Monday, October 10, 2011

La baguette...French bread stick

Have you ever seen those photos of French people

 with a beret on their head, and a long bread stick 

under their arm? That bread stick is called a 


The French live differently from Americans and Canadians (except in Québec) 
and many other nationalities. The baguette is a perfect example, it's purchased just before you need to eat it, and you would never use it on the second day unless you don't mind really stale hard bread which is hard. 

Such a versatile piece of food, la baguette is simple to eat. Break off a portion, spread with peanut butter or jam for breakfast, ham and salad for lunch, or paté for cocktails. You will not need butter, simply a small plate with a thread of extra virgin olive oil and a trickle of balsamic vinegar, mixed together... 

Like most French words, pain derives 
from Latin where panis is "bread." The literal meaning of the word baguette is stick shaped loaf. The long thin loaf became popular in the early 
18 th century London, its rep brought back 
from Paris by traveling Englishmen. 
The French word, with a diminutive ending added to the root, came from Latin baculum "stick".

Homemade bread in Québec is pain d'habitant or pain de ménage. A less felicitous translation of pain d'habitant is "farmers bread" because the word habitant has very special importance in provincial history, one worth exploring. It is part of many Québec food phrases like bouillon d’habitant "country soup." 

Photo, from the web

Baking bread in an outdoor Québec oven.
La cottura del pane in un forno all'aperto del Québec.
La cuisson du pain dans un four en plein air du Québec.

Etymology of the Word Habitant...

The immediate Latin root of the 13th century French word habitant "dweller, owner, inhabitant" is the Latin verb habitare, a frequentative form of the older verb habere "to have, to possess." Habere was also used extensively in Latin as one of the auxiliary verbs to build complex verb tenses. Other auxiliary verbs known to students of European languages include German haben, sein, werden, dürfen, or French avoir, être, pouvoir and devoir.

The prime semantic force of Latin frequentative verb forms was to indicate repetition of the action signified by the standard verb. Thus volare in Latin means "to fly." Its frequentative form volitare means "to flap wings repeatedly, to flit, to dart across the sky." Likewise habitare’s basic sense is "to have or possess repeatedly or persistently" and thence "to occupy (land), to reside, to abide, to dwell, to remain in a place." Its present participle habitans, habitantis eventually produces English nouns like inhabitant and our French word under discussion today, l’habitant.

In France, recorded in print by the year 1654 CE, un habitant was a citizen to whom the king had granted land in one of the colonies of France. By the late seventeenth century in La Nouvelle France, in territory eventually to become the Canadian province of Québec, the word habitant had become a synonyn for standard continental French words like colon "colonist" and cultivateur "farmer."

In the 19th and early 20th century, the word habitant in English referred to anyone from rural Québec, not always in a pejorative sense.
(© 2008 William Gordon Casselman)

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