18 July 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 20

Millet: The Planters of Potatoes



Cleaning the kitchen furniture; — shelving; — the table; — the stove; — the doors; — the windowpanes; — objects made of glass, carafes and drinking glasses.

The time goes very quickly here, too quickly for my taste, since now the days are growing shorter and shorter, letting me know that my month in the country is coming to an end.

While awaiting our departure, we busied ourselves ceaselessly, whether in the garden, whether in the house. There is always something to be done: gathering fruits or vegetables, light gardening, cleaning the house, quickly mending a skirt that wore out during one of our walks, etc., etc.… Tante Victoire finds time for everything, and truly, around her, I feel that I am learning much. I am learning above all the art of using my time well, not to work the wrong way and backwards, starting one thing, leaving it for another, such as bad housekeepers do, it appears.

Anker: Girl Peeling Potatoes

This morning, the rain confounded our plans. It wasn’t possible to go for a long walk, as we had the intention to do. I profited from the time by writing a long letter to my mother. This dear Maman has been so worried to know if I were not spending all my time in having fun, or in uselessness. I reassured her in telling her in a few words how I spend my days. As far as what I am learning here, I told her that she would find the details in this journal, and that I will give it to her to read upon my arrival at our home.

In order that it be exact, I must write down here that which we did yesterday.

More cleaning! Oh, yes, cleaning neither boring nor quite tiring, I assure you, and which gave the house an altogether agreeable aspect.

First in the kitchen, we cleaned the furniture and diverse other objects.

This armoire is the right kind of wood, but probably too fancy
to stand in a kitchen.

Tante Victoire’s furniture isn’t new. Certain pieces are even very old, but all are well maintained and give one pleasure to look at. There is in the kitchen an armoire in walnut that is almost black, but so well waxed and polished that it shines as if it were varnished. There is also a large buffet in light-colored wood. It was this that she taught me to clean.

We first removed everything that it contained. We then washed the shelves with very hot eau de cristaux*, in which we had melted some soap, using a brush to scrub and a sponge to gather the water. Then we scrubbed the same way with fresh water, at last with water into which Tante Victoire had poured some bleach. We wiped it with a dry rag, in such a way to make it dry faster, and we left the buffet open a good hour to let it dry in the fresh air.

While it was drying, we cleaned the drawers in the same manner. Then I looked for some old newspapers which I had cut and folded in the dimension of the shelves. The buffet being dry, each shelf was covered with these newspapers and we did the same with the drawers. Then the objects were replaced in the buffet as they had been before.

We acted in the same way for the shelves that are around the kitchen, washing them, scrubbing them, wiping them, placing paper on them. I even cut a kind of lace out of blue paper in long strips, and I applied these as a decoration along the shelving, for a pretty effect.

After the shelving, we cleaned the tables in the same manner as the buffet, then we passed to the washing of the doors, always a bit unclean in the places where one’s hand touches them. About this, Tante Victoire said to me: “I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t take the precaution to touch doors only by the handles or the knobs. That’s what they’re there for, and never, thanks to them, should a door become dirty around the edges. I strongly recommend,” she added, “that you mind that yourself, I am sure that you close the door without touching the knob.”

George Sand’s kitchen, at Nohant

Tante Victoire was right, Tante Victoire had guessed it. What little girl does not do the same?….

Well, it is quite delicate, this cleaning of doors dirtied by fingers, and now that I know how one cleans them, I swear that I shall take more care not to dirty them.

One does not set out by using eau de cristaux* nor black soap nor bleach for this. A bit of white soap and lukewarm water, that’s all, since it is necessary to take care not to deteriorate the paint on the door. One rubs the dirty places lightly with a somewhat fine rag, and then one pours fresh water over it, in such a way as to remove the soap without rubbing. Then one wipes with a very clean cloth, but sponging and not rubbing.

There was nothing left to clean but the stove and the windowpanes. The stove was scrubbed with a rag coated with plumbago,** then brushed with a stiff brush, which made it shine.

My hands were quite black after this operation, but a bit of lukewarm water and some soap made that disappear.

As for the windowpanes, we used Spanish whiting [See previous lesson] diluted with water to clean them. With a little rag coated with this mixture, the panes were rubbed, especially along the wooden moulding that framed them, and especially in the corners. We let them dry for a half-hour. At the end of this time, we wiped them by rubbing briskly with a fine cloth.

A window from the home of Proust’s aunt, in Illiers-Combray

Tante Victoire tells me that a piece of chamois, such as one finds at the bazaar, makes windowpanes shine even more brightly and facilitates the work. But in Valfleury we have neither chamois nor bazaar where it might be bought, so we simply made use of an old piece of calico; I asked of Tante Victoire if one could not use any rags this way, whatever they were. She told me that one must not use old canvas and above all not old linen which leaves too much lint on the panes.

I also learned an excellent means of cleaning glass, carafes, drinking glasses, bottles and flasks of all sorts. Here is the recipe:

Take some thick paper such as that which wraps sugar cakes, rip it into small pieces and place it in a vase with some water and a bit of white soap. It forms a sort of paste, with which one rubs the glass objects inside and out. Then rinse with fresh water and wipe with a cloth that leaves no lint.

I wanted to note these recipes in my journal, since they will probably be useful to me later, and what is more, I shall prove this way to Maman that I did not waste my time in the country, which will encourage her to let me go another time.


[To copy and to keep]

1. I shall remember that steamed potatoes must be served very hot, and for this I shall take care to place them in a napkin which will be placed on the dish in which they will be carried to the table.

2. With steamed potatoes, I shall place salt and fresh butter on the table, which will serve as their seasoning.

3. I shall take care that potatoes in a sauce or purée do not stick to the pot where they will cook, for that will render them unpleasant to eat.

4. I shall remember that green peas must cook slowly, over a low flame.

5. To polish a buffet of light-colored wood, I shall use very hot eau de cristaux, soap and bleach that I shall employ with a brush; I shall wipe then with a rag.
I shall clean tables and shelves in the same manner.

The kitchen at Illiers-Combray

6. I shall cover with paper the kitchen shelving, those shelves inside the buffet, and I shall do the same with the drawers.

7. To clean the stove, I shall use plumbago and I shall polish it with a stiff brush.

8. I shall remember that doors must be washed with great care and delicacy, if I want to avoid removing the paint. To do this, I shall use only soapy water, I shall rub lightly with a very clean cloth and never with a brush.

9. When there is a question of washing drinking glasses, carafes or any other objects made of glass, I shall make a paste of heavy paper, a bit of soap and some water, and I shall rub these objects with this paste inside and out.

Next time: Plum preserves — and desserts!



144. Potatoes are, of all the vegetables, those which are eaten most often and which can be appreciated in the most varied ways. They are a precious resource for households with small means and are never harmful when they are quite ripe and in good condition.

Van Gogh: The Potato-eaters

145. Potatoes au naturel (or steamed or boiled in their nightgowns).
Take good, quite mealy potatoes; cook them, without peeling or cutting them up, in a half-covered pot with just enough water for them to bathe in, but no more, and a handful of salt.
Let them cook at full boil until the potatoes are cooked, which we can tell when the skin begins to split. Then remove them from the pot, dry them, and serve them under a napkin, to keep them hot.

146. Sautée potatoes or maître d’hôtel style. — The potatoes being cooked whole and unpeeled in boiling water, as we have just told you, peel them and cut them into slender rondelles that one places in a pot over the fire with a good bit of butter. Salt, pepper, turn them several times without letting them grill. Serve with an accompaniment of chopped parsley and lemon juice.

147. Potatoes in white sauce. — The potatoes being cooked whole and unpeeled in boiling water, cut them into rondelles, place them on a dish and pour over them a sauce blanche.

148. Potatoes au roux. — Make a light brown roux, “moisten” it with water or with bouillon; add peeled potatoes cut into pieces, along with a few slices of onion, salt and pepper, and cook. It is necessary to stir them often while cooking so that they do not stick to the bottom of the pot and so that they get a bit crushed.
Sometimes one adds a garnish of grilled sausages around the potatoes au roux.

149. Potatoes with bacon. — Brown lardons [small bits of bacon], both fatty and lean, in a brown roux. When the bacon takes color, add raw potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces.
When they are a bit crushed, the ragoût is cooked. If the bacon has produced a great deal of grease, degrease before serving.

150. Fried potatoes. — The raw potatoes being peeled, cut them, either in fairly thin slices, or in quarters, or in the shape of small sticks [French fries!], then throw them into a skillet filled with very hot frying oil.
When they are golden, remove them from the frying oil with a skimmer, place them in a colander where they drain, dust them with fine salt and serve them very hot.
These several operations must be done very quickly, otherwise the potatoes will soften while getting cold, and they will no longer be good.

151. Purée of potatoes. — Crush in a colander or with the help of a potato-masher the very hot potatoes, cooked in water and peeled. Lighten this purée with some milk, pour it into a pot and place it over the fire with a large piece of butter. Salt lightly and let cook for about a quarter-hour. The purée should have the consistency of a very thick porridge.

152. Boiled artichokes. — Use scissors to cut the extreme tips of the leaves and boil the artichokes in salted water. We know that the artichokes are cooked when a leaf can be detached easily. Then remove them from the water, drain them and with the handle of a spoon, remove, from the center, that which is called the straw. The leaves that surround this straw are removed at the same time and look like a hat. This hat is then replaced on the part that one has dug out.
Serve artichokes accompanied by a vinaigrette or a sauce blanche. — The sauce is served on the side, in a gravy boat.

153. Asparagus. — Asparagus are cooked in boiling water. It is necessary to take care to scrape them lightly with a knife before cooking them. We know when they are cooked when their flesh begins to give under the finger.
Serve accompanied by a sauce blanche or a vinaigrette.

154. Cauliflower. — Make the cauliflower “ready,” that is to say, remove the green leaves and the trunk. Cook it in boiling and salted water. When it is cooked, remove it, drain it, serve it arranged on a dish, surrounded by a somewhat thick white sauce. It is also eaten accompanied by a vinaigrette sauce served on the side.

155. Green beans. — After having peeled them, removing with the fingernails the two extremities and having pulled out the strings, cook them in salted water and eat them sautéed in butter or as a salad.***

156. Dry beans, lentils, split peas. — Soak them in cold water for several hours, which will make them easier to cook afterward.
Remove them from this water and put them on the fire in a fresh pot of water, with salt and one whole onion. When they give to the touch, they are cooked. Then remove them from the fire, drain them, and season them in any of several ways. Most often, we “sautée” them in butter, or we prepare them with a “roux blond,” or else we eat them as a salad. We also make purées of them, which is easy to prepare with the help of a colander or a potato-press.

Today, French restaurants serve a wide variety of Bean,
sometimes with shellfish.

157. Green peas.Green peas must be cooked over a low flame and slowly.
Put them in a pot with a piece of fresh butter, a bouquet of parsley, a lettuce heart, a piece of sugar, and a pinch of salt. When they are tender but not wrinkled, they are cooked and ready to serve. Sometimes we “bind” them with an egg yolk.

158. Sorrel, spinach, chicory, lettuce. — Prepare sorrel, spinach, chicory and lettuce all the same, in this manner:
After having removed the stem and the hard part of the rib, cook the leaves in boiling and salted water. After a quarter-hour, press them in a strainer to remove the water, then chop them finely, in such a way as to give them the consistency of a purée.
Then place the sorrel or the spinach in a pot with a good piece of fresh butter, a spoonful of flour, some milk, or even better some cream, so that they will not cook in their own juices. Let cook for a quarter-hour.
Sorrel is often served as a garnish with hard-boiled eggs or with boiled veal.

* NOTE: I’m not sure what the “crystals” in “eau de cristaux” may be: one educated guess is that they’re soda, and not the baking kind. In this case, as in the case of plumbago (see note below), products used for household cleaning in 1895 were extremely hazardous. I don’t recommend that you use them. The stuff we use today is bad enough.

**See the note above. “Plumbago,” or “plombagine” as Madeleine knew it, was a substance composed of graphite — or lead. Do not use this. (If you can even find any.) Henri Boutrit’s method of cleaning ironware was to rub the surface in question with coarse salt, using a piece of newspaper.

***It’s a good idea to let the green beans and other legumes cool off a bit before trying to eat them as a salad. Lukewarm, they’re pretty good this way, especially in a vinaigrette with chopped shallots. But if the beans are still piping hot — ouch. I’m not sure why our esteemed author, L. Ch.-Desmaisons, didn’t mention this. Perhaps it’s another of those things that French schoolgirls in 1895 were born knowing.

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