Sunday, April 08, 2012

A Tale Of Fish And Bells.....

In France, there is a story told to children about why the church bells do not ring from 3 pm Good Friday until Easter Morning. You see, they all fly away to Rome and then return on Easter filled with chocolate eggs and even more bizarrely, chocolate imitation sea food. The chocolate eggs and shells are filled with praline..usually made with hazelnuts and various flavored truffle fillings. I have been trying to find a real explanation of the reason why these little chocolates are shaped like shells, shrimp and fish. The best reason I have found is that traditionally, unless you live near the ocean, shell fish and shrimp were a real luxury. They represent wealth and good fortune. Of course, the real reason for chocolate fish is whimsy, which if you ever have a chance to see the window display of a great chocolatier, you will be blown away by the sheer artistry. The first of April is called Le Poisson d'Avril...The French version of April Fools Day. The traditional prank for kids is to make a paper fish and hang it from the back of an unsuspecting victim, making him the fool. But I have done a bit of research and I think I understand the significance of the Fish Prank!
Here's two of my prize chocolate fish molds
Apparently theories abound, but no one is absolutely sure of the origin of this custom. Some say it dates back to the 1500's when the King of France (the Edict of Roussillon in 1564) changed New Year's Day from April 1st to January 1st. (Raise your hand if you knew this calendar factoid; I didn't). According to this theory, it took quite awhile for news of the change to reach the provinces. Those still celebrating the 'old' New Year's Day on April 1st were called poissons d'avril and became the butt of jokes.
hmm...a lotta fish around here....
Other theories relate to April being a good fishing period in France. Then there is the springtime connection: l'amour... l'amour. The French word for mackerel (the fish) is un maquereau which is also argot for a pimp. Another speculation is that it relates to the end of Lent, generally around April 1st. Many used to forego meat during Lent, substituting fish. One supposition goes back to Ancient Greece where they celebrated the god of laughter on April 1st. But I am weak on the subject of Greek mythology and never heard of a god of laughter. I also know little about astrology other than my birth sign and can't evaluate the premise that poisson d'avril is somehow connected to Pisces and the movement of the sun or moon in the zodiac cosmology. That is when you start to see chocolate fish in the windows! So, I have been finding the traditional molds that were used to make the bells and fish as well. Easter, or Paques, as it is known here is a time for chocolate. We have bunnies and hens and eggs, but the real super stars of the chocolatiers trade are the big bells (Cloche) and fish. I have a few bell molds and some fish molds...this year I wanted to actually make a chocolate bell. You cast the two halves, fill it with chocolate pieces , then heat the edges of the chocolate halves and fit them together. It seems simple, I got 500 grams of Lindt dark chocolate. I lightly oiled the molds, then carefully melted the chocolate in a copper pan over another pan of hot water. 
 Another one of my fishy chocolate molds
one of the bell molds
My plan was to un mold the bell halves, Heat a teflon cutting board over hot water, fill the half bell with the coquillage chocolate pieces, then take the top piece and soften the edges on the hot cutting board and then carefully fit them together. Well, the board was too hot, then as I tried to put the top piece on, I seriously deformed it. I have to practice this deft manoeuvre. So, I went to plan B....I got one of the fish molds, remelted the chocolate and made my life much simpler by casting a half fish, and then filling it with the rescued coquillage! So, here is the Easter fish filled with chocolate faux sea food and eggs ready to be presented today!

The finished fish! Joyeux Paques tout le monde!


Ol'Buzzard said...

Interesting. My question of American Easter celebrations: is where did the egg laying rabbit come from?
the Ol'Buzzard

Engineer of Knowledge said...

Hello Microdot,
Nice....Very Nice my friend. I was telling my oldest daughter and her husband your tail last night. They came down to spend the night with their Old Dad.