french lessons: we think your horses are covered in merde

Voilà – la tarte au citron
Here in the South of France, recalling my school girl French, I’ve been remembering my high school French teacher, Mlle. P. We loved her. She was blond, beautiful, fun, and a fabulous teacher. She was also really old. Easily twenty-five. Possibly thirty!!

She started our grade nine French class with fifteen minutes of conversational French and the rule was – we could say whatever we liked, so long as we said it in French. We got points for participation and extra points for being the first team to say something. It worked and it was way more fun than conjugating verbs full-time.

We worked with a “conversational partner” and a French dictionary. She would give us a starting point – usually a tidbit of news, or a comment about a recent movie, or sometimes – a question. She didn’t write this on the board – she said it out loud so we had to listen. Often we really had very little clue what she had said. Like this particular time…

“Ecoutez!” (listen) she began, “Que pensez-vous de ma nouvelle couleur de cheveux?”

She gave us a minute to work with our partners to jot down an answer. My partner – a boy – quickly and confidently translated this question as, ‘What do you think of the new colour of my horses?”

Seemed odd but reasonable enough. But why would horses change colour? Maybe her horses had changed colour because they had rolled in manure. Horses will do that – we surmised. We got out our dictionaries and raced to be the first ones to come up with an appropriate answer and since it was my turn, I said, “Nous pensons que vos chevaux sont couverts dans la merde.” (We think your horses are covered in shit.) Our dictionary did not have a word for manure and we happened to know the word merde quite well. Plus the rule was – we could say whatever we liked so long as we said it in French.

To her credit – she laughed out loud. “Pas mes chevaux – c’est mes cheveux!” (Not my horses, my hair) she said, holding up a strand of her long blonde hair.

I’ll never forget that moment – because that’s the first time I ever realized that her gorgeous blonde hair was fake. Quelle surprise. Quelle deception. Such a letdown.

Which brings me to this recipe for Tarte au Citron. I like my lemon things to taste real. Not sickeningly sweet and bright yellow and fake but instead tart and tangy and lemony. No surprise. No deception. The real thing.

Tarte au citron

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter (or margarine for a dairy-free version)

3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used three fresh lemons)
1-2 tablespoons finely grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Fresh or frozen berries and whipping cream to garnish

Mix the base ingredients together using either a food processor on pulse or if you work like me – just use a bowl with a fork or a pastry cutter. The mixture should be fairly crumbly but hold together when pressed. Press into a very lightly greased 9 inch spring form pan. Bake at 325°F for about 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edge.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until frothy – this will take a few minutes. Then add the lemon rind and juice and beat lightly. Stir in the flour.

Pour over the partially cooked base. Return to the oven at 325°F for about 25-30 minutes or until just set. Don’t overcook it – it doesn’t like to be dry.

Let the tart cool, then top with fresh berries. Or if you are making this before berry season – use frozen berries instead of the cardboard ones that get shipped thousands of miles. I used about 2 cups of frozen mixed berries (thawed), 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp cornstarch which I cooked over medium heat in a small saucepan until thickened. When slightly cooled, I spread this over the tart. Serve with whipped cream.


33 thoughts on “french lessons: we think your horses are covered in merde

  1. Yes, these words are too easy to confuse! When I lived in Potugal, I had sore ears and told my friends so. Unfortunately, I said I had sore eyes, corrected myself by stating I had sore grapes, then again, this time saying I had sore eggs (!) They had no idea what was wrong with me but were helpless with laughter 🙂 Your tarte au citron looks delicious, and nothing like a car 😉 Thanks for making me smile!

    1. That is hilarious Tracey – I love it! Since I’m locked in the barn – I’m not really out talking to people and when I do go out – I actually feel quite shy. On past trips I’ve been thrown in at the deep end and just had to manage. This time though, I have a bilingual hostess and somehow feel even more nervous about botching things up.
      A bientot…

  2. Superb post. Was chuckling all the way through, especially as my French – these days – is horrid. Reminds me of other classmates daring me to write oh merde instead of oh la la (as our French teacher, Mr O’Hagan had a sever temper) whilst copying my French homework from some one else. Anyway, they all waited with baited breath for him to tear into me! Non, he just laughed – much to the annoyance of the others. Hah! Wide-eyed and innocent looks rock.

    1. And I love that you’re over here visiting Karen. We WordPress users have to get out more… over to the other sites!! Thank you so much for your comment. I’m trying to keep my French usage to a minimum while I’m here to avoid embarrassing myself and everyone else! 😉

  3. I love your tart! I too love the naturally lemony tartness, the tart just screams Spring!! Have to laugh when I read your story about French class, when I was in HS my french class all went to dinner at a French restaurant, the menu was in French and the wait staff was told to only speak French to us. I remember ordering Escargot, at the time I didn’t know what they were and no translation was given, I was not amused when I was served my platter of snails, now I would eat it gladly but as a young teenager who grew up on mostly Italian food French snails seemed really gross.

    1. That’s so funny Suzanne – I’m the reverse. I would have eaten anything when I was younger – sometimes if only to impress. Then many years ago, in France, I saw someone harvesting snails, off the SIDEWALK. Moments later I saw a Frenchman peeing on the SAME sidewalk. No more snails for me. EVER! Stick with your gorgeous Italian food! 😉

  4. Oh I have definitely had some moments like that in French… I also used to have quite a few problems with cul versus coup. Not something you want to mix up…

    The tart looks beautiful! I love lemony tarts. They are so bright and addictive.

  5. Bonjour my frog Mum! Love the story – I have made so many mistakes trying to talk to Renaud and his family, but I guess it is truly the best way to learn. I hope you are getting some warmer weather over on the other side of the planet, cold and rainy here – not the spring I was looking forward too, but I guess its still early!
    The tart looks amazing! Now I just need an occasion to make this!


    1. Bonjour ma frog fille! It is just starting to warm up here.
      Just don’t say to Renaud’s father “je te veut” when you want the salt at the dinner table and he’s got it – say, “je le veut”.
      je t’adore. xxxx

  6. Great story Lindy! Elly and I have many Mme. Dalton stories from Winston. I’m chuckling thinking about them! The tart sounds delicious.
    Enjoy France!

    1. I remember, Jess, how much Elly disliked French lessons. There was a lot of grumbling about it.
      Mlle P used to say to us -” I expect you’ll need your French more than you’ll need your algebra.” And she was right!
      Good luck on our exams. Study hard! xox

  7. Ah ! I love tarte au citron, and I really enjoyed reading about your lessons of French! Reminded me of a girl in English class who couldn’t tell the difference between chicken and kitchen.

  8. Funny how when a child you think anyone over 21 is ancient. Your lessons sound a lot more fun than my own. Learning french verbs was made to be a complete chore, we were taught by the parrot mode with no reward.
    Lovely tart though. I agree with you about natural lemon flavour.

    1. Yes! So true Maria. I thought all my teachers were old. I remember my history teacher telling us it was his 40th birthday. I was dumbfounded – I thought he was closer to 60 – maybe older. Ancient. It’s only looking back that I realize how truly fabulous Mlle P was. I actually loved her class. She got married while I was in high school and she invited the whole class to her wedding. Incroyable!

    1. Jane! I was thinking about meeting you in Oaxaca just the other day. I passed a row of old houses, flush against the street, with those big heavy wooden gated doors and it took me momentarily back to Mexico. I’d like to go back there….
      But yes, loving the South of France! xo

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