A truth about French baguettes
There is no one truth about French baguettes. But there are some stories which I will tell you today. Ready?
When in 1898 a big project of building Paris Metro began, workers from all France moved to the capital. They were working together for many hours, all the time underground. Now imagine fans of two different soccer clubs who are working on the same project. Impossible. It was the same there. Workmen had conflicts and fights. Each of them had a knife in a pocket to cut a bread during lunch time. It led to very dangerous situations. People responsible for work, let’s call them managers, had to find a solution of this problem. They couldn’t just tell all workers to become friends. But they could prohibit having knives underground. The only thing they had to do before, was finding a bread which is possible to be divided by hand, without a knife. Of course there was nothing like that back then, so they asked bakers to do so. And it worked. Workers could buy a long and thin bread – baguette – in all Parisian bakaries and go to work without any knife, because it was easy to eat a lunch without it. It didn’t stop fights but at least made them safer.
Or maybe not? Perhaps the story was different. It was about Napoleon Bonaparte. Or rather his soldiers and their pockets. They were long but not very wide (these pockets, not soldiers) so Napoleon ordered bakers to start baking bread which would have a shape allowing his soldiers to take a loaf with them in these pockets. And bakers started to bake baguettes.
Wait… And what about the law from 1920s which prohibited working between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. so bakers had to prepare a thinner bread than before, so they started to bake baguettes, because it was faster and people could buy them for breakfast? Or it was later?
There was also a French Revolution in 1789 – 1799, after which a new law said this about bread:
‘Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality.
It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor.
All bakers will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality.’
So baguettes started to be baked as a bread of equality. OK, it was only about wheat bread. Shape is a different story. Probably one of the previous ones.
As you can see there is no truth about baguettes’ past. Although we know that this type of bread appeared in Paris in the middle of 1800s and became very popular. And it was long. I mean, really long. Like 2 – 2.5 metres. I can imagine these women who at 6 a.m. were carrying them to prepare a breakfast or these men who were bringing them to bars and restaurants. In next century, when bakers started their work at 4 a.m. (what you already know) they shortened a little this bread so it got more acceptable size. Even an official law from that time decided that a proper baguette should had maximum length of 40 cm and maximum weight of 80 g.
What we also know is the fact that an Austrian baker August Zang, who btw invented a croissant, brought to France a steam oven, which helped to bake a bread crispy outside and soft inside. Maybe this baker invented also a baguette… Nobody knows.
At the end something what must be true, because numbers never lie. Everyday in France people buy about 30 000 000 baguettes. They eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, in a meantime and probably at night when they cannot sleep so go to kitchen to check if a delicious bread is waiting.
Even though baguettes are a French product, in Algeria 49 000 000 of them are eaten every day. Also in Morocco, Tunisia and Vietnam they are popular.
A proper French baguette is 65 cm long and weights 250 g, but now there are several types of it, so you can find smaller (dejeunette, demi-baguette), bigger (flute, pain) or more crunchy (tradition, ficelle) one, sometimes with some addings, eg. seeds (baguette au sesame). You can eat it with anything – butter, jam, cheese, meat or without anything. Just eat it!
I’d like to tell you more stories about baguettes as they are really delicious and worth that time. But I think they’re more worth being eaten. So I’m going to eat my one and I wish you a trip for a truly French baguette soon!
Bon appétit! 😉