.

Anyone with experience of the French opinion on British culinary savoir-faire, will be surprised to learn that a book devoted to the very British desert, crumble, has enjoyed huge sales in France. ‘Crumble’, by Camille Le Foll, is a French book containing 30 different crumble recipes. It’s first edition has already sold 200,000 copies, which perhaps marks a slight shift in attitude towards traditional British food.

It is true that the target readership is ‘open-minded young women’ (according to publishers, Marabout), but there does seem to be a little more general French interest in British food. Crumble has been appearing on haute cuisine menus for a while now, which must have sparked some initial interest in the dish among those that tried it. The fact that it is so easy to make encouraged sales of the book, because, as chef Raymond Blanc points out, “It is possibly because they are now interested in the idea of home cooking in France. Traditionally they don’t feel they have to cook everything for a meal from scratch. They will happily go out to a pastry shop for a tart for dessert. They put it on the table, but they have done nothing other than fancy it in the shop. With a crumble it is very simple and yet it is home cooking.”

This comes after Chirac’s clumsy statement that only Finnish food is worse than the British. Apart from alienating the Brits and Finns, and damaging the French cause for hosting the Olympics, Chirac might be starting to sound a bit stuffy to the general population of France. Most Brits living in France will have experienced startling rudeness from French friends and neighbours, who have ‘heard tell’ that all British cooking is terrible. But a new wave of French chefs and journalists are starting to declare that the French have lost their culinary way! They accept that the French have been so bound up in tradition and culinary arrogance, that they have forgotten to experiment, and have been left behind by more forward-thinking food cultures.

The appearance of Cheddar and Stilton in French supermarket delis is another illustration of British products starting to be noticed by the French. Whether these cheeses appeared due to French interest in traditional British fayre, or due to the mushrooming British population in France providing demand, the fact they are available, with free tasters on the counter, will ease the idea that British cheese can be delicious into the French consciousness.

Whilst many ex-pats will welcome a change in attitude, it is also true that a lot of Brits living in France enjoy the differences between the cultures, and relish the very French food available in the restaurants and cafés here. The dream French lifestyle won’t be quite such an exciting prospect if the local auberge serves Cheddar followed by crumble…

© Gemma Driver 2005

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