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Help in Tracing the Ancestral Bakers and Pastry Chefs



In our golden youth, we had a summer job in the Sierra Nevadas during our university years. In our tiny home town of two hundred and forty-three mountain folk, some elegant ladies from "down the mountain" decided to establish, in the old plumber's supply shack, a country wares shop. It was a boutique for the tourist trade, a place none of us local bumpkins could afford, with hundreds of adorable, expensive, useless things, many imported from France.

The shop had a luncheon restaurant. Under the pine trees out back, had been placed a number of French café tables and chairs, all quite unstable on the roots surging up from the ground, and the owners had hired a couple of la-di-da cooks from Sonoma. The menu was sandwiches -- ham and cheese, pastrami on rye, bagels with lox -- standard fare that the owners had cleverly named after their friends from San Francisco's high society. These punters came repeatedly, with all of their family and friends, to smile, verily to beam, at seeing their names on the menu. Good trick.

The place was a ten minute walk along Highway Eighty-nine from our home,  ideal for a summer job. We were the pastry chef, and a woeful one at that. We spent every night alone in the kitchens (those fancy Sonoma cooks were catering dinners elsewhere), trying to make pastry recipes written for sea level ovens work at an altitude of more than six thousand feet. Every cake was a failure. Some turned instantly to stone, some fell to soft pieces. The former were thrown out the door for the coyotes, the latter were covered in whipped cream and chocolate shavings and put bravely on the dessert trolley.

Pie disasters were impossible to disguise the same way or the entire trolley would have been whipped cream and so, were smashed and dumped into trifles -- colourful layers of sugary goo. Excess pie disasters went out for the coyotes as well. Waitresses left notes for us, saying they were tired of slicing into a confection of whipped cream that looked lovely only to find chocolate sludge within. It took our employers three summers to figure out why the desserts never sold and fire us. Clearly, we never would have been enrolled in the ranks of the august members of the Fédération des Compagnons Boulangers, Pâtissiers Restés Fidèles au Devoir, or the C.B.P.R.F.A.D..

Boulangerie sign

Founded in 1811,  when Napoleon was Emperor, apparently on the day of the patron saint of bakers, Saint-Honoré, the federation has had, over the years, some six thousand members. This is no ordinary bakers' club. This is an organization of perfectionists who are highly trained professionals who see their baking of bread and maccarons, croissants, pains au chocolat,  as an art. In short, it is a guild, one that tightly controls qualifications and lavishly aids members.

Now two hundred years old, the C.B.P.R.F.A.D. offers something new in the world of French genealogy: a genealogical research service in their records for your ancestor. If your ancestor was a compagnon boulanger or patissier, you can send in his or her name with, if you have it, place and date of birth. They, in turn will send you copies of everything they have on your ancestor. They would appreciate even more information and documentation from you, if possible, giving the impression that someone plans to write a biographical dictionary of the membership. 

We have not tested this service and would be pleased to hear from any of our Precious Readers who do. It seems rather naively generous, and we suspect that, once they will be swamped by the inevitable deluge of requests, the offer will be withdrawn quickly, so get in there fast, we say.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy