Saturday, June 07, 2014

Becoming a Cookbook Author

"Looking back to the earliest days of my youth, I remember the chestnut sellers at the corners of the Paris streets, close to the wine shops at the onset of winter. 
"'Hot chestnuts! Hot chestnuts!' cried the Auvergnat with the fur cap as we passed in groups on the way to school, and later to the lycée. The richest among us bought a sou's worth -- in those days, seven chestnuts -- and, when it was very cold he lent a couple to one or two of his comrades, who put a chestnut in each pocket to warm their hands. On arriving at school we gave them back to the 'rich' boy. We had benefited a little from his opulence, and we didn't resent it. In those days humanity was perhaps, in some ways, better than now." -- a memory from Cooking with Pomiane, page 177

At the start of World War I, a medical researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Paris named Edouard Pozerski took leave from his research to be a military doctor, working in an ambulance company that treated front-line troops. In the course of his duties, he saw many young men who were poorly nourished. When he returned to his research in 1918, he also began to expand his professional interest in the chemistry of digestion with an interest in cooking. His scientific career is summarized in a biographic sketch published by the Institut Pasteur.

Under his alternate family name, Edouard de Pomiane, in 1922, he published a cookbook based on his expanded interest. In writing, he developed and shared his perception of the information home cooks needed to make themselves and their families better nourished. The preface to this book, Bien Manger pour Bien Vivre (Eat well to Live Well), was by Ali Bab, pen name of Henri Babinski, also a Polish-Frenchman and author of an earlier successful cookbook.

In 1923, Pomiane began to broadcast a weekly radio show about food and nutrition. Radio was very new, and the process of broadcasting regular programming was just becoming established. Pomiane's show became very popular. From this point he became a well-known personality and expert in cooking -- an accomplishment added to his prestige after more than 20 years as a scientist at a major research laboratory.

Each week docteur de Pomiane, as he was known, discussed a single topic from his many interests. The science of cooking which he called gastrotechnie was an important part of his material: he included what he knew about the process of cooking and tried to show how to apply this science for better results in the kitchen. He suggested menus for good health and digestion. He talked about economies in the kitchen -- how his listeners could save money without giving up nutritional value; for example he pointed out how much less expensive fish was compared to meat. That's not at all true any more, is it?

Sometimes he described his life as a boy in Montmartre, as in the example at the top of this post. And he gave recipes for a wide variety of dishes. Transcripts of his radio presentations were collected in two volumes called Radio Cuisine, published in 1933 and 1936. These transcripts were also used by the compilers of Cooking with Pomiane, a translation that's still in print.

In his broadcasts he described various aspects of his background as a Polish-Frenchman. Edouard Pozerski de Pomiane was born in Paris on April 20, 1875, and he grew up in Montmartre, then a poor neighborhood. His parents belonged to a community of Polish expatriates, many of whom had, like them, fled from Poland because they had been involved in its struggles for independence, especially in the large uprising of 1863. His mother's cooking was an influence on him: she often cooked Sunday dinner for groups of these friends -- dinners that included many Polish dishes.

Both French and Polish traditions contributed to his repertoire, along with recipes collected from his travels. He gave recipes for dishes such as pierogi and borscht; his methods of cooking vegetables come from both French and Eastern European traditions. Sometimes he made comparisons: for example, in one episode transcribed in Radio Cuisine, he describes a very elaborate preparation for fois gras. The recipe used a 900 gram whole fattened goose liver. I'm sure  his listeners were thinking just as I did when I read this: who could afford such a luxurious piece of meat? Fois gras has always been expensive: today in France 900 grams of it would cost upwards of 160 euros/$225. However, after describing the preparation, he proceeds to explain that as an alternative, one could make a delicious but much less costly Polish-style dish from pork liver, as his mother did in the old days when they lived on his beloved Butte Montmartre. (Radio Cuisine, pages 202-204)

In 1921, Pomiane began to teach at l'Institut scientifique d'hygiène alimentaire as well as continuing his medical research at Institut Pasteur. During the 1920s his work, both technical and popular, was prolific. His cookbook publisher was the prestigious Albin Michel.

As well as his first cookbook, Bien manger pour bien vivre, essai de gastronomie théorique, in 1922 he published a technical work titled Hygiène alimentaire, under the name Pozerski. In 1924 he published Le Code de la Bonne Chere, translated in 1932 as Good Fare -- dust jacket of the translation is shown at left. In it he presented his ideas on scientific cooking and how to plan meals for better health, as well as a large collection of recipes.

Pomiane also became a sort of ethnologist: he was interested in the cooking of the Jews he met or saw in Paris. On trips to Poland after World War I he made many observations of the customs and foodways of Jewish communities in Warsaw, Cracow, and other Polish cities in Poland, which had finally become an independent country after 1918. He published a book on Jewish cooking titled Cuisine Juive: Ghettos Modernes in 1929 (translated in 1975 as The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes). I wrote about it here.

By 1927, Pomiane was widely recognized as an authority on cooking, as reflected in a contest where 5000 chefs and gourmets voted to choose the "Prince of Gastronomes." Pomiane was a runner-up in this competition, along with the famous chef Escoffier. The winner was the cookbook and guidebook writer: Curnonsky. (Though he sounds like another Polish immigrant, Curnonsky was pseudonym of Frenchman Maurice Edmond Sailland).

Pomiane published his most lastingly popular book, La Cuisine en Dix Minutes, or Cooking in Ten Minutes, in 1930, and continued publishing throughout his life. Today, I've tried to show how he emerged as a cookbook author. If you follow this blog you know that I'm reading quite a lot about him, including trying out recipes from several of the originals and translations of his cookbooks. I'll be continuing to explore his career and accomplishments in later posts.

Edouard de Pomiane (1875-1964)
Photo from 1961; published in the Guardian article in 2010 naming
Cooking in Ten Minutes one of the 50 best cookbooks of all time.


Jens Zorn said...

Thanks for this historical note ... interesting also to those (like myself) whose cooking is limited to hot, simple breakfasts...

~~louise~~ said...

What a wonderful read on a cloudy, lazy Sunday afternoon. Simply fascinating Mae. Pomiane sounds like quite the fellow and a notable contributor to the culinary world.

Thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm and findings Mae. I really enjoyed this post:)