9 Sep 2009

Culinary Heritage - Mum (Part 1)

My mum embraced Mémé’s influence and the culinary heritage from their elders, and pushed the boundaries further. She happily cooks earthly no-nonsense northern specialities like Soupe à l’Oignon, Flamiche aux Poireaux (creamy leek pasty), beetroot-based entrées, endive gratins, Hachis Parmentier (French equivalent to cottage pie), Tarte au Sucre (sugar-topped brioche) and Tarte au Potiron (pumpkin flan tart).

She also beautifully pays homage to her southern origins with her Veau aux Olives (veal in a green olive sauce), Soupe au Pistou (basil soup), etc. Her skills extend to other French specialities, whether it be Cassoulet, Boeuf Mode (beef and carrot stew), Lapin à la Moutarde (rabbit), or Choucroute Garnie (sauerkraut). She has also conjured up more ambitious time-consuming recipes, from pâtés and terrines to salmon en croûte, Pièces Montées (tiered profiteroles) and - my personal favourite - the Paris-Brest (choux pastry gâteau with a rich praline filling).

When over 20 years ago the family went through the credit crunch, mum bravely purchased a potato recipe book and vowed to cook a different potato recipe for each day of the week! The prospect might have deterred a few cooks, but not my mum who still managed to keep the menu exciting and that winter we went through two big sacks of potatoes from a neighbouring farm without feeling disadvantaged or impoverished in any way! Potato casseroles, Gratin Dauphinoise, Pommes Lyonnaises, stuffed potatoes served in a homemade tomato sauce, röstis, creamy mash, hot potato salads: variety was definitely the order of the day despite the humble spud as its common denominator!

Mum is more than a cook, she’s an ambitious cook and deserves a rosette for catering for family reunions in excess of 25 guests, christenings, communions, engagement parties, birthdays etc, all by herself (without losing too much composure!). Not many home (i.e. non-professional) cooks would be able to claim such an achievement, and Come Dine With Me (TV cookery challenge) should probably present itself as a leisurely doddle to her!

Her flair and savoir-faire span from the kitchen worktop to the dining table, way before table accessorising had become fashionable: from floating candles, personalised placemats, individual orchid favours and fancily folded napkins, to special occasion tableware, without omitting the perfectly ironed tablecloths, most of them embroidered heirlooms passed down from generation to the next, which would inevitably be stained with red wine or chocolate sauce by some clumsy guest, but which she would deal with a smile. My mum the ambitious cook, is also the table designer and hostess, handling a conversation and making sure everyone is enjoying themselves while effortlessly juggling with dishes. All of these put together define the Art of Entertaining. (to be continued)

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