What to Eat in France: Pain du Moulin, or “bread from the mill”
My adopted hometown of Chartres is in the Beauce region, the breadbasket of France. Large, flat wheat fields surround the single hill of Chartres, topped with the most beautiful Gothic Cathedral in the world. You can see the cathedral for miles when driving across the fields, and a quite magical view it is, its spires dominating the flat farmlands. No wonder people have been making pilgrimages here for at least 5,000 years.
Chartrains, as we call the people from here, come from the land. Everyone in the region has a farm or has family who owns one, and because of the abundance of grains of every kind — wheat, barley, corn, rye and many more — grains are an integral part of the local diet.
This traditional recipe is referred to as “bread from the mill,” but no one knows the exact origin of that name. In the past, the Beaucerons (the inhabitants of the Beauce region), of Celtic and Druidic origins, ate this on the Jour des Morts, the day of the dead, which fell on November 2 after All Saint’s Day, when the living were said to communicate with the dead, when tombs and graves were said to open so that the world of the visible and invisible could intermingle for a short period.
Early in the morning of November 2, local bakers made pain aux morts, or “bread to the dead” (this could even be translated in a more ghoulish manner, “bread (made from) the dead”), out of flour and milk, for a traditional 10 a.m. breakfast before going to the cemetery.
In the nineteenth century, the church decided that All Saints Day sufficed and such pagan customs were more or less done away with. Beaucerons continue to eat this bread during the All Saints celebrations, however, calling it “bread from the mill” instead of “bread to the dead.”
I often serve this recipe with apéritif, but it can also make a vegetarian dinner, and can, of course, be eaten year round.
6 pains au lait or 3-4″-long milk breads
6 cups milk
1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese or similar, grated
- Cut the bread in half lengthwise.
- Use a spoon to scrape the crumbs out of the crust, taking care to leave the crust intact, and put the crumbs in a bowl.
- Pour milk over crumbs and mix.
- Add the eggs and the grated cheese and mix well.
- Fill the crusts with the bread crumb mixture.
- Use kitchen string to tie the bread halves together.
- Heat cooking oil in a deep pan or fryer. When the oil starts to bubble, drop in the bread and cheese preparations.
- Cook until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately while hot.