The Feast of Saint Anne
Saint Anne, mother of Mary, grandmother to Jesus, is the Patron Saint of Brittany. According to local tradition, after the resurrection of Christ, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus and other apostles were driven from Jerusalem because of their faith. They journeyed by boat carrying the remains of Saint Anne with them. They landed on the French coast and the people of Brittany were particularly strong believers in Saint Anne’s cult. The great shrine of Saint Anne d’Auray was built for her there in 1623. It became such a popular retreat, French missionaries coming to Canada built a shrine in its likeness, Saint Anne de Beaupre, near Quebec several years later. Both are still important pilgrimage sites to this day.
Her feast day of July 26th is celebrated in Brittany by preparing shellfish, one of the culinary glories of the Brittany coast. Lobsters, oysters, mussels, clams are all fashioned into beautiful dishes with Northern French flavors. I’ve chosen this fragrant mussel preparation because the mix of the briny shellfish juices, shallots, tarragon, white wine, and the thick crème fraiche is a time-honored combination and absolutely delicious. If you can’t find crème fraiche, just add a little heavy cream and a grating of lemon zest instead.
Brittany Style Mussels with Shallots, Tarragon, and Crème Fraiche
(Serves six a first course)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 pounds well washed black mussels
½ cup fruity white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt
½ cup crème fraiche
About 10 large tarragon sprigs, leaves very lightly chopped
In a large pot, heat half of the butter over medium flame. Add the shallots and let them soften for a minute. Add the mussels and the garlic and stir everything around for a moment. Add the white wine and give it another stir. Cook, uncovered, stirring a few times, until the mussels open, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the crème fraiche, the remaining butter, the tarragon, and a bit more freshly ground black pepper, and stir well. Serve right away, in big bowls, with lots of good French bread to soak up the sauce.