Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Friday, June 22, 2007

What we talk about when we talk about food (II)

As I was saying... this is where Kamman comes in. Her recipes are possible without multiple drum sieves, endless clarifying, or stone hearths. And while you certainly can clarify your stocks, she does not call for three different kinds of skimming (that's écumer, dégrassier, and dépoullier to you). Hers, in short, is home cooking. Olney's is cooking for show; even reading a menu of crudites, shrimp quiche, chicken in red wine, steamed potatoes, wild green salad, cheeses, and flamri with raspberry sauce ( a fruit dessert with semolina) is exhausting. I can't imagine actually preparing it. Or, for that matter, consuming so many items in one sitting. Let's not even discuss the four wines (!) called for.

I suppose this makes me a lightweight after all. A girl who doesn't grill.

Incidentally, Olney and Kamman met is Kamman in When French Women Cook:

"A few years back I was intriuged by a course offered by Richard Olney in Avignon. I decided to join him on a culinary investigation of Provence. Richard's 'frenchization' proved to be about as successful as my americanization, but I shall be forever grateful to him for introducing me to...Magaly Fabre." (310)

Well, ahem.

Further proof of their disparity (if it's still needed) rests in the traditional trou normand, the practice of taking a shot of Calvados midway through a meal. Calvados is apple brandy, and excellent for what ails you. Kamman, writing of family friend Henriette's cooking:

"Then came the first trou Normand; a nice solid shot of Calvados smack in the middle of the meal, to reopen the stomach to more of that silky-tasting Normand food...Not only were stomachs reopened, but dispositions lifted...Munich, Hitler, and Chamberlain were altogether forgotten, and strength was unknowingly gathered for the war that was to come." (102)

Olney on the same subject, as it relates to the Provençal treatment of a spring vegetable stew:

"...unattended by meat, the palate not distracted by unrelated sauces, their purity and fragrance is thrown into relief...the course is an automatic relaxation point in a meal (perhaps more attractive to many modern-day gourmets than the archaic mid-menu sherbet or the somewhat barbaric trou normand, a straight shot of powerful Calvados thrown down halfway through a meal.) (291)

Hmph. Who would you rather eat with?

This isn't to say Olney's book is bad. It isn't. The French Menu Cookbook is well-written, researched, and entertaining reading. (Mousseline forcemeats! Marsh rabbit! (Muskrat) Fish terrines!) But its strict, almost condescending tone can be off-putting; Olney refers numerous times to the "housewives" he assumed were his audience. The sexual revolution was in full swing when this book appeared in 1970. Further, there is little room for improvisation. If you lack gray shallots, veal sweetbreads, or sheep's brains, forget it. It isn't the kind of book that will send you running eagerly into the kitchen, though it may have you reaching for the Calvados.

Madeleine Kamman. When French Women Cook. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. 1976, 2002.

Richard Olney. The French Menu Cookbook. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. 1970, 2002.


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