Pulling the Bean


Last night I hosted the annual “Pulling the Bean” cocktail party. It was so much more fun than it sounds.

La Galette des Rois

“Pulling the bean” translates as “Tirer la f ve,” which is a tradition in France that began long ago among the cardinals of Besançon, near Dijon. They held a sort of lottery on the Epiphany (the feast of the Magi which occurs twelve days after Christmas) to choose a chapter head. The lottery consisted of hiding a coin in loaf of bread. Whoever got the coin became the chapter head. Over the years, the bread evolved into a brioche, the coin became a f ve, or bean, and the custom spread throughout the land. Today, the galette is most often a thick layer of almond paste sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry that are baked to a golden, flaky crisp. Inside the galette is the “f ve,” most often a porcelain figurine.

As anyone visiting France in the past month has witnessed, Galette des Rois are in every patisserie and boulangerie in the country. We all buy them periodically, for our children we say, as the f ve collection is added to, the qualities of galette debated.

Our Galette event began some years ago at the instigation of Michel and Chantal Amsalem, our area’s finest patissier, and his wife. They, naturally, bring the galettes. Everyone else brings something to eat for the “apéro-dinatoire” or stand-up dinner, that precedes. Last evening it was below zero outside, but inside was warm from the fire, the candles, the crowd. We sampled ginger guacamole with crudites, a salad of home-cured haddock with apples and endive, shrimp speared with chunks of pineapple, crisp potato cakes topped with slices of goat cheese, and Goug res. Everything was delicious, washed down with champagne.

Normally, when it’s time for galette the youngest child hides under the table and determines who gets each piece by calling out their name. This keeps things fair. Last evening was for adults, though, so no one hid anywhere, and galettes were cut and freely passed and we have a couple of rabid f ve collectors in the group – called “fabophiles” – but their identities have long been revealed and, sure enough, they were unabashedly poking into their slices to see if they were the winner.

it’s all in good fun, and this year a surprise became clear – Michel had put two f ves in each galette, so there were plenty of happy “bean pullers”. Each winner, by the way, wears a paper crown and chooses a Queen. Then, everyone eats the galette and drinks more champagne.

I didn’t get a f ve in my galette, but I got one in my hand as Chantal bid goodbye. “Here’s a poule, ma poule,” she said, handing me a miniature chicken. “These were our best f ves and we’ve long ago run out, but I saved this for you.”

It will have a place of honor in my “fabophile” daughter’s collection,

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