I fell in love my third year of law school, two floors underground in the library as I leaned against the putrid pea green colored stacks and read an obscure ( aren’t they all?) 19th century legal text on property rights.
I was looking for information on the law of nuisance. Instead I met Ivo.
“Blah de blah, blah, blah,” read the text (you can see how much of my legal education I retained) “bleepi-blah, blah, blah, blah,of blah, blah, blah in blah.
Sanctus Ivo erat Brito
Advocatus et non latro
Res miranda populo!”
And, having retained a modicum of my Latin education, I burst out laughing in the stacks. You know what they say about man who can make you laugh. So began my law school romance.
Saint Ivo (Yvo, Yves, or in the Breton, God bless it, Erwann) was a Breton,
A lawyer and not a thief
A thing of wonder to the people!
And that about sums it up. Ivo lived in the late thirteenth century in what we would now call France. He jaunted up to Paris from his Breton home to study civil law and then, apparently being adept in these matters, went on to Orleans to study canon law as well. Ginned up on the law, he went back to Brittany and served as a legal eagle for three years wherein he established a curious reputation. He refused to take bribes. He represented the poor gratis. He challenged the taxing authority of the king, and he preferred to settle things out of court because had this mad idea that if you worked to settle things out of court everyone would be better off.
Obviously unsuited for the legal profession, he resigned after three years and became a parish priest where he lived a life of holiness and virtue, inspiring his parishioners thereby. (It is said that in his canonization proceedings his parishioners testified that they became twice as good as they naturally were under his leadership, which, given human nature, is saying something. ) He established a hospital for the poor and gave the harvest from his lands to the poor as well. He died on Ascension Eve after giving the sermon, which is rather touching in of itself, and was canonized in 1347 a mere 44 years after his death, apparently the only parish priest to pull off this trick in the Middle Ages. (Which, I fear, says far more about the canonization process in the Middle Ages than about parish priests.) He is the patron of Brittany, lawyers, and abandoned children, all of which need him.
What to make to celebrate this delightful saint? Far Breton of course! To be sure this is not any sort of dish Ivo would have known. His Far Breton was likely buckwheat boiled in a bag next to some meat, but if i start getting obsessed with minutae, I’ll never get anything done. Besides Ivo wouldn’t have eaten anything anyway. He was too busy fasting.
Far Breton is a “cake”, but really it’s a custard. A very firm custard. Not only is it Breton, it’s delightful, and it involves prunes, and to most people a delicious dish involving prunes is an unusual as a sainted lawyer. I myself though am extremely fond of prunes, and have been since youth, when I used to eat them out of the box. I am though especially fond of prunes that have been soaked in brandy, lit on fire, and baked into a custard. These are prunes one can get behind.
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup small or medium-size pitted prunes (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup Armagnac or other brandy
Combine milk, eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in blender jar. Blend 1 minute. Add flour and pulse just until blended, scraping down sides of jar. Cover and chill in jar at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
Combine prunes, 1/2 cup water, and raisins in heavy small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until fruit is softened and water is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Pour brandy over fruit. Using long match, ignite brandy. Let flames burn off, shaking pan occasionally. Transfer fruit to small bowl. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Butter 8-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Butter paper. Dust pan with flour, shaking out excess; place on baking sheet.
Reblend batter until smooth, about 5 seconds. Pour into prepared cake pan. Drop prunes and raisins into batter, distributing evenly. Bake cake on baking sheet until sides are puffed and brown and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.
Place piece of parchment or waxed paper on flat plate. Sift powdered sugar onto paper. Run knife around cake in pan to loosen. Invert pan onto paper, releasing cake. Remove pan; peel off paper. Place serving plate over cake and invert. Dust top of cake with additional powdered sugar.
For the dry version of this dish, Greenpan suggests soaking the prunes in Earl Grey tea. I’m sure it’s good, but if you don’t have religious beliefs against it, go for the brandy.
* Yes, I know the California Dried Plum Board doesn’t like to hear people using the word prune. And I say to them, cordially, go suck on a prune. Or have a slice of Far Breton.