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Release date: 12/28/2004.

You'll find this recipe in it, From AN EXALTATION OF SOUPS,
copyright © 2004
by Patricia Solley,
Published by Three Rivers Press.

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Breton Marriage Soup


A great story from Pierre-Jakez Helias in The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village.
"Custom still required that the newlyweds not be left to themselves until the evening of the third day. The first night was dedicated to the Virgin; the second, to Saint Joseph. And then came the "milk soup" ceremony, which was both symbolic and rather spicy. The recipe for that soup varied from one region to another and depended on the young people's imaginations, but it always included a string of garlic cloves. The milk in the soup proclaimed that the couple's life together would be pleasant; the garlic warned them to expect many disappointments. The younger guests would generally bring it to husband and wife at the banquet table, heartily singing the song of their ancestors--a sad ballad that was meant to make any bride of good stock weep with one eye and laugh with the other. Then the bombardists (players of a 1-octave oboe) and bagpipers would strike up another milk-soup tune that was livelier and well known for its tendency to 'dry away the tears,' prompting all the people at the tables to loudly rejoice."
I found the following recipe in the town of Guimiliau, also in Helias' Finisterre--actually it was for sale as a book about Breton cooking in the Ossuary, or former bone house, of Guimiliau's parish close. Maybe a sad statement about the preemption of old holy places for tourism--yet a think piece about food and the beginnings of wedded life being served up in the place where food and life end physically...while they continue to feed the spiritual life of the village. Serve hot to 2 after a wedding--or to 4 for a snack or warming lunch. It's a good, filling, and spicy meal.

  • 1 nut of butter
  • 1 big onion, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1 quart of milk
  • salt (preferably sel de mer, with its tang of the sea)
  • white pepper
  • stale (or toasted) bread, sliced paper thin

In a good-sized frying pan, melt the butter and brown it--either on a wood fire or on the stove. Add the sliced onions and cook them til browned. Add the garlic and stir until all is well browned. Pour in the milk, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook, simmering, to a turn--about 5-10 minutes. Pour over very thin slices of bread and serve--either to the newlyweds or to your own family.