A Few Marrons Glacés for the Season … A Gift for You

Photo credit: Robyn Lee

Photo credit: Robyn Lee

A while ago, I promised you a short list of facsimile/translated French cookbooks. The following list represents a number of old French-language cookbooks translated into English that you’ll find freely available on the Internet, something quite helpful when you’ve dropped your last holiday dollar on the fixings for Beef Wellington and a gilty box of exquisite marrons glacés.

But I don’t need that box of candied sweetmeats; the words of people long dead taste better than any marrons glacés, at least to me. Those medieval writers still surprise me with their frankness, their comments on the human foibles going on around them, and their obsessive seriousness. They pass on wisdom distilled –  like fine perfume- from a past I will never know. And in some cases, they themselves knew not the past firsthand from which their recipes came.

Yet, when I read the words of these cooks – and they all seemed to know that crucial something that only comes from having cut their fingers and singed their eyebrows over flames that must have seemed like the Church’s stories of Hell  - I feel the ongoing need  to get up, to feed, to nourish people. The act of cooking for others in many ways is something that has never changed. These old cookbooks don’t just tell me what ingredients existed or hint at cultural migration: they say very emphatically, if only between the lines, that hunger existed out there, beyond the smoky hearth, the cold slipping in as the kitchen slavey trudged by with an armful of dry wood, the bark scratching his face as he dumped the load near the cook’s feet.

So here are marrons glacés that are not really marrons glacés, but should be wrapped nonetheless in gold paper and tied with a thick glossy ribbon. If nothing else, these petits mots remind me just how fleeting fads can be, even in food.

1300:

Enseignements qui enseingnent à apareillier toutes manieres de viandes
Text version
Translation © 2005 Daniel Myers Based on transcription by Thomas Gloning

[19-29]
Other parts of fresh pork, in winter and in summer, with green sauce, without garlic, of pepper and ginger and parsley and sage, tempered with verjuice or vinegar or good wine; And if it is salted, with mustard. The four feet and the ears and the jowls with parsley and spices, tempered with vinegar. The offal of pork is good roasted with garlic or with verjuice. The spleen in brouet in pieces, with a little water in a pan, and then when it is cooked, pour off the water and keep it; then take the liver and bread and pepper and spices and grind them together without toasting the bread, and temper with the water it cooked in, then serve all in the manner that I have said to you, and take vinegar and mix with, the toasted bread well ground in a mortar.

18th-century staircase, Paris (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

1350:

Le Viandier de Taillevent
Translation by James Prescott; transcription by Thomas Gloning of Vatican document

4. Mutton haricot.

Take raw mutton, cut it into small pieces, and fry it lightly in lard with some finely chopped onions. Steep it in beef broth, add some wine, verjuice, mace, hyssop and sage, and boil well together.

5. Larded boiled meat.

Take your meat (understand that it is my meat or my venison), lard it, put it to cook in water or wine, and add only some mace (with some saffron if you wish).

6. Fresh wildred deerand roe deer venison.

Parboil it, lard it all over, add some mace and plenty of wine, cook it well, and eat it with Cameline [Sauce]. Or, put it in a pie, parboiled and larded, and eat it with Cameline [Sauce].

7. Boar venison.

Cook it in wine and water. Eat it (if fresh) with Cameline [Sauce] and Sour Pepper [Sauce], and (if salted) with Mustard [Sauce].

8. Capons or veal with herbs.

Cook them in water, pork fat, parsley, sage, hyssop, costmary, wine, verjuice, saffron and ginger, as you wish.

1393:

Le menagier de Paris
Translation by Janet Hinson

VIII. Another Meat Dinner.

First dish. Coarse meat, rich pasties, beef-marrow fritters, meat broth, smoked eels, loach in water, saltwater fish and cold sage soup.

Second dish. Roast the best that you can, freshwater fish, a slab of beef, bacon gruel with chervil [or with kid (JH)], capon pies, thin pancakes, pies of bream and eel and fricassee.

Third dish. Frumenty, venison, browned [vegetables], lampreys in a hot sauce, fried bread slices and meat tarts, roast bream, gruel with verjuice, sturgeon and jelly.

Stained glass, Cluny Museum (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)


1420:

Du fait de Cuisine de maitre Chiquart
Translation by Elizabeth Cook

And the peacock which is mentioned above, which by the advice of me, Chyquart, is the result of artifice, take it and clean it very well and then dry it well and properly, and spit it and put it to roast; and when it is nearly roasted stud it with good whole cloves well and properly; and if the surface is spoiled put it to roast again. And then let your lord know about your trick with the peacock and he can then arrange for what he wants done.

11. And to give understanding to him who will make the sauce which goes with the peacock, of what and how it will be made: let him take the liver of the peacock and some capon liver and wash and clean them very well, and then put them on a spit and put them to roast over the coals; and let him take bread and roast it on the grill well and properly so that it is well browned, and then put it to soak with the best claret wine which he can obtain and a little vinegar; and then take the said livers and bray them very well in a mortar, and then afterward take your bread and bray it with them. And then take your spices, that is white ginger, cinnamon, grains of paradise, and a little of cloves and nutmeg, and put it all together, and moisten it with wine and a little vinegar; and be careful that there is not too much. Then put it to boil in a fair pot and put in sugar in proportion, and taste that it does not have too much of anything, neither salt, spices, vinegar nor sugar, so that it is sweet and sour. And then serve it where the peacock will be eaten.

1466:

Le recueil de Riom
Translated and transcribed by Jennifer Soucy

Ung grané d’alouestez et qu’ellez soient ung pou refaictez en leau chaude et misez en ung beau chauderon, et du veau, et du saing de lart avec. Et frire sur charbon tout ensemble, et prandre du pain, et asler sur le grilh tant quil soit assez brun, et mectre tremper ou bon bouillon de beuf et en vin et dez foyez de poullalhe, et color et une estamine. Et le grain qui sera avec gecter dedans ug chauderon tout ensemble pour fere boullir et, quant il sera assez boulli, que on preigne lez espices. Et, quanit il seront broyees, destraper de verjust et gecter dedans. Et y fault graine, giroffle, gingembre et fleur de cannel qui en poura finer ou de la melleur canella qu’il pourra finer.

A gravy of birds and they are blanched a little in hot water and put in a good pot, with veal and lard/drippings. And fry together on the coals, and take bread and roast it on the grill until it is rather brown, and put it to soak with beef broth, and with wine and the livers of chicken, and strain it through a strainer. And the meat is cast in together into a pot with everything for boiling, and when it is boiled enough, one takes the spices. And, when they are crushed, infuse in verjuice and cast thereto. There must be grains of paradise, clove, ginger and cinnamon buds if it can be found or the best cinnamon one can find.

Needle cypresses , Aix-en-Provence (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)


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