What to Eat in France: Galettes de Blé Noir, or Breton-style Buckwheat Pancakes
The buckwheat crêpes of Brittany are unique in the context of French cuisine. They go by many names: galettes de sarrasin, crêpe bretonne, galette de blé noir.
Crusaders brought back buckwheat from Asia in the twelfth century, but it proved to be hard to grow until they took it to Brittany, where there is always plenty of rain, yet the climate is not harsh and the soil is acidic: all the right conditions for growing blé noir, meaning literally “black wheat,” even though it’s not technically of the wheat family.
It was Anne of Brittany who had it planted it all over Brittany and made it part of the Breton diet at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It grows fast and is ready to eat in 100 days, so it helped feed Bretons for centuries, and is often referred to as “poor people’s wheat,” since wheat was only affordable for the rich in those days. It was probably used for gruel or very thick griddle cakes at the beginning.
It still took centuries before the buckwheat pancake as we know it to became popular. The original recipe, which dates from some one thousand years ago, contained only buckwheat, salt and water and was much thicker than the crêpes we know today, which also contain milk, eggs and regular wheat flour, giving a thinner crêpe.
On February 2, Catholics celebrate Candlemas by eating buckwheat crêpes together. For farmers, this date concurs with the end of winter and the beginning of the new farming year, so superstitious farmers keep the candles from this celebration lit to protect their future harvests.
Traditionally, buckwheat galettes are reserved for savory dishes, and are not used for dessert. The Bretons drink apple cider with them.