5 Oct 2010

A Vintage Provençal Cookbook (Part 2)

The next chapters cover sauces, stuffings, pasta and risotto. Then meat is given pride of place, extensively and mostly presented as ragoûts (hotpots): beef (including 'beefteaks', pronounced 'beefteck'), mutton, veal and that appetising (not!) Soufflé de Cervelle (calf brain soufflé). More meat with lamb, pork, game, poultry and fowl, including an ominous Pigeon au Sang (pigeon in a blood jus).

Mediterranean vegetables (tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, artichokes and beans) are dedicated a whole chapter. We also get a flavour of those now-forgotten veg (salsifies and Jerusalem artichokes). The savoury section ends with a small collection of egg dishes, before we enter the oh-so-brief sugar-coated realm of pâtisserie, with the merit of timeless desserts, still made to this day: brioche, baba, soufflé, custards and creams, biscuits, macaroons, nougat, ice creams, mousses and meringue.

The author suggests menu ideas for special occasions and today's average 4-course menu doesn't even begin to compare. This actually brings back to mind Sue Perkins's informative BBC TV documentary about banquets, picnics and feasts of the past, where you needed a solid appetite matched by a solid stomach to erm stomach it... You also needed the services of a good cook or have the competence yourself in order to master those ambitious culinary feats.

All in all, La Cuisinière Provençale is an invaluable tool in cuisine history, giving us truthful foundations to the great regional cooking of Provence, away from the fantasist recipe adaptations that we have been bombarded with in the last decades: simplified ragoûts, cheats cassoulets, quick stews, pretend marinades, tinned fish soups, that have snatched us away from the authentic taste of tradition. This book, and similar ones, are a back-to-basics must for those of us who are serious about traditional cooking and the truth in general. Happy cooking everyone!

P.S: A quick online search reveals that La Cuisinière Provençale was updated and republished by Editions Solar (France, 1998, 383 pages) and also by P. Tacussel (France, 2006, 526 pages). Meanwhile I found out that the book's first edition dates back to 1897.

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