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Jacques Pépin’s Perfect Summer Party

Jacques Pépin is a generous chef and a fierce boules competitor. He shows both sides of his personality at a Sunday-afternoon potluck he hosts in Connecticut.

My wife, Gloria, and I are members of a club we call Les Boules du Dimanche (The Sunday Boules): For eight Sundays every summer, our group of about 50 assembles at one of our houses to play the French bowling game boules. We share bottles of rosé, argue about the score and enjoy delicious dishes, like a refreshing watermelon salad with crumbled feta and fresh mint and a tart of sweet apricots and blueberries baked in a vanilla pastry cream. These parties have become the heart of our summers.

Boules is similar to Italian bocce. In village squares, especially in the south of France, the boulodrome, or boules court, is the gathering place for men of all ages. A few glasses of wine or pastis, the anise-flavored liqueur, are de rigueur. Players flip a coin to decide who goes first; that player marks a circle or line in the dirt and stands behind it with his feet together—pied tanque in French (the source for the word pétanque, another name for the game). The player throws a brightly colored wooden ball called a cochonnet, or jack, about 25 feet forward. Then he throws his first boule as close to the jack as possible. Next, a player on the opposing team attempts to land his boule closer to the jack. The opposing team continues to play until one of their boules is closest to the jack or they have run out of boules.

When all the boules are played, the scoring and arguments start. A tape measure is often needed to determine which boule is closest; the first team to score 13 points is the winner. Finally, there is the Fanny, usually a colorful wood carving in the shape of a girl’s bottom. If a team loses 13-0, each player on the losing team has to kiss the Fanny and buy drinks for the winners.

Even when the outcome is disputed, there’s no better way to spend a summer afternoon than laughing over a game of boules, drinking wine and eating simple summer dishes brought by close friends.

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Published July 2009
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