School Lunches and a Surfeit of Figs

p4880202During this long hot summer we’ve had plenty of friends from abroad visiting us; not surprisingly at some stage the topic of conversation has been food, in some form or another. Almost without exception this in turn has lead to discussions about French school lunches. Despite everybody proclaiming to know that the French system is indeed excellent, everyone, without exception, has been both astounded and fascinated when I explain exactly what the children eat for lunch and how the meal is taken. The quality of school lunches in France is just so high it’s about time I explained a little more to those of you who have never stood outside French school gates!

A broad look at basic French education will show there is both primary and secondary education, the latter starting when children are about 11 years old when they go to Collège for four years (this is the equivalent of the USA’s Middle School). This is then followed by Lycée which in France covers the last three years of school (similar to the four years of high school in the USA or two years of sixth form in the UK). We can regale people with tales from all three regimes as we have children in Primaire, Collège and Lycée!

The lunch system in France is much the same throughout the country, although I am sure there are subtle variations here and there. This is what happens at the schools our children attend. At all age levels children can stay at school to eat or they can go home; there are no allowances for a packed lunch. Gigi is now the only one of our children left at the Ecole Primaire (primary school) in the village, a tiny, but I might add quite brilliant, school where the lunches are known to be so excellent that 60 of the 67 students eat there, a fact which I think speaks for itself. Lunches are not rushed and they’re served in two sittings as the dining-room is small and can only seat about 30. The tables are for four to six people and are laid with proper cutlery, glasses, table-napkins and baskets of bread. Each day the children keep their same places, and once everyone is seated upon entering the dining-room they are then served their first course. This is followed by the main course and then cheese and finally dessert. It is just as if they were in a restaurant except they are always offered second helpings of the main course.

Every four weeks the menu is sent home with the children so parents can study it in advance. You can then be quite sure when preparing the evening meal that you are not duplicating something the children have eaten at lunch! It’s obvious that a balanced diet is the most important consideration at all times.

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I have translated this menu for you as best as I can, some things are difficult to put into one or two words. What I always find fascinating is the cheese, every day it is a different variety! (There is no school in France on Wednesday afternoons, hence no lunch menu for that day).

SCHOOL RESTAURANT – September 2016

Thursday 1 September – Cucumber in Vinaigrette; Fried Fish with Green and White Beans; Cheese (Carré Frais); Fresh Fruit.

Friday 2 September – Melon; Roast Chicken and French Fries; Cheese (Pyrénées); Chocolate Mousse.

Monday 5 September – Carrots in Vinaigrette;  Filet of Fish dusted in Flour and Pan fried in Butter with Rice;  Cheese (Morbier); Cream Puffs.

Tuesday 6 September – Tuna Pasta Salad with Vinaigrette on the side; Chicken Nuggets with Courgette Gratin; Cheese (Fraidou); Fresh Fruit.

Thursday 8 September – Tomatoes and Sweetcorn; Similar to an English Cottage Pie with Ground Beef and Potato with a Green Salad; Cheese (Goats); Panna Cotta with a Fruit Coulis.

Friday 9 September – Cheese Crêpe; Turkey Filet with Apple and French Beans; Cheese (Emmental); Similar to a Strawberry Trifle!

Monday 12 September – Egg Mayonnaise; Sausages with Lentils; Cheese (Camembert); Compote of Seasonal Fruits.

Tuesday 13 September – Melon; Grilled Ham with Peas and Carrots; Cheese (Carré Frais); Caramel Flan.

Thursday 15 September – Saucisson (dry cured sausage); Hake (Fish) in a Sorrel Sauce with Cauliflower and Potato Gratin; Cheese (Gouda); Fruit Salad.

Friday 16 September – “American Menu” – Tomatoes and Sweetcorn Vinaigrette; Cheeseburger with French Fries; Brownies.

Monday 19 September – Beetroot Vinaigrette; Slow cooked Beef with Tomatoes (like a casserole) with Carrots cooked with Cumin; Natural sweetened Yoghurt; A crusty type of Cake.

Tuesday 20 September – Cucumber Vinaigrette; Grilled Sausages with Mashed Potato; Cheese (Carré d’As); Fresh Fruit.

Thursday 22 September – Potato Salad; Filet of fried Hake (Fish) with French Beans cooked in Butter; Cheese (Bleu); Apricot Mousse.

Friday 23 September – Grated Carrots in Vinaigrette; Roast Pork with White Beans in Tomato Sauce; Cheese (St Nectaire); Fresh Fruit.

Symbols

Produits Frais – Fresh Products

Plats Complets Préparés de façon traditionnelle et Patisseries – Dishes and Pastries Prepared in the Traditional Way

Produits Issus de L’Agriculture Biologique – Organic Produce

“The Chef and his team wish you Bon Appétit!”

You will note that the Fresh Fruits, Melon, Salads and some other items are organic and clearly marked as such. The district takes immense pride in their menus. Each month they add a special menu for a day, this month it is an American Menu, Gigi and her friends are already so excited about this, burgers and brownies or broonie as they pronounce them in French! Next month they have a Medieval Menu!

In Collège and Lycée the children are given a little more leeway. A menu is sent home for the month by email. The food is served in a traditional canteen style setting. Each student takes a tray, they first pick out their starter, usually there is a choice of two. For the main course there are always four different things and they can choose a single dish or a combination of any two; beef, rice, lentils, courgettes, carrots, fish, chicken, ham and pasta are frequently on the menu. They can choose a yoghurt, a piece of fresh fruit and a portion of cheese too. For dessert there is always further fresh fruit or two or three small sweet choices. There is always French bread! They collect their own knife and fork, but everything else is handed to them on china plates. Jugs of water and glasses are already at the tables which seat from four to twelve.

The canteen in Lycée is much the same except there is an even greater choice and there is also a panini bar and a free vending machine with sodas. Again children are given the choice of paying to eat at school or going home for lunch and again about 95% remain at school. Incidentally we choose at the beginning of the school year for our children to eat at school every day and are then sent a bill accordingly. They cannot take in money and pay on a casual basis.

Another thing everyone loves about school lunches in France is that they are unhurried, no one has to eat at speed, plenty of time is allocated and afterwards there is a long and healthy recess. At the Primary school lunch is around 30 minutes and then there is a further 1 hour recess, always outside, even in the rain when they play under the covered area. In Collège and Lycée there is again an hour and a half in total, they leave the canteen whenever they have finished eating. Occasionally an extra class is added which means lunch is cut to 40 minutes, in which case they are given a priority pass to enter the canteen first. In Collège recess is always outside in the large courtyard. In Lycée they don’t have to eat in the canteen, they may take their trays outside to eat at the tables in the very pretty gardens.

Of course the French still eat fast food, they love McDonald’s, a McDo as the French say, but at the same time lunch is very much an unspoken part of their education, the choice at a later stage in life is their’s but they are getting the right start. As much food as possible is sourced from local growers and they eat what is in season hence at the moment there is plenty of melon on the menu.p4880255

Which leads me onto figs, we are inundated with figs, I cannot find enough people to give them away to. We pick them and eat them daily.

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p4880229Even the dogs are getting bored of waiting in the courtyard garden whilst we gather them!

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I’ve made endless jars of fig jam

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and we have dried them for the first time, cutting them in half and then laying them out on trays before drying them slowly in the oven at 100C/212F for about twelve hours.

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The other fruits making their presence firmly known at the moment are grapes. We have one very old vine covering the east facing stone wall of the courtyard garden, these are green grapes, sweet and juicy and very handy to snack on whilst picking figs!

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Down by the vegetable garden we have a dozen or so old, well established, vines which produce delicious purple grapes, they are very slightly more tart to taste than the green ones, but I would be hard pushed to say which I prefer.

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A fairly wordy post, I apologise, but I am not allowed to photograph inside the school canteen or dining room understandably, but none the less I thought you might find this  interesting and perhaps more than just a little thought provoking. Bon Appétit!

143 thoughts on “School Lunches and a Surfeit of Figs

  • It’s been awhile since my kids were in school but I remember how reassuring it was to know they always got a hot, well-balanced meal at lunchtime. A lot less pressure for dinner! 😉 I also seem to recall the cantine prices were scaled according to income bracket, and reduced price lunches available for those who qualified, which can make a difference for some parents.

    • That is just how I feel and if they don’t like something there are always plenty of other things for them to eat! Most of the time they absolutely love their lunches, unlike mine looking back, to this day I still can’t eat cabbage, the smell, the soggy wet mush we were served, school lunches were horrible! I don’t think the prices are scaled here, but I do believe people can apply for assistance or for reduced prices, so roughly the same thing which makes a huge difference and means that all children, regardless of their parents income, get to eat the same good hot nutritious meal. Xx

  • I wish I could have some of your figs! We had a terrible ice storm in Atlanta years ago, and a tree fell over onto our fig tree and it was ruined. Although, the birds seemed to get to the figs faster than I could.

    • Hi Wynn, I wish you could have some too, if only you were just a little closer I would gladly give you boxes of them, daily!!! What a shame for your poor fig tree, we cut ours back hard last winter as it was so huge, but it is just as prolific and takes over half the courtyard. Xx

  • What beautiful photos of your girls and the dogs! I always used to love putting together lunchboxes and baking little treats to include, although this does seem like a much more hassle-free option! The choice and range of food they eat looks incredible, I wouldn’t mind that as my lunch!

    • Thank you so much Lily, I enjoyed making lunch boxes too and like you every now and then I would add a little treat, in the USA, once in a while I would add a Hershey’s Kiss and not tell them and I would add little notes. But having said that, with five of them, it was always quite a major job at 7am making lunch boxes so I do not miss that side at all! I would happily eat at the school canteen!!! Xx

  • I have read a great deal about school lunches in France and I have often wondered how exaggerated the stories are. But with your menu and explanation these are hard facts, how wonderful for the children in France and what a great informative post

    • Hi Jane, it seems to be a topic that gets a great deal of media coverage and I can truly see why. Our children have been educated in the UK, USA, NZ and France so we have a fairly good appreciation of school lunches around the world! These are by far the best and it’s not just me, being a fussy parent, saying that, our children think so too! Xx

  • Oh crumble! I remember UK school lunches only too well. I cannot help but shudder at the memory of tongue, mashed potato with grey chunks in it, tapioca, grey slices of some poor dead animal with large amounts of fat still attached, boiled turnips, and custard so thick and lumpy it could have been used as mortar in a brick wall.

    I shouldn’t have written this – I’ll have nightmares tonight now about standing on my chair because I didn’t finish the tongue.

    However, if I manage to come back in a new life, I’ll happily take being a little french child eating french school lunches. Please.

    • Don’t remind me Simon, I loathed school lunches, you stood on a chair? I was made to stay behind to finish my liver. The entire dining room filed out and I was left sitting staring at my plate, a teacher at one end of the table watching; when she momentarily turned away, I picked up the liver and threw it under the table and then begged my Mother to write a letter saying I was allergic to liver and could be excused, which she did! I can’t tell you the number of times I say to our children “you don’t know how lucky you are!” Xx

    • Thanks Brooke, how interesting, I am not aware that it varies so much here in France, everyone I have spoken to around the country has much the same experience, of course menus will vary according to regions but not the style or system. Are the children able to take packed lunches in Spain or is that not allowed? Spanish food is so delicious, I know their healthcare system is fantastic so I am assuming their lunch system is pretty good too! Xx

      • Hi, the children do not take packed lunches but they do take their mid-morning snack, and they also have no school on a wednesday afternoon. It’s true the health system is very good within the last 10 years the improvement is incredible, and the hospitals and treatment are of a very high standard, exceptional in fact, but hope I don’t need them at the moment, the summer here is now coming to an end, a cooler breeze is blowing and we actually have seen rain, what a wonderful sight that was, although I really love the summer but all good things come to an end, take care xx

      • We had a big storm the other night, it was only the second rain since the end of June, I agree, what a great sight and the smell was fabulous, one could literally sense the earth lapping up every drop, we needed it so desperately. The sun is out again now so hopefully summer will continue a little longer! Back to food, here they don’t take a snack mid morning or afternoon. The children are always starving by the time they get home, especially the older ones who don’t finish school until 4.50pm, it’s a long day! xx

  • What a wonderful cultural lesson! The fact that the ‘littles’ are exposed to proper tables & manners makes for future appreciation of mealtime. I also knew I was born in the wrong place!
    We also have a fig tree but don’t rescue near enough to enough before the critters get them! I suppose at some point you do get enough, but I’ve not been able to experience that yet!

    • Hi Jeanne, it is indeed a great education for the children, but they see it as quite normal, it’s just how they eat their meals, nothing special! We have so many figs the critters can gladly help themselves, we still only manage to eat and give away about 10% of the total crop, we are truly inundated! xx

  • How very civilized to teach children the correct habits from a young age. Having worked in US schools for many years before moving here, I shudder when I think of what the kids had to eat there. I love the idea of real cutlery and crockery.

    • I wonder is it teaching them or is it merely continuing what they have been brought up with at home? Every French family I know sits and eats their meals together, every friend of the children that comes here to visit sits for gouter, for lunch, for dinner, their manners are always excellent. I love that they eat off real crockery and with real cutlery too, it is, as you say, so much more civilised! xx

  • Such a wonderful, and informative post! I giggled thinking how impressive the ‘Menu Americain’ sounds to the children. I would be much more excited to have crepes for lunch, myself! 🙂 PS- Your figs look absolutely divine!

    • Hi Jessica, I know just what you mean, but they are all so excited, they hardly ever have french fries and as for a burger, wow that’s a once a year occurrence at school. They will be very happy kids tomorrow afternoon at the school gates. The figs, by the way, are utterly delicious, I am eating as many as I can but still so many are just going to waste, Susan xx

  • At the primary school here, each course would be served family style, with a large plate or bowl set on each table. The kids then were expected to serve each other, and when everyone was served they could all eat. It was interesting to accompany school trips and see that they maintained the same manners.
    Also interesting to listen–the little ones even would analyze the food. A bunch of food critics!
    Confiture de figue is great with foie gras.

    • Our eldest daughter attended Ecole Primaire in the Pyrenees Atlantique when we lived down there, she told me that she also remembers the food was placed in the middle of the table and they served each other, even the Collège and Lycée canteens sound very civilised despite it being self service, I would happily eat there! Confiture de figues is also delicious with cheese, that is how my husband loves to eat it! xx

  • Amazing school lunches!!
    And your figs! They are wonderful! We have frozen figs in the past, so that we may use them later…or turn them into jam at a later date.
    Thank you again for your view into French life….
    Nancy
    wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com

    • Hi Nancy, Roddy was talking about freezing figs just this morning, he had been doing some research and found that several people recommended freezing them. How did they taste? Did they remain firm after they were defrosted or did they go soggy, I am keen to know if you get a moment. We have so many of them and I hate them all going to waste. susan xx

  • Oh my what a feast both at school and in your garden. The figs look fantastic and grapes too, lucky you. I would be eating Fifa all day every day if I lived there.

    • Hi Amanda, we are indeed very lucky, the summer is truly fabulous here with so many fresh fruits and vegetables and right now the figs and grapes are fantastic, I can’t eat enough! Susan xx

  • Our grandchildren both boys & now 16 & 19 have always enjoyed their school lunches here in France. I loved to listen to them telling us what they had eaten , it was just like reading a menu, every little detail & they never forgot the vinaigrette . So different from my days at school, tapioca was my worst nightmare, & like you boiled cabbage, so smelly and almost briwn from being over cooked. I very rarely eat it cooked now, I eat it raw . I’d love to have some of your figs I adore them..

    • Hi Barbara, Always vinaigrette with everything but especially the grated carrots, it’s something of a family joke here! I can still smell the cabbage now, and lumpy mashed potatoes and stew and dumplings, it was horrible. We never had tapioca, but semolina, yuk! I am happy to post you a big box of figs, we have just mailed a box to friends in Normandy today. Or if you are in the area before October come and take as many as you can! Susan xx

  • I should PRINT this POST OUT and DROP off at OUR SCHOOLS!!!!!!!
    When we lived in ITALY the elementary school did the same!They had the kids set the table and clear.I thought THAT was BRILLIANT!Your children are VERY LUCKY to grow up this way!I WISH you could send me a BIG BOX of FIGS!!!!!!!!!!ADORE!!!!I keep saying WE need a FIG TREE!
    XX

    • I would happily send you figs, but I know they won’t get through customs! We just mailed a big box to friends in Normandy today, the lady at the village post office, we know her well, told us it’s terribly common, lots of people mail fresh produce to friends in other parts of the country! Do print this and hand it around the schools, there is a lot to be learnt from the lunches here. I know and also our children really do know and appreciate just how lucky they are. They have lived around the world and experienced so many different cultures and different school regimes! Go out and buy a fig tree. xx

  • What a good insight into French life from someone qualified to tell us the truth. So often we are fed an abbreviated version from a journalist who has visited for a day. I would love to eat at the school and I was fascinated by the different cheeses every day , such an education

    • Hi Erin, I love that they have different cheeses each day too, such a good experience. so glad you enjoyed this, I can tell you it was great fun to be able to copy the menu and share this with everyone. xx

  • So envious and wish I had the same figgy problem, and oooh fig jam – how perfect! Isn’t it incredible how different the entire attitude is to food in France rather than in the UK, where meals have deteriorated so much and school-age kids are being further discouraged from eating organised meals because the quality and general experience count for nothing at all. It makes it very clear that we have an enormous problem in the UK which needs to be dealt with. Fantastic post and thank you

    • What happened to the Jamie Oliver school dinners campaign? I remember that was going well a few years ago. Last year the caterers changed half way through the year and the food went downhill, all the children were coming home not having eaten anything and complaining about the food. The parents listened, the teachers listened and the caterers didn’t last long at all. I think that alone says it all. I would happily eat at school each day! The figs are really almost a problem, we are giving them away as much as we can but we still only eat about 10% of them, we are literally inundated! xx

  • Thank you for this. I learned of the quality school lunches in France a few years ago and was truly fascinated by this approach. In America, bagged lunches are still in favor but the cafeteria food is a disgrace. About 8 years ago a government spokeswoman said that from then on Ketchup would be classified as a vegetable! All this posturing was to make appearances of improvement. Frozen and processed food is the norm in public schools and some others as well. Parents and doctors are surprised with childhood obesity. A rushed, almost cattle-to-the-trough, mentality pervades. I will print this post and present it to a school board member. We pay very high school taxes here and I cannot imagine why the children are not better cared for in their meal choices and dining style. Thank You, Thank You!
    *ps my children are long out of school and actually my surviving son is 44 years of age. He jokes now that he never ate school lunches and never was allowed fast food. When he went to University he ate all the poor choice foods. That phase has long since past. Now he is an excellent cook and prepares wonderful meals on his own. Early training, it is the answer.

    • Hi Lucy, That is the most horrendous story, how can ketchup be a vegetable? I do agree that children have to be allowed to make their own choices, so long as they are educated choices. It’s amazing how they will choose savoury over sweet, or a fruit over a dessert so many times if they allowed to choose. They are not allowed to serve frozen food here. Interestingly, we have friends who have a Chambres d’hotes (bed and breakfast) they are inspected once a year, they also include evening meals for their guests and they are not allowed to serve anything frozen either, or they will be shut down. Strict food policies, I think it is excellent! Susan xx

  • I loved reading about the school lunches – we need that here in the US! May I share this (the part about the lunches)? France is a wonderful example to us all in healthy eating for our children along with proper dining. Great post – thank you.

    • I would be delighted for you to share as much of the post as you wish, just please mention the blog! At least I know our children are eating a decent hot meal at school each day and what’s more they really enjoy their lunches, it is an important part of the day! Susan xx

  • What an interesting post! I chuckled when I saw the word “nugget” on the menu. It would be an interesting experiment to try the same approach at a typical American school, and see the reaction from the students. Thank you!

    • I wonder indeed what the reaction would be, “French Menu” carrots in vinaigrette, fish in sorrel sauce and cauliflower, blue cheese and then compote. sounds like heaven to me, but I wonder how many children would not even try it because it is so different. Susan xx

  • I have to say these are beautiful pictures of your girls and doggies. School lunch does look very similar to restaurant lunches and I love the fact that they are learning table manners as part of their education, not to mention, they are probably less picky too! My memories involve being given a double portion of gooseberry pie and crying into it and a sort of slice of pastry with marmite spread on it for a main course! Anyway hope your figs survived if you had the same storm as us this week. xx

    • Thanks so much Amanda. I think they definitely learn to be less picky here, all Of our children’s French friends that come over to play and eat with us eat pretty much anything. You childhood memories of school food are much the same as mine, horrendous! The figs are perfect, these photos were taken on Wednesday after the storm. The fig tree is in a really protected walled courtyard so it didn’t lose a single fruit! I don’t think the storm was nearly so bad here as it was with you, we just had a few cracks of thunder, a little lightning and a torrential downpour for about 15 minutes! Then two days of sunshine, but today is blur!!! Have a lovely weekend xx

      • Glad the figs were OK. We were unscathed but went to bed to watch it with the dogs – it was a good hour or so of lightning. Sunny now, thank goodness, I’m not quite ready for lots of dreary weather. xx

      • We didn’t get that much lightning. It was lovely here this afternoon but very windy. I am certainly not ready for dreary weather, not until November at the earliest! I can only cope with winter if it is short and sweet! Xx

  • I love that table manners are instilled at an early age. It is such a treat to watch young people in a restaurant in France. What a life time gift…proper manners…except maybe behind the wheel of a car…..lol…

    Ali xx

    • I ask very little of our children but I do expect them to have good manners and it is so nice that here all their friends are like minded, children always come up and kiss hello and goodbye, I love it! I know everyone goes on about the driving, but I don’t find it any different here to anywhere else, nowhere is as bad as driving in Miami in my opinion!!! Susan xx

  • I read your post with great, great interest…handed it to my husband to read and then to my oldest daughter (a French 1 High School student)…I am amazed, in awe of, and so despondent over school lunches in the U.S. and kids’ eating habits in general. France is doing everything right on food and here in the U.S. we are doing everything wrong. A quick example…The School Cafeteria serves Frito Pie (Frito Corn Chips with red chile and ground meat and a dash of chopped lettuce on top)…kids can elect to just get the Fritos, no meat or sauce. Yes, really. Or the salad bar…kids can chose to just have croutons. Proper place settings, water glasses on the table, time to eat and an hour for recess…wow. Thank you for the enlightening post. I had no idea. My head is swimming with ways to champion doing something to change the sad state of affairs on U.S. School Lunches…I am inspired. Thanks!

    • Hi Jeanne, the Frito Pie sounds horrendous, I cannot believe that children can eat just that for lunch, or just croutons from the salad bar, it is so so sad, because if the children are not educated they don’t know any better. How on earth does one even go about changing an entire country? I know Jamie Oliver tried so hard in the UK, there was a huge campaign but I believe it has now stopped and from comments from English readers it would seem that lunches are just as bad in the UK too. It is so tragic for children, I would do anything I could to help, if I just knew what to do, if you come up with any ideas let me know. Xx

  • What an interesting and enjoyable post! I too recall my school lunches in England! No tongue thankfully, but the mashed potatoe I can identify with! And semolina with Rosehip syrup, which actually I didn’t mind too much! We used to say a prayer before sitting down to eat “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful” – but of course we substituted ‘survive’ for ‘receive’!! How naughty!
    The lunches my grandson has are much better than I had so things have improved, but I like the way the young children sit down with napkins and glasses for water – it’s part of their social education to know how things work at a dining table other than with family. And the fact that it’s not rushed is really good – it teaches them that mealtimes are an important part of every day, not something to be hurried and to be got over with in order to move on. How lucky your children are, I’m sure these experiences will make them better parents, wherever they live! Have a lovely rest of the week.

    • Hi Marian, Semolina, remember it only too well, yuk! And lumpy mashed potatoes with black spots in them and the soggy cabbage, don’t get me started I could go on and on, the lunches were so horrid! And yes we too had to say grace before we could sit, before and after every meal, just the same! Aside from the food, it is the fact that they are not rushed that is so important, they learn to sit at the table and to chatter to friends, they learn that mealtimes are social and to be enjoyed. It’s the thing our children love most about school here compared to where they have been in other countries – the lunches! Have a great end to the week too, have the others started laying yet??! Xx

  • This was one of the first things we noticed when we moved to France. We have no school children at home and read about their menus in the monthly brochure, every household gets. I was (and am) insanely jealous of the quality choices the kids have and I would love to see that in other countries too. Especially teaching them young what real food is and how to enjoy and taste (maybe) new choices, veggies, fruits, cheeses…. what is not to love?!
    This in my opinion is one of the BEST things I’ve seen in France 🙂

    Sorry for not commenting in earlier posts. We had no phone/internet/skype etc as a far too large truck ripped off a overhanging branch of a tree which, being intermingled with other branches, pulled down our phone line and we were very lucky indeed to have a ‘temporary’ mend done yesterday. Temporary meaning that the Mairie will certainly now not be in a big hurry to chop down those dangerous and disturbing acacias on their grounds….. Shall be happy to read former posts when I’ve more time.

    I’m also VERY jealous on you having such an abundant ‘récolte’ of figs and grapes. I love figs but hardly ever buy them because they don’t seem to travel well from the market or shop to our home. We also have some tiny and non-edible grapes but we don’t treat them in any way and only let them grow to keep our veranda a bit less hot and sunny 🙂

    • Hi Kiki, I agree, lunch is an education. When the children are in Maternelle, (pre school) at around 4 or 5 they always have a food tasting class, they are blindfolded and little bits of food are given to them to taste so they can identify the differences. Food education starts at an early age here! Hope the Mairie has sorted out the problems now! Where are you in France, if you are not too far away you are very welcome to come over and collect as many figs as you want, we are literally inundated! I find they don’t keep, it’s best to pick and eat within a day or two at the most! Do let me know if you are nearish, you would be very very welcome to as many as you want! Xx

  • Bon jour Susan. First of all I would like to say that your children are beautiful….. The French school lunches seem to be the anthesis of American lunches which are hurried, rushed and not as nutritious. To be sure this relaxed way of communal dining for young people helps set the stage for fine dining as adults.

    How about a fig jam recipe???

    • Thank you so much Lisa, as our children have been educated in the USA, New Zealand, the U.K. And here in France they understand different lunchtime regimes very well. It is, they say, the best thing about French schools, the lunches and I can quite see why, and it is not just about the food, it is social, it is teaching them that it is a pleasure to sit down with friends and chatter and eat. The fig jam is terribly easy, I use a recipe which is from the South of France and is almost foolproof!
      Weigh your figs and leave them overnight in a bowl with half their weight in sugar.
      Next day, put the whole thing into a preserving pan and bring to the boil. As soon as it boils, remove the fruit with a skimmer or perforated spoon. Leave the syrup in the pan to go on boiling to the pearl Stage, when the sugar forms small pearl-like balls. Put the figs back into the syrup and cook gently, while stirring, for about 15 minutes. Be careful that the fruit does not stick to the bottom and burn.
      Let me know if you try this and how you get on! Have a great weekend, xx

  • It’s rather nice that this week, Susie, Yvonne and I are the recipients of those lovely figs. We have had a lovely stay in your beautiful gite and eating figs every morning, with our breakfast has been a bonus. Along with the grapes, courgettes, carrots, tomatoes etc. etc from your delightful garden.
    We look forward to our third visit before too long xx

    • So happy to have you both here again and even happier that you will be returning again next year for fig season! As you know only too well, it doesn’t seem to matter how many we eat, it doesn’t even make a dent in them, there are just so many!!! Xx

    • And nothing like the ghastly school lunches we had either. The only thing similar, we did all sit in the dining room, we were allowed to chatter, the food was placed on the table and whoever was at the head of the table served it. It was sociable and of course we did have proper cutlery and crockery, but that is where the similarity ends, the food was ghastly! Our children don’t know how lucky they are, a fact I remind them of often!!! Xx

      • Lunch was fun I cannot deny that, very occasionally it was even edible! I can remember every inch of the dining room and lunches like it was yesterday! Hope you are finding plenty to do on this wet and grey day, but the storm on Tuesday was only in the evening here and so this has been the first actual rainy day in two months and it’s meant to be nice for the weekend, so we can’t complain! At least it’s a warm rain!!! Xx

  • I have really loved this post and also reading everyone’s comments. I have four grandchildren all at middle schools here in the US, the food is a disgrace and even though they take their own there is no time to eat it ans certainly none allowed for digestion. As others have asked too, please can I print this out and take it to the school office. I shall try and do my part. Bravo Susan for another excellent post.

    • Thank you Shari, I would be delighted for you to print it out and take it into school, every little bit helps surely. That was the biggest complaint our children had when they were at school in the States, the lack of time, they all took in their own packed lunches, so the food was fine, but frequently they would come home and say they didn’t have enough time to eat it all, in fact they scarcely had enough time to eat anything. 20 minutes from the end of one lesson to the start of another and in that time they had to collect their lunch boxes, run to the canteen, find a place to sit etc etc. Hope you have a lovely upcoming weekend xx

  • This summer in France my family and I noted the well-mannered children in restaurants. Your post reveals that home and school emphasize valuing food and the civilized ritual of dining. Lunch time in the United States high school where I taught for many years was exactly 18 minutes including walking to the cafeteria. One question: how do French schools deal with serious food allergies? My grandson has a life-threatening tree nut allergy, so he cannot ever eat in a school cafeteria here. Thank you for all your wonderful posts! P.S. I am picking figs in North Carolina, too.

    • Hi Kelly, 18 minutes is just not enough time, by the time they get seated it literally leaves them 10 minutes or so to grab something on the run. A good question about the allergies and one I am afraid I cannot answer other than to say I am fairly positive if someone had a serious allergy then they would always choose the option of going home for lunch. All children of all ages are allowed to go home if they want to and as most French adults do sit down for a proper lunch, this would be the best solution I would imagine. Enjoy your figs, I just posted a jam recipe in the comments section above in my reply to Lisa Nunsio if you feel like trying your hand at making some jam, it is terribly simple and works every time for me, I am a great believer in simple recipes rather than over complicated ones! Susan xx

  • I read this post to my 12 and 14 year old children and they are drooling! It’s too bad we aren’t neighbors because I would gladly take some of those figs for you.

    • Hi Julie, we have had friends with children staying this summer, this is what prompted me to write this post, and they were drooling too! If you were closer I would gladly give you as many figs as you would like, daily! Have a great upcoming weekend, Susan xx

  • I wonder why you couldn’t take photos at school? It sounds so perfectly charming and wonderful and something that is far more appealing than where our students take their lunches daily.

    • Hi Cyndi, No outsider is allowed to take photos inside the schools for security and privacy reasons which I can quite understand, but I so wish everyone could see inside the dining room, especially all the smiling faces and little children sitting eating so amicably. Hope you have a lovely upcoming weekend, Susan x

  • Oh to be young and attending school in France! My favorite use for figs at the moment is stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped with some prosciutto, then baked and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Amazing! I envy you having all those figs. Love the pictures of the girls and the dogs!

    Nancy

    • Hi Nancy, it is the thing they love most about school here, the lunches and the long recesses! I just looked up a recipe for figs with cheese and prosciutto to make tomorrow evening when we have friends coming over, it didn’t mention a balsamic glaze, but knowing what a fantastic cook you are, I shall follow your lead. Wish you were closer so I could give you lots and lots of figs! Xx

      • Hello Nancy – we eat figs the same way, though we use Parma ham (no nitrates – just air!) and stuff the fruits with a mild smelly cheese. Even something a little blue like Dolcelatte or Cambozola is out of this world, too!

      • Simon, I can see I am going to have to experiment with this, I might try it on the family this evening and then on our friends tomorrow evening, it’s not as if there is any shortage of figs, which incidentally I saw in the market this morning are still selling for over 5 euros a kilo! Xx

  • Wow – what an eye opener for me – I never dreamed that School Lunches could be like this. Proper places to sit, with water glasses in place, meals served on china, thoughtfully planned healthy in-season food served with a theme and with love. Sufficient time for students to eat and time for students to relax outside and play. I really have no words for all this. I am in awe. And I am inspired to perhaps try to make a change here (USA). If I hear one more time about Frito Pie being served and you can chose to not get the meat/chile and only the Fritos, Or, even better, the school salad bar where you can get a cup of croutons with no lettuce. I’m going to scream. Really, Thanks. 🙂

    • He Jeanne, as I think this message is duplicated in part, I replied the earlier one. Do let me know if you can find a way of getting the message across to those that can help, I would gladly do my bit. Susan xx

  • Perhaps you could pack up a couple of boxes for the school to serve along with the cheese. It seems such a shame to waste them!

    • A great idea, but everyone here is in the same boat, or at least everyone with fig trees have too many figs, so the schools are inundated too! I am going to try freezing them as someone suggested, I would love to be able to eat them all winter! Susan xx

  • I didn’t read through all comments, but I’m curious about the cost to parents?
    Would this even work here in the states? I think we’re too far over the edge.
    Loved this blog so much!
    I’m off to sit under our 60 yr old cherry tree and have a ginger beer cocktail with my husband of 57 yrs.
    How good is life?
    Dianne

    • Hi Dianne, The school lunches in the Primary school are approximately 2.50 euros each. But for low income parents or those struggling it is possible to get assistance or even have the lunches paid in full, this way everyone gets to eat the same regardless of their family situation. How fantastic, 57 years, that is surely worth celebrating, hope you have had a wonderful ginger beer cocktail and I hope you both have a wonderful weekend. Susan xx

  • The school lunches sound really fantastic and so varied too. A far cry from the stodgy meals I had to endure at Grammar School in the 1960’s There was no such thing as the school lunch in government schools in South Africa. Everyone had to bring a packed lunch. It was different of course when our daughter was boarding at Roedean, but I don’t remember her ever extolling the virtues of the food they were fed there. How marvellous to have too many figs, and your grapes look really delicious. A very enjoyable and informative foodie post, Susan.

    • Hi Sylvia, they are a far cry from those I had at a girls boarding school in the UK too, Roddy was at boarding school from the age of 6 and has equally ghastly memories! Supper was better than lunch, tea at 5pm was the best meal of the day, slices of bread and occasionally chocolate spread, or else we would make sugar sandwiches!! The best were match teas, the main reason to be on the netball and hockey teams, match teas were fantastic, we even got cake!!!Wish you were closer so you could share the figs and grapes! How is the piano? Lots of playing I hope. Susan xx

    • Hi Janet, well I can truly vouch for the fact that the French school lunch system is excellent! If only you were indeed a lot closer, I would be giving you boxes of figs daily! If you were even in the same country I could mail them to you, we have just posted a large box to friends in Normandy. Alas, sorry I cannot! Have a great weekend, Susan xx

  • Great to read about the memorable French school lunches. So civilized. I have to say that my most memorable school lunch (USA) was not from the quality of the food (dreadful), but rather from getting hit in the head by a plate of mash potatoes hurled across a high school lunch room. Mind you, it wasn’t personal. I just happened to be in the way of what I imagine was someone’s ‘editorial comment’ on the taste of the food. 🙂

    • Hi Mary, oh that made me laugh, poor you, I can only imagine how it stuck in your hair too. I know at middle school in Florida, a boy once took one of our son’s tomatoes out of his lunch box and threw it at him, because he couldn’t understand why he could eat something so horrible as a tomato! Susan xx

  • I love that everything is so seasonal, just a simple visit to the market is enough to determine the time of year I have found whenever we have visited France. I am sorry I just saw my comment said Fifa – auto correct! I meant to say figs!

    • I wouldn’t worry Amanda, I knew exactly what you meant. I hate posting things on the run on my phone, I never know if my keypad is switched to French or English and it always changes what I write!! Xx

    • Hi Helen, ooooh thank you, I love this recipe, I have just read through it, and reread though it and I shall try making it this afternoon for the children’s gouter. It is raining and grey here, not at all usual, in fact we had forgotten what rain looked like, so it was much needed, but a nice warm spicy cake will be delicious for them, thank you. I am off to pick some figs and get cooking!!! Susan xx

  • I wish we’d had food like that when I was a kid, Susan. I regret to say not much has changed since then in the UK, notwithstanding that campaign of Jamie Oliver’s – of which its progress or status I have no idea. I remember at school there was a garden we could dabble in too, and so many of our parents grew food which never went to waste. It all goes hand in hand. Learn to grow it, harvest it, and cook it, and you’re set for life. I think you talked about this recently. What the French do is just a natural part of a child’s education.

    We’re coming up to sea kale season here on the shingle – want to swap a box of that for some figs? Wonderfully interesting post, as always, thank you.

    • Hi Phil, would love to swap a box, if only we were a little closer to the Channel and not a day’s drive away! I wonder what did happen to Jamie Oliver’s campaign, would love to hear if anyone is reading this or anyone knows??? We had a vegetable garden at school, not for the children but for some of the good, and a host of gardeners, if only the cooks had learnt to cook properly! Susan xx

  • Such a fabulous post! I remember being blown away by delicious school lunhes when I studied abroad in Angers. Every fish dish was served with an amazing creamy sauce, yet we never gained weight because we all walked to and from the university!
    I wish our children’s lunches stateside were better quality. I pack my kids’ lunches, partly because I can send fresher items, partly because one of mine tends to be picky. I hear the French don’t deal with the same level of pickiness as American children. Is that true, and if so, why do you think that is? (I’m pretty sure my daughter wouldn’t be so picky if she was offered a crepe au fromage at lunch)!

    • Hi, it’s true the French walk more, children walk to school far more frequently, but also they don’t snack in the same way they do in other countries. We have lived in several countries around the world, NZ, USA, UK and France and I can tell you that it is true, French children are the least picky I have ever known, they really do eat pretty much everything and I am quite sure it goes back to when they first start on solid food as babies and on into the years when they are toddlers, they are offered everything. By the time children are 3 or 4 years old they eat what their parents eat, only in smaller portions and as a result it is normal for them to eat everything, the tastes are not unusual. Susan xx

  • The French are indeed serious about their food and giving kids a healthy start in the the culinary arts. It is one of the things that my French friends have told me they are trying to preserve as fast food inundates the country. I went to school in Limoges and I have eaten the cafeteria food, quite tasty and the entire lunch seems much more civilized than how it is in the US.

    How wonderful go out to your garden and snack on Figs and grapes! Beautiful photos and adorable dogs and daughters.

    • Hi Elizabeth, I didn’t know you went to school in Limoges, about 3 hours due west of us. Fast food is creeping in everywhere, this is why I said the French love McDo’s, they do and they certainly do eat fast food, there is no denying it, but at least they also do get decent meals and choices at lunch. It is at least half of the battle! I had a feat of figs this afternoon, wish I could send you some! Have a lovely weekend, Susan xx

  • Ooh figs! The most luscious, sensual and seductive of fruits – a glut is surely decadent! I find myself viewing the school menus for our local children with envy …. You are right there are regional nuances but the standard and the emphasis on fresh and organic is just the same. Other countries take note though in fairness I think Jamie Oliver’s campaign did improve things in England a few years ago. Before him the might of the turkey twizzler that horrific invention with zero nutritional value was a-marching unhindered. Xx

    • It may be decadent but I don’t care, I am feasting in them daily! Actually spoilt for choice, in our courtyard garden, where the fig tree dominates, I can sit and eat figs and then turn around and feast on green table grapes against the wall, it’s a tough life!! We were wondering what did happen to Jamie Oliver’s campaign, I have read comments on the blog here saying that school food in the UK is awful, did the campaign stop do you know? I always remember watching a programme where he went into a school and showed the pink goop that was chicken nuggets – too gross for words! Xx

      • I actually don’t know but I’m going to find out …. My youngest left the State School system several years ago competing her schooling at a small independent school in Oxford where the food was as good as the education. Hoping as I am for grandchildren in the not too distant future I feel it my duty to follow up on Jamie’s calling in England … Keep hogging those figs and grapes – I would! Xx

      • I wish I could say the same when I was at school, decades ago of course, independent boarding school, although I was a day girl, but it was horrendous! Let me know what you find out about Jamie, intrigued! The sun has returned here, figs for breakfast, life is good 🙂 xxx

    • The lunch system is excellent Penny, our children say it is the best thing about French schools! If only you were a little closer I would send you some figs! Had a mini feast this afternoon! Susan xx

  • Susan, another terrific post ! I can only echo others who’ve told horror stories of dire school meals, I’ve often wondered what the poor old cabbage did to the British that it had to be treated in such a brutal fashion – must have been a very serious crime! Wasn’t it a US President who said that France was every person’s second country? Surely a more ‘civilized’ country doesn’t exist – as this post clearly indicates – which, of course, is why so many of us have chosen to live here.

    PS: Missing the figs already! If you think Miami’s bad for driving – try Lesotho! Jim x

    • Thanks so much Jim, cabbage, I can’t stand it cooked now, school put me off forever, it was so disgusting! Never tried driving in Lesotho although I have driven in Mombassa and that was pretty awful! There are masses of figs still green waiting to ripen, I think we have at least a couple more weeks if not a month of them, so plenty of time for you to come and pick some more. Hope you have had a wonderful start to your holiday, you have gone away at the right time, the temperature dropped 15 degrees overnight, but at least the sun is set to return for the weekend! xx

  • I think this is brilliant! It’s no wonder then why the French have such an appreciation for good food and the ‘ritual’ of eating a meal. They learn this even in school! So much more civilized than our North American mentality of eat-and-run.

    • Hi Joanne, it is education at a very young age, there is fast food and it is becoming more and more of a problem, but at least they are also learning there is an alternative which has to be half the battle surely and at least they eat slowly and learn that mealtimes are social and fun. Have a lovely weekend. Susan xx

  • I love seeing a first-hand look at the school lunches. They definitely teach children the correct way to enjoy a meal. I’ve only ever eaten figs dried. Never fresh. Do you bit into them just like an apple?

    • Hi Paulita, There are several ways to eat figs, we often just pick them and eat them straight from the tree, biting into them as you say, like an apple, we eat the skin and all. However, many French don’t eat the skin, the break them gently in half and then eat the insides or if they are at a table and being polite they scoop o it the interior with a spoon. It’s just a matter of taste! If you find them, try them, but fresh and just picked is best, they don’t keep for long. Xx

  • Thank you for another wonderfully detailed look into French culture! So important that they eat real food in a proper way. Fabulous. I so wish all children could be exposed to that. Seems so simple. So glad it’s a priority there, and I’m so grateful that you shared it with us!() I do hope that the free sodas in the vending machines are Perrier or San Pelligrino water!! It would be a shame to douse that lovely food with soda pop!)
    Your fig tree seems to be magical in it’s abundance, and the dogs…………hilarious…….yawning……just trying to stay awake through another long harvest! Haha!!! Such amazing photos of the girls and the dogs. Just LOVED this!!! Thanks you for taking the time to share this!!!

    • Thank you so much. Alas, the vending machine which is free, does contain Coke, and all the typical sweet sugary sodas. The children are young adults, I guess they feel they are old enough to make a choice. Millie never chooses the sodas and neither do any of her friends, but that’s not to say she doesn’t enjoy one when she goes out to dinner or to a party, it’s all a matter of in moderation in my opinion. Wish you were closer to share the figs! Just ate a bunch for breakfast, they are my daytime snack!!! Xx

  • My apologies for being three days late to confession 🙂 ! Am writing to you from eastern Australia, about 100 kms south of Sydney. Do not have my own blog due to ‘opportunity cost of time’, but do have a large blogroll of wonderful friends ro visit. Am reasonably new to your postings but have to confess I also was so taken by the French school lunch scenario that I did post the WHOLE to lists of friends all over the world – in that case I normally send a copy to the original blogger but did not know your email . . . my apologies!! As in Australia most kids still brown paper bag it or use tuckshops which now supposedly have healthier offerings than in my time, I actually ‘travelled’ Europe with Mr Google and added some of that to my send. Nought like the French, but Italians, Greeks, Swedes etc seem to be nutritionally good compared to the US and, I am told Scotland etc. You may be interested that quite a few of my British expat friends living in France PROMPTLY rapped me on the knuckles for not stressing enough the social, learning aspect of which I was and am more than aware . . . thank you SO much for your post!!!

    • Thank you so much and welcome to the blog. So so happy to have you following along, I have lots of Australian followers and right now I envy you heading into spring and the summer months ahead! I love travelling on Google Earth, it is so much fun! Thank you for sharing the post with lots of your friends, that is always so very much appreciated, it helps a great deal to spread the word about the blog. My email is on the side of the posts if you scroll down susanourfrenchoasis@gmail.com always love to chat if you want to. Enjoy your week and hope you have had a good weekend, Susan xx

  • Good morning Susan, thank you for this superb post. I love the photographs, I love figs, and most of all I love the French way of eating….oh if only the UK/USA could learn and follow suit. I am such a believer that we are what we eat….and know for a fact that if the wrong foods are eaten and rushed…the mind and body become sluggish – in fact ill.
    So many of the medical companies that people have today come down to diet and the way we eat. Your fig jam looks divine….Hope you are enjoying a superb weekend..janet.xx

    • Hi Janet, thanks so much. So looking forward to meeting you, hopefully, when you come to France to explore next, I feel we share many of the same outlooks on life, I totally agree that you are what you eat and I think a great deal of things can be altered by simply changing one’s diet. As adults we can all make choices, but it is the children who are not given this choice that I feel so so sorry for because no one has told them any different, they don’t even know the consequences of what they are eating and that is awful. Susan xx

      • I totally agree. I was most fortunate to grow up in England at a time when we ate fresh fruit and veggies from our own gardens – drank lots of water – never fizzy drinks (other that my Mother’s homemade ginger beer:) A generally very well balanced diet…and of course lots of fresh air and exercise…and I have chosen to take that way of living into my adult life. Yes, one day I am sure we will meet, and I look forward to that very much…Janet.xx

      • We never had fizzy drinks either, in fact I used to love horse shows, because that was when I was allowed a fizzy drink, cherryade! Sounds quite revolting now but I remember thinking it was fabulous! We too try and always eat fresh and healthy food according to what is in season, we never have fizzy drinks at home and I agree lots of fresh air and exercise. It is certainly easier to live this lifestyle here in France than it was in the USA or UK! Throughly looking forward to meeting at some stage. Millie is desperate to meet you too! Susan xx

    • Ah, We are what we eat indeed. As a personal-trainer I know says, “Your body is an engine. It needs the best fuel and the best oil to run correctly, and to its full ability! No synthetics please!”

    • Thank you so much, do let me know the reaction of your children, even if they cannot go to school and eat lunches like this at least if we can show them there is a choice to eat well, then that is a step in the right direction. So happy to have you following along and welcome to the blog and thank you for taking the time to comment, always much appreciated. I am popping over to your blog now to look at some of your recipes because we all adore middle eastern cuisine, so tasty and delicious. Have a lovely Sunday xx

  • Those school dinners sound scrumptious. Sadly from what I hear, some UK schoolchildren wouldn’t know many of the elements on those menus. I’m thinking, beetroot, courgette, lentils…it’s tragic really. The French have got it so right.
    I’m coming over to Vendée at the weekend, if it wasn’t so far I’d pop down for some of those figs… they look divine.

    • I agree Fiona, the biggest problem is they hear the word lentil or courgette and instantly say no without even trying them. Even though fast food is very popular here too, more so than people realise, at least children do know the difference and as teenagers and adults they are able to make an educated choice, no matter whether it is right or wrong. Sadly it is a bit far, if you do feel like a day trip though let me know, always welcome here! Hope you have a good journey and fun in France. Weather looks good again next week. Susan xx

  • Wow, what an eye opener. I would have loved eating lunches daily throughout my school years if they were close to the school lunches in France. I taught for thirty-seven years at the elementary and middle school levels here in Ohio. I am very in tune with American school lunches. Few were impressive to indulge.
    I purchased a Chicago Hardy fig plant six or seven years ago from our local nursery. We potted it and kept it inside our garage during the wintry months. It is close to three feet tall, in a large whiskey half barrel, sitting on our deck. Our fig tree looks to have the same leaves and figs as yours from your beautiful posted pictures. This year it produced seventy-three figs as gorgeous as yours. I share a few with my sister and neighbors who eat figs. I bookmarked the fig bread recipe from one of your reader’s comments. I can’t wait to try it next summer.

    • Hi Sandy, the school lunches here are just so good, the food and also the social aspect, it is a complete all round education. So glad your tree is producing so many figs, what fun, next year it will be lots more, I find one of the best parts is sharing them with friends, it is such a good feeling being able to give them things from the garden. I shall be making the fig bread recipe this week, I’ll let you know how it turns out! Susan xx

  • I have made fig jam, fig chutney, bottled them in liqueur and so far I have dried about 400 figs, still more to arrive!!! The dried are great for snacks they won’t last long 🙂 Diane

  • I love that our boys sit down and have a proper meal at lunchtime. Here in the village school they have a similar menu but they don’t have cheese and pudding, sometimes the cheese is their pudding! I think the idea of a special menu one day a month is brilliant. Such a great way of introducing kids to different cultures and traditions.

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