P1080045Among the delights found in the long-forgotten closet was a well-worn cookbook, “Le Nouveau Livre de Cuisine” (The New Cookbook), by Blanche Caramel. That is the best pen name ever.

The book is barely held together with tape. Its pages harbor many hand-written recipes and others clipped from newspapers. Written in 1927, my copy dates to 1933. So it was conceived in the post-WWI boom years, but my copy was printed after the Great Depression had entrapped France. I think the clippings spanned many years.

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These hand-written recipes made me miss my grandma so much. Same handwriting, almost!

P1080070P1080069One of the clippings is titled “Conseils et petits secrets” and subtitled “Quelques petites économies” (Some small ways to save), signed by “Le Grillon du Foyer” (The Cricket on the Hearth, like the Christmas tale by Charles Dickens).

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And this makes me miss my mom, a clipper extraordinaire, who also marked the newspaper with an X; she and my dad would read it through before she went back and clipped.

The suggestion is to save the peels of oranges and mandarines to prepare “delicious liqueurs” by soaking them in 90-degree alcohol. And dried peels can be added to the fire to make a “gay and sparkling flame.” And if your mayonnaise has turned, don’t throw it out but add a spoon of very fine flower and work in the paste to get rid of lumps.

In the forward, Blanche (or should I call her Mme. Caramel?) says, “Dishes are welcomed by stomachs that are also well disposed; if the service is calm, friendly remarks can be exchanged completely naturally, chasing away the worries of the day and making the meal an hour of intellectual relaxation and of physical well-being. Each person will leave the table rested, comforted, with more courage and optimism for returning to his tasks.”P1080049There is a chapter titled “L’utilisation des Restes” (“Using Up Leftovers”), in which cooks are counseled to not have them to begin with by cooking only what’s needed.P1080050Another section, “Ce Qu’il Faut Manger” (“What you should eat”), surprisingly begins with grains. However, it says not to confuse pain de campagne (“country bread,” or a kind of rough, sour-dough-like loaf) with le pain complet (whole-grain bread), “which is found at certain specialists and which suits only men who face a considerable physical expenditure, such as the blacksmith or the ditch digger, not sedentary employees.”P1080051Under “Mangeons des Fruits” (“Let’s Eat Fruit”), Blanche says, “The simplest remedies are often the best and the most effective. We have on hand natural products, the good and beautiful fruits ripened in the sun, which can replace with advantages many medicines that are very expensive and that sometimes have bad side-effects.” People can tolerate up to two kilos (4.4 pounds) of fruits, though with heavier fruits like bananas and apples, one kilo (2.2 pounds) is enough.

P1080053P1080054Blanche offers advice about coming up with menus. A very luxurious dinner would comprise one or two soups; one or two relevés de potage (a light course, such as a timbale, a soufflé, fish, eggs); two entrées (starters/appetizers, such as ham, sautéed chicken, or meats in ragoûts, accompanied by mashed potatoes or another purée); a roast (“la pièce de la résistance du repas,” Blanche says); a cold dish (she suggests pâté, lobster or aspic); a salad (served with the roast and made with mayonnaise); vegetables  (served after the roast); entremets (a tart, cake or ice cream); dessert, which would be cheese, fruit or small cakes.

I wonder when cheese came to move forward, before the sweets.P1080058Even more perplexing is how they managed to eat so much. I guess a roast wasn’t so outrageous if it had to feed a big family. In her books, “Long Ago in France” and “As They Were,” the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher reminisces about living in Dijon in 1929. She and her husband lived at a boarding house, where Madame and her cook turned out elaborate meals every day for the family and their tenants. Maybe meals were more like the tasting menus at El Bulli.

Blanche offers menus for special occasions, from Christmas and New Year’s to Easter to First Communions. There are “rich” menus and “simple” menus. For example, in the simple category: P1080059Lunch: Oysters; oeufs sur le plat à la crème (eggs sunny-side up with cream); salt-marsh lamb chops and matchstick potatoes; cold chicken with mayonnaise; refreshing fruits. P1080062Dinner: Potage Saint-Germain (split-pea soup); homard financière (lobster in a truffle and Madeira wine sauce); tarragon chicken; foie gras with port; Saint-Honoré (a dessert of cream puffs); Roblochon cheese; fruits.P1080065That’s simple. Sure.

The book ends with a chapter on the Calendrier Gastronomique, or the gastronomic calendar. For June, Blanche advises that meat from the butcher (beef, lamb–red meat) is less tasty and should be replaced by chicken, duckling and young turkey. Légumes de plein terre (leaf vegetables, but also broccoli, leeks, asparagus, radishes) are plentiful. Red fruits also are abundant: cherries, strawberries, raspberries, melons, with apricots appearing at the end of the month. I think Blanche must have lived in the north, because we are a good month ahead of this schedule.P1080067I intend to try out recipes from the book and its bounty of clippings and scribblings and present them to you. Look for the tag #blanchecaramel.

 

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35 thoughts on “Lessons From a 1933 French Cookbook

  1. Jealous! I’m a collector of cookbooks and this is SUCH a treasure. To start with that nom de plume … unbeatable! And the advice and the recipes …. fabulous and I so look forward to seeing what you cook and how it turns out. 😊 📚

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  2. Now I’m curious about the cheese issue. I have a menu from my great great grandmother’s wedding in the last decade of the 19th century and cheese is part of the entremets (which included gaufres, fruits and cheese.) I also remember looking through Escoffier menus for the Savoy and if my memory is correct they didn’t include cheese at all.

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  3. Quelle trouvaille ! What a delicious find, and your grandmother’s recipes especially. Such treasure! I chuckled at “mangeons des fruits” and all the ways we can indulge. As for soups, I have incredibly fond memories of the woman of the house always serving soup as a first course, every time I have séjoured in France, and likewise, the extraordinary soups of my Belgian mother-in-law, her ingredients always plucked fresh from the garden.

    I confess, my former (French) man friend of years is a fine cook. (We remain friends…) His soups in particular are heavenly.

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  4. What a find! I’ll bet it’s fun going through the cookbook and newspaper clippings. I look forward to reading about some of the recipes you try. Grandma’s cooking…french style. 🙂

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    1. I haven’t yet made cassoulet–my friends do such a great job on it, and it’s so easy to find excellent cassoulet here–Carcassonne and nearby Castelnaudary are the cradle of cassoulet. I really should do it. You’ll have to share your recipe!

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  5. What a contrast with vintage American cookbooks I’ve seen. Though we have a solid applesauce cake recipe from the Rumford cookbook that my grandmother got as a little girl (shameless product placement) that would be about the same age.

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    1. Another thing is the format of the recipes: in a couple of paragraphs, no ingredient list. And the measures are along the lines of “some butter” or “a couple of onions.”

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  6. What a glorious treasure! Warm greetings of Montreal, Canada! I am English, and fluent in French! I absolutely love anything vintage and this looks like a fantastic keepsake! You have a lovely blog. I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

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  7. Great treasure – and it what fascinating read!! it’s interesting to see that the advice given in books around that time seems fairly consistent, no matter what country the books were published in. I’ve got ones of similar vintage in both German and English (UK) – makes me wonder if the writers looked at each other’s work….?

    Look forward to hearing about your receipe try-outs!

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  8. What a wonderful find, and also so personal. It’s so special to have something that once belonged to someone who lived there before you – it’s really a fantasy of mine to come across such a treasure. I can’t wait to see what recipe you try first!

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