Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Maira Kalman's Mother's Cookie Press

Illustration by Maira Kalman from New York Times article.
I enjoyed a recent article about an "installation" of Maira Kalman's mother's cookie press. I'm a big fan of her drawings and illustrations of her own stories; above is her picture of herself, her mother (who died in 2004 says the article), and the cookie press in use.

According to the article by Ligaya Mishan (published March 23) --
"The press, which belonged to her mother, Sara Berman ... is a sturdy thing among delicates, with a body like a biscuit tin’s, a fat column of aluminum that is colored muddy gold. The model is no longer produced, but it’s still coveted over today’s plastic versions. Fill it with dough, crank the lever, and the dough squeezes out the other side, through one of 16 metal stencils that make shapes like hearts, buttercups and inchoate mini-Bundt cakes."
As a great lover of the work of Maira Kalman, I wish I could make it to this little installation in a small gallery somewhere in New York, but I'm not planning any trips there now.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Frida and Diego

Self-portrait by Frida Kahlo,
shown in the exhibit.
This morning's activity was to see the Diego Rivera-Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. We're already great admirers of the Rivera murals, which he painted at the DIA in 1932-33. Edsel Ford paid him a considerable sum of money to paint the Garden Court of the museum. During his stay in the US, Rivera was accompanied by his wife, Frida Kahlo. Evidently, he considered these murals to be one of his finest works, if not the very best.

The special exhibit features quite a few paintings by both Rivera and Kalho, as well as film clips showing the two of them at the museum as he painted. Best of all were full-scale drawings and other preliminary works that he used in planning and executing the murals. Unfortunately no photography was permitted inside the exhibit.

From the Diego Rivera Murals

The theme of the Diego Rivera murals in the Garden Court of the DIA is Detroit Industry, with an emphasis on the workers. I find Rivera's skill and vision to be remarkable and penetrating, and the new visual information about how he worked only makes me admire him more.

Kalho was just beginning to find herself as a painter during this time, and in fact she completed only one painting while he worked. She also suffered the loss of a pregnancy, after which she was treated at Henry Ford Hospital. The exhibit included some paintings in which she dealt with that experience. These too were very interesting. This event clearly influenced Rivera, and the exhibit links to this experience the mysterious image of a human embryo embedded in plant roots, one of the dramatic images of the murals.

Baby in a plant bulb, Diego Rivera mural, DIA
Frida Kahlo, Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
Other than images symbolizing agriculture and peasant labor, Rivera's murals had no food themes. I was therefore surprised to find a large table of food items from Mexico in the gift shop at the exit from the exhibit. While I'm used to having gift shops attached to art shows, this one seemed particularly unrelated to the subject matter of the exhibit. True, there were many Frida Kahlo souvenirs, but most of the items for sale were nothing but Mexican curio shop items.

Mexican food items in the gift shop
Frida Kahlo shopping bag.
Frida Kahlo curio.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Clementine, once more

I've written twice about the mostly-forgotten food writer Clementine Paddleford. As I promised in those posts, I've bought a copy of her long-out-of-print cookbook How America Eats. I find it just as remarkable as her admirers claim. The book is almost 500 pages long, with several recipes per page.

Paddleford collected each recipe from a specific source: often a woman who was locally recognized as an excellent cook or a group of women; sometimes from chefs or other food professionals. In the book as in her newspaper columns that it was based on, she provided a story about the recipe, its author, and about foods that were popular in each city or area. Thus it's impossible to do justice to such a book! Here are a few example pages and quotes:

My newly acquired copy of the 1960 edition of How America Eats.
Dust jacket just a little worn.
Paddleford included a section on every state except Hawaii.
This is one of the illustrations for Alaska:
most of the black & white photos show important landmarks and scenery.
"Alaska -- Rosy the Dawn -- Rosy the Salmon" is the title of a section about Paddleford's "short course majoring in salmon in the Northwest." She wrote: "I followed salmon in their tearing hurry from river's mouth to spawning grounds, from river's mouth into nets, into boats; then to the canneries. ... By late August I was on intimate terms with the whole luscious pink-meated tribe from pale Coho to sister Silver, to big brother Chinook, King of the clan. I got chummy with light rosy Chum, so inexpensive, and met brilliant red Sockeye." (p. 433)

Paddleford visited Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, collecting recipes for the fish, crabs, and other seafood of the region.
The wives of the fishermen said they would freeze or can the catch: "it's fish for a year." She published their recipes for Moulded Salmon, "Salmon Box" (baked), Salmon Patties (from a can), Salmon Souffle, Baked Stuffed Salmon, and several crab recipes.

On a fishing boat, a 72-foot cannery tender, she tried sourdough pancakes prepared by Chef Phil Kerr. "Sourdough is a staple of the Far North," according to Phil, she wrote. "In the early days it was used throughout the Northwest and California, providing pancakes, biscuits, and other such products. This fermented dough came into use as a substitute for the fresh leavening in the pioneering days. A sourdough starter then was worth its weight  in gold to those who lived far from a trading post. In the Klondike the trappers and miners and prospectors were so dependent on this forever-keeping dough they became known as 'sourdoughs.'" (p. 439)

At the time that Paddleford published her book, sourdough wasn't well known as it is now. Similarly unfamiliar, I'm sure, were many other regional foods she described: foods with limited geographical availability; immigrants' foods; and specialties of diners, small restaurants, and home cooks throughout the country.

As my friends in the culinary book club pointed out, this comprehensive cookbook should serve as a reference to those who write American food history -- but I fear it will remain obscure!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chipotle Lunch

Chicken/carnitas, fajita veggies, white rice, lettuce, salsas, cheese.
I love their calorie calculator! Also like the food a lot.
560 calories each -- but I didn't quite eat the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous" by Joan Nathan

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous, Published 2010.
The title refers to three major types of Jewish cooking in France:
Quiche for traditional French food, Kugel for Eastern European
Jewish food, and Couscous for the cuisine of North African Jews.
When Joan Nathan's book on the food of the Jews of France was published, I was especially interested in her history of diverse Jewish communities in Paris, Alsace, and the South of France and how they got there. Their sufferings during World War II, as she related their stories, seemed very far away.

Very sadly, now when I think of Jewish food in France I think not only of the cuisines described in Joan Nathan's book, but also of the kosher supermarket in Paris where Jews were murdered in January, 2015 -- merely for being Jewish. Though the nightmare destructiveness of the Holocaust is not being repeated, I fear that the tragedy of European Jews is far from finished.

History can make me so sad. Nothing can make up for mass murders and other injustices that have occurred in the past. Nevertheless, I love Joan Nathan's culinary history of the many French-Jewish communities, which include:
  • European-French Jews who lived there as early as Roman times, especially those who lived in Alsace and Provence;
  • Sephardic Jews who came from Spain during centuries of persecution;
  • Eastern European Jews who came to Paris from Poland and other places in response to many persecutions in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as seeking a more prosperous life; and
  • North African Jews who were forced out of their long-term homelands by events in the 1950s and 1960s and have settled in many French cities.
Each group possessed distinctive cuisines. While preserving their traditions and religious laws regarding kosher foods, they often adopted French recipes and local ingredients as well. They also introduced some of their own recipes and preparations into French cuisine. Joan Nathan brings all these food ways to life with a variety of interviews, historic background, vivid photographs and art reproductions, and above all descriptions of French-Jewish bakeries, spice shops, groceries, butcher shops, wineries, farms, restaurants, and home kitchens.

Although I have owned this book for several years, I just finally decided to try some of the recipes, starting with this one: 

Cassolita: a Moroccan squash dish with caramelized onions -- trying it is an extension of my
current interest in Moroccan foods and spices.
My Cassolita in progress.
On the table, garnished with almonds and flat-leaf parsley and ready to eat with couscous (in covered dish).
Cookbook Wednesday, sponsored by Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations, is an inspiration for this post.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sriracha: the Old and the New

The old bottle with the rooster lasted us quite a while....
During the time we were enjoying it, Huy Fong Foods moved from Rosemead,
to Irwindale CA.
Last year it looked as if the feud between the makers of Sriracha -- not a trademarked name, but really the original is this one! -- and their neighbors might disrupt the supplies of this deservedly popular condiment. I was really glad when they settled their differences and future bottles of Sriracha are assured! I had to go to three stores to find the real deal, not an imitation.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Beginning of Spring

Google's collage for "spring images"
What my front yard actually looks like today!
Well, the snow is almost melted.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In Defense of Clementine Paddleford

A Gourmet cover from 1950
The other day I wrote about the book Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Foodwriter who Chronicled How America Ate, which was the selection for my culinary book club. Last night's discussion of the book was a lot of fun. We talked about the accomplishments of Paddleford, and about her reputation -- as emphasized in the book -- for using very flowery and over-the-top language.

Paddleford as
shown at the top
of her Gourmet
When I got home, I looked up her writings online, and found that quite a few of her columns, titled "Food Flashes" from Gourmet magazine were available in their archive. Note: others that used to be there have disappeared.

Each column in Gourmet included a series of descriptions of new food products -- both imports and local ones. Here are some quotes that I enjoyed, which I think illustrate what's fun and breezy not really so florid as all that.

From July, 1951:
"Mighty like a rose and it is rose, a rose-petal honey made by a recipe taken from the famous Martha Washington cookbook, the original copy now owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 
"Martha kept a stock of this honey on hand, and one garden of red roses was grown at Mount Vernon just for its making. 
"This pale honey of the delicate rose flavor is made almost exactly like that brewed by Martha. 
"The maker is Mrs. Abraham Elkon, a former food columnist for French and Canadian newspapers, who loves experimenting with food. While perusing the Martha Washington cookbook, she took a fancy to the honey recipe. 
"The honey is processed with rose petals, which are purchased in quantities, 'scummed' carefully, and allowed to cool slowly. In accordance with modern tastes, she has reduced the rose flavor slightly. For centuries after the Crusades, rose was one of the most popular flavors, Rose petals, rose crystals, rose waters, were a frequent addition to sauces and cakes. The ancestral palates were more used to this flavor than ours. Knowing this, Mrs. Elkon makes her honey most delicate of the rose, much less heavily scented than Martha turned out for George. But that flavor is 'something very special,' one taster wrote." (source)
From December, 1950:
"Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! Say it in Mexican, say it with tamales—four kinds of tamales, kit-packed, yours for gift-giving, to keep handy for those special occasions. 
"The tamale, did you know, is American in origin, the favorite food of the Aztecs? Long ago it went marching with Montezuma's troops, a sort of a K ration convenient to carry, something to eat hot or cold. 
"Tamales now, as then, vary in size and in content, but one general procedure is followed for all. A clean corn husk is opened and spread with a layer of soft-cooked masa, a mash made from corn and resembling corn bread. Over this goes a layer of chicken or beef or mashed dried fruits, and the husk is rolled. The husk performs the same function as a wax paper sandwich bag, enclosing and protecting the rolled sandwich." (source)
From December, 1944 -- wartime:
"Again Johnny Doughboy has first call on the drumsticks. When Thanksgiving Day dawns, the ambrosial odors of roasting turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy will rise from camp kitchens round the world. Less turkey for civilians, one-quarter pound less a person than we had last winter, when it was three pounds apiece. This year it will be half a drumstick less for the plate. But listen where the missing bit's going. Prisoners of war are to have turkey for Christmas dinner—last year it was chicken. 
"The cranberry crop is the shortest since 1921, or 53 million pounds, 16 million less than last season. At least a third of this will be going to the military. Oysters are on the skimpy side, but a few more than last autumn. There they lie in their beds, fat and willing, but there's not enough labor to tong and pack the crop. 
"Otherwise, the great-day feast is the usual bounty, war or no war. Pass the mashed potatoes piled in a high, light drift. Help yourself to yams candied in their own rich blood. There are large supplies of potatoes, both the white and the gold. No onion famine this winter —onion crops are breaking records. Mash the purple-tinted turnip. Serve the parsnip of sweet, earthy taste. Native squash is here to celebrate the day in proper manner. 
"Traditionalists insist that the Thanksgiving pie should be of three kinds, pumpkin, mince, and apple—a sliver of each. This year one pie is enough. 'What moistens the lips, what brightens the eye, what calls Kick the past like the rich pumpkin pie?' The pumpkin crop got hurt this fall by the drought in New Jersey and Maryland, where this native vegetable is grown by the hundreds of acres. Even so, there will be pumpkin enough to put a pie on every American table. Mincemeat is in better supply this year than for two holidays past. More apples, for one reason, plenty of raisins. And a line apple crop means a fine cider flow." (source)
Each column was several times as long as what I've quoted, but I think I've given a suggestion of her writing style. Despite the accusations of recent writers, I find this style very amusing. I think I can see how it attracted readers to her columns in the New York Herald Tribune, Gourmet, and other publications. It's dated, for sure, but I defend her against the most exaggerated criticisms!

I also read two articles about her: one from the New York Times about her personal papers that reside in the library at Kansas by R.W. Apple (2005), another from the Saturday Evening Post, "Clementine Paddleford: Her Passion is Food" (1949). And I've ordered a copy of her most important book, How America Eats (1960), which will arrive in the next few weeks. So I will have more to say eventually.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Cockentrice and Other Dishes for Fabulous Feasts

A Cockentrice roasting at Hampton Court Palace, from
an article in the Atlantic.
"Culinary spectacles were marvelous entertainment." writes Madeline Pelner Cosman in Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony. "The best medieval feasts united the sumptuous with shocking, 'unnatural,' and incredible events. Foods themselves were sculptures or games. Cooked peacocks were served resplendent in their iridescent feathers. Tethered live birds were baked into pies; the crust cut, they sang. Bestiary animals such as the Cockentrice were created by ingenious cooks sewing the uppers of a baked chicken with the nethers of a pig." (p. 31)

Philosophical and literary commenters condemned such frivolous foods as gluttony, expressing "noble disdain against 'apparalleling' food. Apparelling meant decorating to create an appearance or an illusion... 'pride of the table.' ... By pandering to their patrons insatiable desires for 'newfangledness,' cooks aroused 'newer appetites' ... These are the very delicacies lauded by the medieval banquet manuals recommending food painting, food sculpture, and illusion foods. Here condemned are the pastry and aspic designs, ... meat dishes such as the Yrchoun [fake hedgehog] and Cockentrice, and the 'musician pies' which presented live instrumentalists in pastry." (p. 123)

A modernized recipe for Cockentrice in Fabulous Feasts
Fabulous Feasts (published 1976) is a combination food history and cookbook, full of fascinating background like the information about the cockentrice, as well as reproductions of medieval and renaissance paintings and drawings of food, feasts, and farms. The text offers a lot of material on feasting customs and cuisine from that era in England, France, Italy, and Spain. It also describes what Geoffrey Chaucer might have eaten and how he and his wife might have shopped for food in London. A recipe section provides modernized recipes for your feasts.

A few interesting illustrations:
Herring fishermen packing their catch for shipment: from "Album
of the Prague New Town Herring Market," 1619, Fabulous Feasts p. 80
In the courtly kitchen, Augsburg, Germany, 1507,
Fabulous Feasts p. 62
List of Recipes from Fabulous Feasts
This post is for Cookbook Wednesday, sponsored by Months of Edible Celebrations. I have several other historic cookbooks on my list for future Cookbook Wednesdays. And I've done other posts on medieval and renaissance foods: "A Dirty Business," "Pizza for the Pope," "Italy: Ancient, Renaissance, and Modern Cookbooks," "What did Shakespeare eat?" "My imaginary kitchen in Medieval England," and "Mona Lisa by Request."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Ancient Dolmen at the Burren near Galway, 2005
Thinking of Ireland and food, I can't help remembering the terrible Irish crop failure and famine in the 19th century that drove more than half the population to emigrate, mainly coming here to the US. Consequently, I'm remembering the important contributions of Irish-Americans like President Kennedy.

More cheerfully, for this holiday I've chosen a few photos of Ireland, mainly food, from our visits to Arny and Tracy when they lived there. There's much more good food in Ireland than we know about over here.

Cooking in Arny and Tracy's kitchen, Galway, Ireland, 2011

Lunch at Monk's Pub, Ballyvaughn Ireland  
Opening an oyster at Moran's Oyster Cottage at Coole near the estate made famous
by William Butler Yeats
Open-air market at Moycullen, a small town near Galway

At a restaurant near Galway, 2005 

Hearth inside Yeats's tower at Gort, from our visit in 2000.

Cooking hearth at the Rock of Cashel, from our visit in 2000.
The Rock of Cashel is also known as Saint Patrick's Rock.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Pie

Making pie dough in my very old Cuisinart food processor:
Top row: the dough ingredients spin around, then come together in a ball.
Bottom row: the venerable booklet from the manufacturer, with recipe,
my pie weights, and the pie shell just baked.
Yesterday, as promised, I made a pie for Pi Day. I decided to keep track of what I did in case I want to do it again. 

First, I made the pie shell, as illustrated above, in my shallow 10-inch pie plate. (The filling recipe would also be ok for a deeper 9-inch pie.)

Then I made the filling and completed the pie. I tried using the microwave to make the filling, and succeeded! Using the microwave requires one's undivided attention for around 10 minutes, but is otherwise much easier and quicker than using a saucepan and worrying that the filling will scorch on the bottom.

Pi-Day Pie

Lemon Pie Filling

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
grated zest of 2 organic lemons
3/4 cup sugar
9 tablespoons butter (1 stick + 1 tablespoon)
3 eggs
3 egg yolks

  1. Whisk the eggs and yolks until thick and homogeneous.
  2. In a 4 cup or larger heat-proof measuring cup or similar container place the lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and add to container. Microwave on 70% power for 2 minutes, repeating 2 or 3 times, stirring after each time, until the butter begins to melt. Stir mixture off heat until butter is entirely melted. 
  3. Whisk a small amount of the lemon mixture into the eggs to warm them. Gradually combine the two mixtures, whisking them together in the heat-proof container. Return container to the microwave oven and again heat on 70% power 2 minutes. Whisk mixture again. Repeat the 2 minutes of heating 2 or 3 times until the mixture becomes thick, whisking after each time. Watch the heating process very carefully so that the mixture does not boil over!
To finish the pie: Pour the lemon curd into a baked pie shell, smooth the top of the filling, and bake for 5 minutes in a 350º oven. Allow the pie to cool for a few hours so that you can cut it into firm slices.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pi Day: Once in 100 years

Let's Celebrate π!

Today is 3/14/15 and I've scheduled this post to appear at 9:26. That echoes the maximum number of digits I can use of π, the most famous irrational number: 3.1415926.... Blogger doesn't allow specification of seconds so I can't get two more digits. Every other year in the century, the digits of π are just echoed by 3/14, not the year. Pi Day is a recent invention so nobody celebrated on 3/14/1592 at 6:53 AM. There weren't very accurate clocks back then anyway.

I don't know if I will bake a pie later today, but that's what is traditional for Pi Day. After all, PIE is not only a homophone for PI but also, as everyone should know, π is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius, and a pie is circular of course. There are many ways to celebrate Pi Day, such as the 3.14 mile race in our town today, with pie served at the end. One participant in the race will be Riley McLincha, a Michigan native who was in the Guinness World Record Book in 1978 for memorizing 7,500 digits of Pi, according to the Ann Arbor News.

More mathematically: after 3.1415926535897, the digits of π go on indefinitelyπ is not just irrational (that means it's not able to be expressed as a fraction), but also transcendental (that means it's not "algebraic"). I mention this with apologies to readers among my friends and relatives who already know the math far better than I do. In an op ed in today's New York Times, Manil Suri points out:

"Pi, being the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is manifested all around us. For instance, the meandering length of a gently sloping river between source and mouth approaches, on average, pi times its straight-line distance. Pi reminds us that the universe is what it is, that it doesn’t subscribe to our ideas of mathematical convenience." 
Lots of people have tried to get their minds around the concept. To quote an article titled "The Secret Jewish History of Pi" from yesterday's Forward:
"In an episode of the original 'Star Trek,' Mr. Spock — played by the late, great Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy — commands an evil computer that has taken over the life support system of the Starship Enterprise to compute Pi to the last digit. Spock therefore outwitted the murderous cyborg, which wound up self-destructing, because, as Spock explained, 'the value of Pi is a transcendental figure without resolution.' ... 
The great Maimonides: “The ratio of the diameter of the circle and its circumference are unknown and can never be discussed with accuracy,” he wrote in the 12th century. 'This is not a lack of knowledge on our part, as the idiots think, but rather it is that by its nature this thing is unknown, and by virtue of its reality cannot be known, and it is not possible to speak of it … its actual value cannot be perceived.'”
And (with more apologies to those in the know) homophone or homonymn is the term for two words that sound alike but are spelled differently: like PI and PIE! 

Pi Day Pies from a google image screen capture.
Miriam's π Shirt and some Thanksgiving pies a few years ago.
Actually 22 July (22/7) is a better Pi Day on the other 99 years of the century, as well as being my birthday. I always felt kind of transcendental. Hope you eat some pie!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Clementine Paddleford

Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Foodwriter who Chronicled How America Ate (2008) is a mildly interesting book, but most of what it has to say is embodied in the title. The authors, Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris, delved into a vast archive of material about the journalist Clementine Paddleford.

Paddleford was born in Kansas in 1898, attended journalism school in Kansas, began her career in Chicago, and became highly successful writing a column called "How America Eats" for the New York Herald Tribune and its weekly magazine. She published a collection of her food and recipe columns under the same title in 1960. The authors believe that she developed many of the attitudes and appreciations of American food that have become standards since she invented them. She died in 1967.

Despite her accomplishments, her wide popularity, and her innovations in collecting recipes from home cooks throughout America, she and her work were quickly forgotten. The authors find this mysterious, speculating that the rise of Craig Claiborne and his quite different type of restaurant-centered food writing at the New York Times eclipsed Paddleford's work. The fact that the Herald Tribune went out of business while the New York Times grew in importance also contributed to her obscurity.

As do most biographies, Hometown Appetites covers the life of its subject in great detail, maybe a bit more than I wanted to know. Paddleford's interesting style of dress is repeatedly mentioned: she wore flowing clothes and wasn't conventionally glamourous. Her way of relating to her subjects is suggested to be very well adapted to drawing them out, but not in much specific or vivid detail. One intriguing fact is that she piloted her own plane to get around the country, but there's almost no specific information about her learning to fly or other detail that might have been fun to learn.

The authors describe Paddleford's writing style as breathless and overblown, but somehow their own prose frequently seems to suffer from the same problem. Here's a sentence the authors wrote about Paddleford's college experience to ponder: "The new editor wasn't just blowing smoke, though -- she had really earned her chops." (p. 33)

Here's another example: "She was bursting with intimate memories of the pleasure of eating: the thrill of a cool glass of tart lemonade on a blisteringly hot day, and coming home from school to the warm yeasty smell of rolls. Like water flowing up in a well, Paddleford's memories of her family's meals bubbled up into her reporting. " (p. 67)

Paddleford also wrote columns about where to buy interesting foods and ingredients, especially in New York. She often relied on public relations staff from food producers, which is interesting, though the authors of the book don't explore how this may have affected her writing -- another intriguing subject they didn't quite address.

"How America Eats" sounds like a really interesting food column, as Paddleford was evidently a very skilled interviewer and wrote about interesting choices, including farmers and farm women, immigrants, city dwellers, food producers, and many other people all over America. I would like to take a look at the 1960 book eventually -- there are copies for sale online at not too terrible prices. It was updated in 2011 (after the biography was published), and the updated version is available in the local library, but I would prefer to see the original.

I'm looking forward to a discussion of this book at my culinary book club next week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Larousse Gastronomique

Since the Larousse is alphabetical, every
chapter has its own decorated letter.
The Larousse Gastronomique is an encyclopedic cookbook covering all things French or of interest to French cooks and gourmands. The author, Prosper Montagné (1865 – 1948), was a well-known chef and food writer. He was a friend and colleague of many great chefs of his era such as Escoffier, who wrote the book's introduction. Despite its great length and breadth of contents, Montagné completed it in just a few years' time, with an expert's help on the chemistry and nutritional areas.

The first American edition of the Larousse Gastronomique didn't appear until 1961 – the same year as the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et. al. While both books made a splash, only the Larousse made it onto the New York Times best seller list that year.

This tome was my very first cookbook, as a friend gave it to me as a wedding present. I found the recipes very challenging as they assume you know all the standard techniques and classic French sauces already. Though I had just been living in France for several months, I was quite a novice cook. I managed to make a few good dishes from the Larousse's sketchy recipes, and have occasionally tried some since as well. Luckily, soon afterwards I obtained my copy of Julia Child's book with its carefully explained methods, and have been using it ever since.

The main translator and editor of the English-language Larousse was Charlotte Snyder Turgeon (1912 – 2009), a food writer and book reviewer who had popularized French food for many years. Turgeon coincidentally went to college with Julia Child; they were lifelong friends.

Obviously, the translated version was an instant classic. Evidence for this: if you search the New York Times archive for "Larousse Gastronomique" you'll see dozens of references in food articles, wherever the author wanted an authoritative definition or description of a French standard ingredient or recipe. And in fact, relying on the Larousse as a reference source is what I've been doing all this time.

What's special about the Larousse Gastronomique?

Can you eat hermit crab? Yes, says Larousse!
How can I describe this very large book with well over 1000 pages, packed with alphabetical entries? Well, I thought I would concentrate on one letter, and I chose the letter H. Here are several examples:

Some entries are very brief: "Hedgehog, Hérisson – An insect-eating mammal, regarded by some people as very good to eat." That's all.

Some entries are unexpectedly detailed, such as Hermit-Crab which includes the image above, the French name, as do all entries; a description of the creature's behavior, taking over other animals' shells; and a quote from Alexander Dumas: "the Creator, who had started to dress him as a lobster, was disturbed, or became absent-minded in the middle of the job, and finished him dressed as a slug...." Finally, the entry states: "Hermit-crab can be cooked in the same way as shrimps..."

Some choices are unexpected: "Hippopotamus. – A large amphibious pachyderm whose flesh is much sought after for food by the African natives." Or the entries for Hippocras and Hydromel, the spiced wine or honey beverages from ancient and medieval times, for which there are historic quotations and recipes.

Some are unremarkable, such as the description of Horseradish, giving a description of the plant and a few recipes. Or Haddock, giving recipes for the fish and mentioning where it's popular.

Some are extraordinarily long, such as Hors-D'Oeuvre, which begins: "By definition these snacks are additional to the menu. They should therefore be light and very delicate...." This definition is followed by approximately 32 double-column pages of possible hot and cold hors-d'oeuvres. Recommendations include fourteen ways to serve anchovies; six ways to serve beets; many types of canapés; various egg, tomato, artichoke, and cucumber dishes; escabèche of various fishes; salad of ox tongue; timbales, tartlets, varéniki à la polonaise, and many other little pastries; and lots more ... you get the idea.

"There is clearly no volume in this country [the USA] that has done for the nation's kitchens what Larousse Gastronomique has done for the French," said Pierre Franey, New York Times food columnist in 1981. I don't think any competitors have been published since that time, either.

Besides the invaluable contents, the Larousse is full of beautiful illustrations. Unfortunately, time has somewhat faded the colors in my copy, but the black and white photos and line drawings are still exciting. For example, I love the many images of dishes made from eels, including one of coiled up eels on a platter!

Salade Niçoise: The Larousse recipe calls for anchovies but not tuna!
Later editions of the Larousse have added to the work and modernized the information. Florence Fabricant, reviewing the revised edition of 1984, translated into English in 1988, noted added entries for "banana split, kiwi, spring roll, food additives, microwave ovens, dietetic food and labeling." At the same time the 260 methods of preparing chicken included in the 1961 edition were reduced to a mere 85!

"If there is a culinary bible, it is Larousse Gastronomique," Fabricant said.

Dust jacket from the 1961 edition (the one I have). The dust jacket from my copy disintegrated years ago,
but the little shop called "Found" in Kerrytown Marketplace allowed me to photograph the copy they had for sale.
Aside: Found is a WONDERFUL little shop full of intriguing antiques and remade things.
I don't feel as if I need to obtain the latest edition of the Larousse Gastronomique. The one I have offers way more material than I can ever assimilate!

It's Cookbook Wednesday again at Months of Edible Celebrations, so I'm linking this post to that of Louise over there.

Monday, March 09, 2015

"Farenheit 451"

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury famously envisioned a future where mindless television and meaningless summaries replaced all of literature. In the society he portrayed, possession of books of any type was a crime punished by immediate death. To enforce this prohibition, firemen's hoses streamed kerosene to burn the books and their owners. Much has been written about the implications of this still-possible future.

Google image of many covers of Fahrenheit 451, a classic I've now finally read.
I did see the movie a long time ago, but don't remember it very well.

Like many readers since 1953 when this surprisingly short book was published, I felt the strength of Bradbury's insight about the potential for our civilization to attack itself. Finding parallels in our politics and culture isn't hard.

But I also found Bradbury's writing and imagery to be very interesting, particularly his use of aromas and smells to convey the experience of his central character, a fireman named Montag, who first burns books but then feels compelled to resist, rebel, and ultimately to save them.

Aromas of fruits and spices intensify Montag's moments of insight into who he is and what his fireman's activities imply. These aromas contrast with the smell of cigarettes that the firemen smoke. They contrast with his mechanically prepared breakfast: "Toast popped out of the silver toaster, was seized by a spidery metal hand that drenched it with melted butter." (p. 16) Above all, they contrast with the sickening smells of burning kerosene, burning paper, burning houses, burning flesh.

“Have you ever smelled old leaves? Don’t they smell like cinnamon? Here. Smell,” asks a young woman who first leads Montag to question his world.  “Why, yes, it is like cinnamon in a way,” he answers. (p. 27) "The faintest breath of fresh apricots and strawberries in the air ... quite impossible, so late in the year," had signaled her presence the first time he met her. (p. 4)

As Montag escapes from the tyranny of the fire department, he seeks and finds an old man who has preserved and hidden the content of old books: “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go,” the old man says. (p. 79)

Eventually, Montag becomes a wanted man, hunted by an infernal mechanical hound that can locate any prey, human or animal, by detecting its chemical makeup. The hound can identify any combination of ten thousand possible odors. As Montag flees the odor-sensing hound, he notices the "dry smell of hay blowing from some distant field" and imagines finding safety in "a cool glass of fresh milk, and a few apples and pears." (p. 140-141). Around him the atmosphere is full of spices and perfumes:
"A deer. He smelled the heavy musk like perfume mingled with blood and the gummed exhalation of the animal’s breath, all cardamom and moss and ragweed odor in this huge night where the trees ran at him, pulled away, ran, pulled away, to the pulse of the heart behind his eyes.  
"There must have been a billion leaves on the land; he waded in them, a dry river smelling of hot cloves and warm dust. And the other smells! There was a smell like a cut potato from all the land, raw and cold and white from having the moon on it most of the night. There was a smell like pickles from a bottle and a smell like parsley on the table at home. There was a faint yellow odor like mustard from a jar. There was a smell like carnations from the yard next door. He put down his hand and felt a weed rise up like a child brushing him. His fingers smelled of licorice." (p. 142)
Obviously, Bradbury uses a variety of images of fire and burning in the portrayal of Montag and his rebellion. I find Bradbury's more unexpected contrasts of appealing and repellent aromas and odors to be particularly effective in highlighting Montag's experience -- a remarkable choice for bringing this dystopian future vividly to the reader's imagination.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

That Artichoke Book

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I'm reading this book.
Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed our Culinary Consciousness by Joyce Goldstein is a very thorough look at California cuisine as it emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, and as it developed in the 1990s. I particularly wanted to read this book as counterweight to the overpowering presence of New York in many culinary books and articles that I've read. Emphasis on restaurants while ignoring home cooking sometimes bugs me, but it seemed natural here.

I enjoyed the first several chapters a lot. Goldstein's interviews with food personalities captured the sense of excitement and innovation she was describing. Restaurant owners and managers, cooks and chefs, restaurant designers and architects, farmers and foragers, food journalists and cookbook authors, American-born participants, immigrants from many other countries, trained food professionals, self-taught cooks -- so many people contributed to the development of new techniques, emphasis on fresh local ingredients, constantly changing menus, and many other innovations.

Goldstein provides a lot of information about the solid importance of women in the California culinary revolution. Her chapter on women and how they run restaurants and kitchens might be the most interesting one in the book. She particularly offers insights into women's distinctive, collaborative styles. In the Afterword she mentions that unfortunately women are again being shut out of leadership in the contemporary culinary world, especially as Food TV pushes everyone into silly and unproductive competitions. 

The predictable personalities appear here -- Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Mark Miller, et al. But a large numbers of others also received plenty of attention. I learned about Sally Schmitt, the actual founder of the French Laundry Restaurant in Napa Valley, for example, not just the more famous chef Thomas Keller who took it over later. The author's own restaurant was covered but without too much ego, to my surprise. Somehow her writing doesn't show excessive hero-worship or name-dropping, either.

Goldstein highlighted the differences among restaurant concepts in Berkeley, San Francisco, the Napa Valley, and Los Angeles: centers of the "revolution." The incorporation of ethnic foods from many cultures into the mainstream was another interesting topic. Facsimiles of daily menus from 20, 30, or 40 years ago were great for illustrating the concepts that she described. The old menus also support her idea that some of the innovative dishes became old-hat. You know, radicchio, arugula, golden beets, goat cheese, duck sausage. 

There's a lot to like in this book, even if like me, you haven't often eaten in revolutionary California restaurants. But unfortunately, after a while, I found the book a bit repetitive. OK, I scanned rather than carefully read the last half, which seemed to be going over the same ideas too many times.    

Friday, March 06, 2015


Artichokes make me think of both California and the south of France,
especially California. I was really happy to find a package of four reasonably
fresh ones at Trader Joe's this afternoon. I brought them home and steamed them. 
I put mayonnaise on two of them, and vinaigrette on the other two, ready to serve and eat.
I guess quite a lot of people remember eating their first artichoke,
either knowing or not knowing how to scrape the good part off the leaves with their front teeth.
I made a simple lettuce, cucumber, and grapefruit salad to go with them.
It just happens that the book I am reading has a big artichoke
on the cover, and is about California cuisine.