Monday, March 30, 2009

Distracted by a Lark

"Buy 4 larks which have already been plucked, cleaned, and wrapped in fat or bacon," wrote Edouard de Pomiane in 1930 in French Cooking in Ten Minues: Adapting to the Rhyth of Modern Life. The availability of larks, his advice to use only a gas stove (without needing to explain why: a coal or wood stove would take too long to fire up), and his description of a slowly enjoyed meal all highlight how times have changed. The ten-minute meal begins quickly, but continues slowly through several separate courses, each small. At the end, he says, you should make a cup of filter coffee:
Fill your cup with the coffee. Lean back in your armchair and put your feet up. Light a cigarette. Take a nice long puff, then blow the smoke to the ceiling. Enjoy the coffee's aroma, take a long sip. Close your eyes. Think about that second puff, that second sip -- you're rich!

In the background, the radio's playing a tango or some jazz. (p. 25)
For most of us, the assumption about smoking is one more gap between life in 1930 and our own present in America. Even during my first trips to France, I experienced this old style. Larks were sometimes available, maybe not so much fresh, but in specialty cans of lark pate -- now prohibited to protect the songbirds. In our earliest student room, we had a coal stove in what the landlord called the kitchen (we used a camp stove, though). After-dinner cigarettes (or during) seemed an eternal French habit -- though smoking is now illegal in restaurants there. And always, the French both at home and in restaurants have served meals slowly, dividing them into 4 courses, savoring them, and eating what seem to be quite small portions. Their horror of McDonalds includes a horror of so much food in just one course and eaten so rapidly.

Yet French Cooking in Ten Minues is an amazingly modern book full of simple but elegant menus and dishes. The recipes for 10-minute soup sound wonderful and imaginative. Pomiane's tips for purchasing unprocessed food that can be ready quickly are impressive. The organization of the cook's time is an essential component of the method, and it sounds highly effective. Pomiane, by profession a medical research doctor, wrote many books and also had a radio cooking show, and was a well-known personality in his era. It's a great pleasure to read and think about the fundamentals of really good food -- that haven't changed.

Will I cook some of the recipes? Yes, I think I'll try them, though I'm not sure I'll do an entire menu. I have a gas stove, though I expect it would fill the entire kitchen of Pomiane's expected cook. He mentioned having two burners: here in my temporary wonderful kitchen I have six. I remember those chilly, tiny, workspace-less French kitchens in which heavenly food could be made.

A couple of articles on the web provide much more Pomianiana -- one by Julian Barnes, a fascinating author, appeared in The Guardian, and another appeared in eGullet, both a few years ago.

1 comment:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Love this! I don't think many of us have learned how to slow down and enjoy modern life. I have now added this book to my list.