We fell truly, madly, deeply in love with these gorgeous, colorful tins filled with perfect, buttery, salty, crisp French confections earlier this year. In addition to being exquisite, these cookies, galettes and sables, have a wonderful heritage steeped in the rich history of the magnificent land from which they hail. They are eternally linked to the woman whose recipes made them famous.
Long before there was Martha, Lidia, Giada, or even Julia, there was a chef so talented that her reputation, along with her 700 recipes, earned her the nickname “Mère Poulard” (Mother Poulard) — a venerated title of distinction, especially given the fact that it was the late 19th century and there weren’t too many female chefs of note (at least not in the public eye).
Annette Poulard and her husband Victor opened a restaurant in 1879, followed by an inn in 1888; they remain destinations today for many epicureans. On a tiny tidal island off the coast of Brittany, home of the famous Mont St. Michel, a former prison and working monastery, Mère Poulard toiled endlessly in her kitchen, perfecting her craft.
Legions of followers and admirers traveled far and wide to indulge in her famous oversized soufflé-type omelets, which she prepared over an open flame using long-handled, hand-made copper frying pans. These soufflés remain the house specialty of the restaurant to this day. Autographs and notes from famous patrons, including Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Georges Clemenceau, John D. Rockefeller, Glenn Close, Juliette Binoche, and even our beloved Woody Allen, adorn the walls of the restaurant.
The elegant heritage and artistry of La Mère Poulard is evident in the products being baked to order today. This land is inexorably linked to the taste of the cookies, as the raging tides and winds coat the grass with sea-salt; the sheep that graze upon this salted grass produce the most splendid-tasting milk, which is made into exceptional butter. Hence, the geography is directly responsible for such unique deliciousness.
If you visit La Mère Poulard today, you will still find things exactly as they were. The sheep are still grazing on the sea-kissed grass, and one of Mere Poulard’s kinfolk is tending to the soufflés by the open fire, dressed in the traditional uniform. Luckily for us, we can dreamily escape to the Brittany coast vicariously by indulging in the legacy left to us by Mere Poulard.
There is no greater gift for your holiday host and hostess this season than a keepsake collector’s tin of these beloved treats. Guaranteed, you will be invited back.