May the lily be with you.

This week in Burgundy we’re looking forward to the Fetes des Muguets – the festival of the lily – that celebrates May 1st, which is Labur Day. It’s a National Holiday in France and really marks the start of summer for most of us.

Muguet

Muguet

It’s a great piece of history dating back to 1561 when King Charles IX was presented with lily of the valley flowers on May 1st. In subsequent years he did the same thing to all the ladies of his court.

Round about 1900 the fashion was resurrected, French men giving their loved one bunches of ‘muguets’. The synchronicity with Labor Day is actually coincidental. In 1919 May 1st was declared International Workers’ Day which, in turn, was renamed Labor Day in 1948.

Anyway it’s a time of much excitement. The muguets tend to grow in woodlands and hide-away places all across Burgundy, and it’s traditional for families to take their children to their favourite secret places to pick bunches to sell on the streets.

In typical French fashion there are special regulations that allow people to pick and sell the bunches of wild flowers. Not so typically they are able to do so without being taxed – unusual for the French system to miss out on that one but then again tax collectors get the day off too!

We see the muguets from Le Papillon, in the woods that line the banks of the canal, like a white carpet that shimmers in the wind. Like many things in nature they seem to be at their very finest in the early morning under drifts of mist that rise from the water, or at dusk gleaming eerily under the tree trunks. When the moon is full it’s simply magical, like the Land of Faerie come to be reborn in Burgundy.

May 1st always feels like the beginning of something in Burgundy so for this week’s recipe, as ever taken from Eleanor Garvin’s book The Papillon Recipes (available from Amazon), we’ve selected a truly tasty hors d’oeuvre – just the sort of thing you’d serve here if you had a few friends round for a glass of Santenay or two on a special day off work.

Funny that they call it ‘Labor Day’ when nobody is doing any laboring! Except on Le Papillon of course – we’ll be busy as ever looking after our guests.

Canapés de Jambon Cru a la Pomme Verte

cured ham with cheese

Cured ham and apple canapés

Makes 18 ‘nibbles’

Cured ham, green apple and Comté cheese toasted under a broiler – simple as that and absolutely delicious. A perfect nibble over a glass of chilled white wine.

18 slices of baguette lightly toasted

4 slices of prosciutto-type cured ham

½ cup of Gruyere or Comté cheese, diced

½ Granny Smith apple diced

Handful of walnuts lightly toasted and broken into large pieces

1 minced shallot

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons heavy cream

Fine sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the broiler.

Stack the slices of cured ham and dice. Mix the diced ham, cheese, apple, walnuts, shallot, mustard, cream, salt and pepper in a bowl. Put a tablespoon of the mixture onto each round of toast, place toasts on a baking sheet and broil until bubbly. Serve warm for a little but big taste of Burgundy.

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