06 June 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 16



Madeleine departs for the countryside.

Yesterday, an important conversation between Maman and Tante Victoire. I was present, but I spoke hardly a word, since it was a question precisely of me and of my education as a homemaker.

It was a matter of finding out if I would go or if I would not go to the country to spend one month with Tante Victoire, who leaves tomorrow to complete her recovery [from the illness of which there has been so much discussion in this book]. As for me, I quite wanted to say yes, straight away. But, on the other hand, I know that my absence will cause Maman an increase in work, and I dared say nothing, torn as I was between the desire for change and the fear that my going away might cause my good mother some pain.

“Now look, my dear,” said Tante Victoire to Maman, “how fine this will be: Madeleine has never spent more than a few hours in the country. She knows nothing of the life one leads there, of the difficulties, of the worries or of the pleasures that one finds there. Who knows what the future holds for her? Perhaps she will be called to live there one day. Is it not worthwhile that, beginning now, and since she has found the opportunity, she get to know the fields and the rustic way of life? There, you know it, housewives do not live at all as they do in the cities; life there is easier, the cooking simpler and less costly. I shall teach Madeleine how one turns everything to good account, how one uses everything. We shall make confits [conserves] of goose and of duck, conserve of sorrel, pickles in vinegar, and many other things besides.”

“But,” said my mother, “this confounds all my plans. Imagine, Victoire, that I had thought to use these very days to teach Madeleine other things than cooking, to put it plainly. I wanted to get her to do all sorts of small cleaning jobs that she does not know how to do and which are quite useful: now my plans are upset.”

“No, no,” said Tante Victoire while smiling, “they are not at all upset, only it is I who shall be Madeleine’s teacher. Do you imagine that I have forgotten the good principles? That I no longer know how to scour saucepans, make the copperware and silver shine, clean the kitchen tiles or the pale wood of the buffet?

“I remember all of these things perfectly well, and if my little household — the very small household of an old maid! — does not continually require my care, that does not mean that I’m not capable of teaching all that must be done to keep a house in good order.”

“Pardon me, Victoire,” said my mother, “I did not mean that you would not do much better than I in this chapter as in the others. And in order to prove it to you, let me answer you oui straight away: Madeleine will follow you to the country.”

“Oh! Dear Maman,” I cried out, “how happy I am! How I thank you! But how will you get by in my absence?”

“Do not worry yourself about that,” said my mother. “Have I not your sister Jeanne? She is quite young yet, I know, and cannot be of very great service to me. But I shall take advantage of this circumstance to begin to train her for housekeeping. Decidedly all is for the best. Go, my darling, you will be able to leave without fear.”

And that is how and why I write these lines in haste, since I must pack my trunk, a serious matter for me who have hardly any experience. Tomorrow morning we shall depart at seven o’clock. At noon, we shall be at Valfleury and it is there that, for one month, I shall take my lessons in housekeeping and in cooking.


[To copy and to keep]

1. I shall cook a veal roast* in the same way as a beef roast, but I shall leave it on the fire merely twenty or twenty-five minutes per pound of meat.

2. When I prepare veal with gravy, I shall take care to leave it on the fire long enough that it be well cooked, since this meat is not good when it is rare. I shall remove it from the fire before it falls apart .

3. I shall recall that roasted leg of mutton and grilled cutlets should be cooked quickly and should be served rare.

4. If I have the opportunity to go to the country, I shall esteem myself quite lucky and I shall use my stay to learn a wealth of things relative to housekeeping and that I cannot learn in town.

Next time: Madeleine cleans up the French countryside! (Or tries to.)


Dishes prepared with veal and mutton.

105. Like beef, veal can be: 1) roasted; 2) grilled; 3) served with gravy or sauce; but it is rarely boiled, as one does for beef in a pot-au-feu, since veal makes only a very light broth.

106. Roasted veal is made with the loin, a piece from the area around the spine, or the chump, a piece from the thigh. Generally one ties up the piece to be roasted, because veal is a bit soft. Roast in the oven or on a spit in following the same steps as for roasted beef. Roasted veal should be cooked twenty to twenty-five minutes per pound.

107. Often we add to roasted veal whole potatoes, which have been cooked in water, then peeled, which we leave in the oven in the roasting pan for a quarter-hour.
Veal that one wishes to grill should be cut into broad and thin pieces that are called scallops or grillades. These pieces are placed in the skillet where they are grilled on both sides over a low flame.
They should take on a beautiful golden color. Salt, pepper, and when ready to serve, cover them with finely chopped parsley and lemon juice.

108. Fricandeau and veau au blanc are two means suited to veal with gravy.
Fricandeau is a round of veal that is stuck with lardons and “browned” in a pan with butter, a bouquet garni, salt and pepper. Then “moisten” with broth and cook slowly for two or three hours. When cooking is finished, remove the meat and let the juice “wear out” in such a way that it thickens and takes on the appearance of a clear brown caramel. Then pour the juice onto the meat.
Fricandeau is served either alone or with a puree of sorrel or chicory, or a side dish of green peas or of small carrots.

109. Ragoût de veau au blanc [stew of veal in a white sauce] is a very well-known dish. To make it, use the breast, shoulder, or the tip of round.
Cut the meat into small pieces and let them “blanch,” that is, plunge them for an instant into boiling water. Remove them and roll them in flour. Meanwhile, melt a piece of butter in the saucepan and brown small bits of bacon, both lean and fatty, without however allowing them to cook thoroughly. Add the veal, salt, pepper, bouquet garni, three or four small whole onions, moisten with broth and let cook over a medium fire for an hour and a half. The gravy obtained should be white. Sometimes, when ready to serve, we “bind” it with an egg yolk.

110. Mutton may be: 1) roasted; 2) grilled; 3) served in gravy.
The parts of mutton that are roasted are the leg and the saddle.
The cutlets are the most delicate parts.

111. When one wishes to roast a leg of mutton, one ermoves the fatty membrane that surrounds it, one slices off the bone about 4 centimeters above the place where the flesh begins. Some people stick it with a garlic clove.

112. To roast the leg of mutton, do the same as when roasting beef and veal.

113. One cooks mutton chops by resting them on a grill, above a fire of glowing coals. When they are cooked on one side, turn them over. Salt them with finely ground salt an instant before serving, and we serve them very hot. When one wishes to create a more considerable dish, one surrounds them with fried potatoes or mashed potatoes.

114. Mutton in sauce.Mutton stew with potatoes is a family dish excellent for one’s health and not costly. It is composed of pieces taken from the breast or shoulder, which one “browns” in butter or in lard and to which one adds next: some potatoes cut into pieces, water sufficient to make the sauce, a bouquet garni, and one or two onions. Two good hours of cooking suffice.

*TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Generally, our esteemed author, L. Ch.-Desmaisons, begins each chapter with one of these lists of helpful tips for preparing whatever dishes will occupy Madeleine that day: instructions first, then the journal entry. I’ve been switching the order, because I suspect that, for most people, the narrative may be more interesting. But who knows where the veal came from? At least in the next few chapters, the subject seems never to arise again. So now you know why Madeleine’s “What I Must Do” seems off-topic — because it is.

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