A few days ago, I thumbed through the brand-new, hot-off-the-press version of Larousse Gastronomique. You know, Julia Child’s bedtime reading. At least according to the movie, “Julie & Julia.” After all, Julia once remarked that, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”
First written in French by Prosper Montagné in 1938, it wasn’t until 1961 that English speakers could savor Larousse, edited by Charlotte Turgeon and Nina Froud. Since then, two other editions, both edited by Jenifer Harvey Lang, have appeared. The latest edition, curated by a committee headed by French chef, Joël Robuchon, features 3800 recipes, and covers terms ranging from Abaisse to Zuppa Inglese.
At first glance, the new edition also looks extremely sterile, starting with the stark minimalism of the cover with just a small red saucepan providing a speck of eye candy.
It occurred to me that perhaps one way to assess the newest edition of Larousse would be to pick one entry, and examine the changes over the years, if any, made in the text for that entry.* Since the entry for eggs ran for a whopping 26 pages in the 1961 English edition, versus 7 pages and 8 pages in the 1988 and 2009 editions respectively, a look at entries for “Egg” or “Eggs” seemed a logical, if somewhat biased, choice.
All three editions start out by presenting the basic methods for preparing eggs.
The 1961 edition states that “the basic methods of cooking them (eggs) are few.” Printed in bold over the first page and a half of the entry, detail about each of these methods appears: Hard-boiled eggs; Soft-boiled eggs; Eggs en cocotte, cassolettes ou caisettes; Eggs à la coque; Fried eggs; Eggs in a mould; Omelettes; Poached eggs; Scrambled eggs; Eggs sur le plat or shirred eggs. At one point, the text admonishes the reader, when making an omelette, “Finally, have confidence in yourself.” The appropriate cooking method turns up in parentheses after each of the recipe titles — alphabetized — on the following pages. This arrangement places the reader in the uncomfortable position of not being able to easily visualize and group the various recipes according to cooking method. Black and while drawings and photographs liven up the text somewhat, as do a few color plates interspersed between various pages in no particular order, in the style of that time.
The 1988 edition lists the following as the basic methods, gathering the information more clearly for the reader:
Eggs en cocotte (baked in the oven in small dishes, usually in a bain marie or water bath)
Eggs à la coque (boiled)
Eggs sur le plat (or shirred)
And the editor arranged the recipes following this list by cooking method. Although the 1988 edition reduced the total number of pages devoted to eggs per se, at the end of each cooking method section, a “See” reference directs the reader to other recipes using the same cooking techniques.
The newest edition, October 2009, reflects nearly the same format as the 1988 edition, but without the color illustrations. In fact, the book is very sparsely illustrated. Various entries, including eggs, merit some color plates. In the case of eggs, a portion of the first page portrays the different types of eggs that humans commonly consumed, from chicken to ostrich. Otherwise it resembles an Easter egg hunt in the snow — bright streaks of color provide occasional relief from the vast whiteness of the pages.
Parmentier Eggs II (Oeufs Parmentier) caught my eye as I thumbed my way through the 1961 edition.
Butter the egg dish and line with diced potatoes fried in butter. Break the eggs into the dish, surround with a ring of cream and cook in the oven.
In the 1988 edition, the recipe reads as follows:
Eggs sur le plat Parmentier (Oeufs sur le plat Parmentier):
Line some small buttered dishes with diced potatoes fried in butter. Break 2 eggs into each dish and cook in the usual way (see egg).
The 2009 edition changed one word from the 1988 edition:
Line some small buttered dishes with diced potatoes fried lightly in butter. Break 2 eggs into each dish and cook in the usual way (see egg).
In none of the three editions I examined does the text mention cholesterol or the avoidance of eggs in the same sentence.
In a nod to the shrinking of the culinary globe, the new Larousse does include new material; for instance, the entry on Peru. But the entry on Africa perplexed me a bit: under “Africa,” the text reads “See Black Africa, North Africa, South Africa” …
In other words, Larousse still speaks a lot of French, but it’s becoming slightly, grudgingly more multilingual with each edition.
The conclusion? This little foray into the 2009 Larousse Gastronomique shows that, as far as eggs go, the 2009 edition might be said to be egging us on to pull out our wallets and fork out some green stuff.
*Note that I do not have a copy of the 2001 edition readily at hand.