Thursday, November 6, 2008

Time to Learn French Cooking

It took me a month, but I finally bid on and won an ebay auction for a two-volume set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. It arrived in the mail yesterday, a 1979 printing. That's a good year--the year I married! Also, I figured most of the typos/errors had been fixed from the original publication dates of 1961 (Volume 1) and 1970 (Volume 2). I didn't want to get too new, because I feared the fat-free craze might have impacted the recipes by that time.

I received a wonderful surprise when I opened Vol. 1 this morning. It may not be a shower of roses, but I was proud to get it just the same, a pressed purple pansy, perfectly pleasing.

I've read the foreword and am delighted to find that Mastering the Art is what I was hoping, a book that teaches techniques for homestyle French cooking. The goal is to get to the point where you no longer need the recipes. It teaches "such fundamentals as how to saute' a piece of meat so that it browns without losing its juices, how to fold beaten egg whites into a cake batter to retain their maximum volume, how to add egg yolks to a hot sauce so they will not curdle, where to put the tart in the oven so it will puff and brown, and how to chop an onion quickly."

The recipes were created with American supermarkets in mind. I read in My Life in France that Julia Child sent copies of recipes to friends and family in the US to test and had them report which ingredients were available at their local grocery stores. The authors even had American flour shipped to France to practice with. It was quite different from the French flour, and recipe adjustments were made accordingly. Another adjustment had to be made in calculating how many servings a recipe would produce. Because the French typically eat six courses, each one is necessarily smaller. Americans generally eat three courses, so the authors increased the servings produced to about twice the size of what is typical for a French dish.

There are ten chapters in Vol. 1, plus introductory information on Kitchen Equipment, Definitions, Ingredients, Measures, Temperatures, Cutting, and Wines. The chapter I'm really looking forward to is Chapter VIII--Vegetables, but I haven't read enough yet to decide on a plan of attack. Although I do want to learn French cooking, my main motivation is to help Nathaniel and Emma learn it, so probably I will end up going straight through the book with them. On my own, I may leap directly into Chapter VIII.

I have no idea how long it will take us to work through the first book. Someday, though, I hope we'll get to Volume II.

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