13 June 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 17



Valfleury. — Washing the kitchen. — Cleaning the kitchen sink. — Cleanliness and order in clothing are indispensable to a cook.

Here I am in the country where I did not fail to bring my journal.

How charming it is here and how this pretty farm deserves the name it bears: Valfleury. It is truly a flowery valley where we are, a narrow valley surrounded by small wooded mountains, prairies full of yellow, blue, pink flowers, with a river so clear that one could count the pebbles at the bottom.

The neighboring village is a fairly short distance away; but it is hidden by a rise in the terrain, so that one sees only the bell tower that rises above the trees and that offers us its light resounding three times per day.

It is really very nice here! Ah! How I would like to see here my dear Maman who has so great a need for rest! … Alas! It is I who take this pleasure while she remains at home, happy, I am sure, despite her loneliness, to know that I am in the open air, well cared for, quite pampered by Tante Victoire.

Tante Victoire is keeping the promise she made to Maman. Each day, she teaches me something new, especially concerning housekeeping more than cooking. Yesterday, for example, she showed me how to clean the kitchen tiles.* Our kitchen here is two or three times as big as the one we have in town, so it is quite an affair to clean the floor. Also, after one has proceeded in this operation, one is a bit fatigued and desirous of repose.

Here is, according to Tante Victoire, the best manner to go about it:

Put water from black soap in one bowl and in another bowl fresh water. In the soapy water, soak a somewhat stiff brush made of couch-grass, then scrub a small area of the tiling. When you believe you have scrubbed enough to remove the stains, plunge a square of canvas or a mop in the fresh water and use it like a sponge to collect the soapy water, to rinse the tiling and to wipe it.

Once this portion of the tiling has been cleaned, pass on to the neighboring portion, and so on, always taking care to scrub with the soapy water and to rinse with the fresh water. The fresh water should be renewed frequently.

“It’s well understood,” Tante Victoire told me, “that if the kitchen, instead of opening onto the hallway, opened directly onto the courtyard, we would take less trouble. We would wash à grande eau, throwing great buckets of water onto the tiling and cleaning it with a broom or a brush with a long handle. Then we would let the fresh air in by the doors and open windows: that is what would take charge of the drying.”

“Alas! my aunt,” I said, “it’s even worse in Maman’s home, since our kitchen gets air only from an interior courtyard.”

“Yes,” said Tante Victoire, “I know it, and it is the same for almost all city kitchens. Also one is obliged to do as I have just told you [using two bowls, etc.], and it is thus that you will do when you return to your home.”

The kitchen floor was quite clean and the color of the tiles was revived. Unfortunately, as it dried, I saw that it turned white in some places. I pointed this out to Tante Victoire.

“Eh oui!” she said to me, “I see it well, unfortunately. Last year I had a few broken tiles replaced by a mason from the area, and those that he used are not of a quality as good as that of the old ones. It is precisely these that you warn me of. So, on my next trip here, I shall bring something to cover that ugly effect.”

“What then, my aunt?”

“A powder of red brick, extremely fine, that one thins with a bit of water in such a way as to form a sort of paste that one spreads in the kitchen on discolored tiles. The red is surely not as beautiful as that of the tiles themselves, it’s especially less solid in color, but it is nevertheless more agreeable to the eye than the greyish red that you see. Now, let’s take a look at our kitchen sink.”

The sink was not very clean and Tante Victoire prepared to clean it. For this she took a small bowl of very hot water, added some black soap (potash) that she allowed to dissolve thoroughly. Meanwhile, she spread over the sink a good layer of fine sand. Next she soaked her brush in the potash water and scrubbed the sink as hard as possible. Soon it became very white and there was nothing left but to throw a great deal of fresh water to rinse it and to remove the bit of sand that had accumulated in the corners.

While working, she said to me: “You see, the sink is, of the entire kitchen, the part that demands the greatest cleanliness because of the dishwashing water we throw there.

“These waters, in decomposing, give birth to gases that smell bad and that are harmful to the health.”

“It’s true,” I responded. “I remember that one time, at our home, the cap that plugs the drain to the sink came loose, and for two days we had been infected, that is, up until the workman repaired it.”

“In this case,” said Tante Victoire, “it was necessary to pour into the drain a liquid disinfectant: some water with carbolic acid or a solution of iron sulfate or of copper sulfate. But sometimes it is enough to throw in a great deal of boiling water. Beyond that, the best is to clean it thoroughly every day, after every washing of the dishes, one is sure this way to avoid every bad odor.”

Now that was finished. There was nothing left, I thought, but to wash our hands. But not at all: Tante Victoire said to me: “Now, go to your room, straighten up your hair a bit, brush yourself, wash your hands. When a housekeeper, a cook has performed these heavy chores, she is always a bit tousled and unclean. She must not move on to another task or prepare her dinner while remaining in such a state. Personal cleanliness, order in her clothing, in her hair, these are the indispensable qualities of a cook who wishes to retain her good renown and never to displease those around her. Go, little girl, and come back quickly, since speed is also an admirable quality.”

It took no time to give myself a lick of the comb, to wash my hands. All this was not too much, Tante Victoire was right. I even took the extra care to put on a clean apron, mine having gotten wet while I washed the floor. Tante Victoire noticed as soon as I returned to find her and she complimented me on it.


[To copy and to keep]

1. Whenever I roast a chicken, I will take care not to baste it with water.

2. I shall remember that stuffed poultry, be it chicken or turkey, constitutes a very good family meal and goes further than the same poultry that was not stuffed.

3. I shall know that roasted pigeons must be skewered sideways.

4. When I prepare rabbit, I shall cook it in a sauce rather than roasted, because the meat of this animal is too lean for the spit.

5. I shall wash the kitchen floor at least every week, using water mixed with black soap, and I shall rinse with fresh water.

6. I shall make sure that the plumbing of the kitchen sink is always quite unclogged, and if it produces some bad odor, I shall pour into it a disinfectant liquid.

7. I shall always keep my clothing and my hands very clean. I shall take care to wash myself and to put my clothing in order whenever I have performed some heavy chore.

Next time: Still in the countryside, Madeleine learns that you’ve got to get up early if you want to conserve your goose.


Poultry and game.

105. Cutting up a chicken. — The chicken, having been plucked, flamed and cleaned, is cut into pieces, in the following manner:

1) Remove the neck by cutting the skin all around the base of the neck and inserting the point of the knife between the two first vertebrae;
2) Separate the thighs of a chicken by slicing the skin and the flesh with a good clean chop;
3) Remove the wings by taking care to detach at the same time the meaty part called white;
4) With a swift chop, strike the carcass and split it in two.
If the chicken is large, cut each wing and each thigh in two and make several pieces of the carcass.

116. Chicken fricassée. — “Blanch” the pieces of chicken. “Brown” some small lardons, without letting them cook thoroughly. Then throw the chicken pieces into this saucepan; sprinkle them with flour.
Add a few small whole onions, parsley and thyme, one clove, salt, pepper. “Moisten” with some broth or with hot water and let cook over a medium fire for about two hours.
At the time of serving, “bind” the gravy with a piece of fresh butter or with two egg yolks.

117. Roasted chicken. — The chicken, having been plucked, flamed, cleaned, is “trussed,” placed on a spit, and roasted over high flame before a grill of wood coal or in the oven. Roasted chicken should not be basted with water, but with butter or with lard. The juice is served on the side, in a gravy dish.

118. Ducks, geese, turkeys, pigeons are roasted in the same manner.

119. Duck with turnips. — After having plucked, flamed, and cleaned a duck, stick it with lardons and “brown” it in a pot, with butter, salt and pepper. When it is golden, add a cup of broth or water and complete the cooking over a low flame.
Meanwhile, “brown” some turnips in melted butter. When they are quite reddish, place them in the pot with the duck, where they will finish cooking.

120. Stuffed turkey and goose. — In the family home, when one roasts a turkey or a goose, one “stuffs” it, either with chestnuts that have been grilled and half-cooked, or with a stuffing composed of sausage meat, bacon, bread crumbs, egg yolk, and chestnuts that have been cooked and chopped.

121. Pigeons. — Pigeons that are roasted on a spit should be enveloped in a “bard” [piece of bacon] and skewered sideways.

122. Game. — We call game those furred or feathered animals that live in the wild. Those that are eaten most often are hare and rabbit.

123. Stew of hare or rabbit. — After having skinned the animal and having cut it into pieces, one “browns” it in a pot with small pieces of fatty and lean bacon and some small whole onions. When everything has turned a golden yellow, sprinkle with flour, add a bouquet garni, a piece of sugar, a pinch of spices, salt, pepper, a glass of broth, then one finishes “moistening” it with some white wine or red wine. Cooking is finished when you can easily stick a fork into the meat, which has taken on a reddish-brown color. At the moment of serving, “bind” the sauce with the blood of an animal, while doing exactly as you would when using eggs to bind.**

124. Domesticated rabbit is prepared like hare and wild rabbit. Generally one does not roast it because its meat is too lean.***

A wild hare, raw

*TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Traditionally, kitchen floors in France are covered with terra cotta tiles, called (regardless of the shape) squares or “carreaux,” which is the word Madeleine uses. Madeleine calls the entire tiled floor a “carreau,” in the singular, a usage I’ve seen occasionally in other books. (Maybe it’s standard; I don’t in fact spend a great deal of my time in France in discussions of flooring.) Glazed or terra cotta tiles sometimes are used on certain portions of kitchen walls, as well: above the sink, for example, as is the case in the kitchen at Beynes, where our flooring is linoleum.

**I’m amazed that our esteemed author, L. Ch.-Desmaisons, doesn’t offer any more instruction on cutting up a rabbit: I’ve found it a truly difficult job! The celebrated resemblance to chicken ends at the skeleton, certainly; there are all sorts of unexpected extra bits to so many of the rabbit’s bones, and they tend to chip and wind up floating in your gravy. But then, neither did our author tell us which spices to use, nor which animal’s blood is best for binding the sauce. Perhaps schoolgirls in 1895 were born knowing these things.

***My sincere apologies to Jill Davis Doughtie.

1 comment:

Jill Davis Doughtie said...


Oliver and Bernadette are shocked at this post. However, I have eaten (and even cooked!) rabbit in the distant past, and I do remember it being rather tasty...