Eating like a French girl
Xanthe Clay is one of Britain’s most respected food writers. She writes regularly for the Telegraph and also for delicious. magazine.
I was three, playing alone in our North London garden while my elder sisters were at school, on a grey summer day. My mother appeared from the basement kitchen carrying a plate. This, she said, was a Petit Suisse for me, which I could eat like little French girls did.
Petit Suisse? I perched at the top of the steps and examined the white melamine dish, holding this exotic food, fromage frais, that I’d never heard of. There was a small white cylinder, smaller than the egg cup that held my breakfast egg, and a diminutive heap of white sugar. White and white on white. The trick was, my mother explained, to take a teaspoonful and dip it in the sugar, then eat it.
She returned to the kitchen and I was left sitting there, the concrete slab cold through my cotton dress. Better try a bit: maybe it would taste like the blocks of ice cream I knew so well, comfortingly flavoured with cardboard from the wrapper. Or those jelly-mould shaped tubs of strawberry mousse that came from the freezer in Sainsbury’s.
''Better try a bit: maybe it would taste like the blocks of ice cream I knew so well''
YUK. It wasn’t like that at all, this white stuff. It was sour and bitter, creamy but oddly dry too, the sugar gritty and curiously un-sweet in contrast. I was bemused.
“Why did you give me this?” I asked my mother, curiously rather than resentfully. She wasn’t given to spontaneous gestures or indeed proffering snacks in between meals. “Because I thought you’d like it,” came the answer. This was more confusing still. I hadn’t liked it, not one bit. But as I returned to digging in the gravel around the lilac tree, I thought about how it tasted to me, and how it tasted to those little French girls.
It was years before I ate fromage frais again, and now I rather like it. And it still makes me think.
Subscribe to our magazine
Subscribe to delicious. magazine for HALF PRICESubscribe
Join our newsletter
Packed with menu ideas, recipes, latest competitions and more...