30 May 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 15

An excess of crêpes?



Jeanne is ill. — Tea. — Herbal teas. — Cooking for sick people.

My little sister suffered all last night. For my part, I was stunned by that, but Maman wasn’t surprised by it. Why? Because she had noticed that Jeanne had eaten a bit too greedily yesterday evening and that she had eaten too many crêpes. Now, crêpes are heavy, difficult to digest, and it’s necessary, said my mother, never to eat one’s full of them, if one doesn’t want to feel bad.

Despite my mother’s observations, Jeanne ate too many helpings; that is why she was ill. Today, she feels better, but she will not eat anything and will drink tea from time to time, until her stomach is completely back to normal.

It was I who made the tea. Maman serves only black tea, since green tea acts too forcefully on the nervous system. However, she said to me, one prepares good mixtures of green tea and black tea, that one uses especially in order to make a nice beverage, instead of an herbal tea.

Nowadays, I know how to make tea; but I recall that last year I prepared some for the first time, and the result was atrocious. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Imagine, I put the tea into a small saucepan full of water, and I left it to boil for at least half an hour. When I brought this beverage to my mother, who had asked me for it, she cried out, “What on earth is this, Grand Dieu?”

“It’s tea,” I replied.

“Tea? This brownish brew, with its strong odor and bitter flavor? … How did you make it, then?”

I explained to my mother how I had gone about it.

“I understand,” she said, “why you did not succeed. Come back with me to the kitchen, I am going to show you how one prepares it.” So she taught me the good recipe that I haven’t at all forgotten, I assure you. Here is how I go about it now:

First, I pour some boiling water into the teapot in order to heat it, then I throw out this water. Then I place the tea leaves in the teapot, in the proportion of half a coffee spoon per cup, approximately. Then I pour into the teapot a half-cup of fully boiling water, I seal the teapot and I let it rest this way for several minutes. At the end of this time, I finish adding the necessary quantity of boiling water.

The French can be as fussy as the English
about their tea. Maybe fussier.
(This is Mariage Frères, the most chic tea merchants’ shop in Paris.)

The tea that I obtain by this process is a golden yellow, it has a nice flavor and a delicate taste.

“Yes,” you are thinking, “Madeleine knows how to make tea, but does she know how to make all kinds of herbal teas [tisanes]?”

I swear that, as recently as yesterday, I would have answered you no; but, just a while ago, while I was in the kitchen, Maman came to my side and I profited from her presence by asking, in another form, this very question: “Maman, how does one make herbal tea?”

A lime-tree in bloom: Not the citrus tree.
(You may know it better by its German name, Linden.)

“My dear child,” my mother said to me, “all herbal teas are not made in the same manner. Of which kind do you wish to speak?”

“But — of all kinds, Maman. Since I perceive today that, if it is quite useful to know how to cook for people who are in good health, it is no less necessary to know what to do for those who are ill.”

“You are right,” said my mother. “Well, then, voilà: you know how to make tea?”

“Yes, Maman.”

“Well, the herbal teas of lime-blossom [Fr: tilleul], of marsh-mallow blossoms [Fr: guimauve,], of quatre fleurs [marsh-mallow, violet, poppy, and borago], violet, of borago [Fr: borrache], of elder blossoms [Fr: sureau] are prepared in the same manner as tea, because these are flowers or leaves that one uses in an infusion.

Marsh-mallow. No, honestly.
Anyone want S’more tea?

“On the contrary, if it has to do with the root of marsh-mallow, of couch-grass [Fr: chiendent], of seeds of flax or of barley and, in general, of any pieces of stem or of seeds, are brewed, that is to say that one puts these products in water and one lets them boil for at least one hour. You understand, in effect, that the juice of flowers or of leaves is more rapidly extracted than that of stems or seeds, because the flowers or the leaves are more tender and are more quickly penetrated by water than are the stems or the seeds.”

“I understand very well,” I said, “and you will see, Maman, that when the opportunity comes, I shall make use of your good advice.”

“I am quite eager,” my mother went on, “to take advantage of this circumstance by telling you also how one makes a poultice [Fr: cataplasme], a mustard poultice [Fr: sinapisme]. That’s also part of cooking for the sick.”

The easy way out: Madeleine could very well have gone
to the pharmacy to buy a packet such as this one.

“I shall listen to you willingly, Maman.”

“Well, here is how you make a poultice: start with boiling water, rapidly boiling water. On the side, put flax flour in a shallow dish and, on a plate, set out a big piece of muslin. This being prepared, pour a bit of the boiling water onto the flour in the dish, while beating it with a fork at the same time, as if you were making an omelette. The flour begins to thicken, absorbing the water. Add a little more water and continue to beat until you obtain a somewhat light-colored paste. Pour this while it’s still hot onto the muslin that you have spread out over the plate. Carefully fold the material on all sides, and the poultice is made.

“If you want to make a mustard poultice, you proceed in the same manner, but using mustard-flour, which you dilute with cold water, since mustard-flour loses some of its stimulating properties in the presence of hot water.”

“Maman,” I said while nodding my head, “I believe that I have understood very well, but I have the idea that this is something that one can’t really know how to do unless one has tried it.”

This tin of mustard-flour is probably very like what Madeleine kept in her cupboard.

“That is also what I think,” said my mother, “that whether it has to do with caring for sick people or preparing good food, it’s always the same thing: habit and experience are the best teachers…. That does not mean,” added my mother with a smile, “that one should disdain advice, recipes, information. One is so lucky to find them in one’s memory when one has the opportunity to apply them!”


[To copy and to keep]

1. When a person in my family is ill, I shall offer my services to care for her, since I am young and strong and I know how to prepare the principal herbal teas.

2. I shall recall that tea should steep and not boil in water, and that it should be prepared with boiling water in a teapot heated in advance.

3. I shall remember that the tisanes that should steep are: tea, lime-blossom, violet, borage, marsh-mallow, quatre fleurs, etc. …, in general, all those that are made with the flower or the leaf of the plant.

4. I will make a brew when it has to do with a tisane prepared with hard substances, such as wood, bark or the seeds of plants.

5. A flax-flour poultice should be beaten with boiling water and should not be cooked over the fire, in the saucepan.

Borage: Very niiiice!

Next time: Madeleine heads for the countryside!

No comments: