17 March 2009

La Varenne’s Cookery

I got a second Birthday book from my friend Sandra. It was the very expensive new translation of La Varenne. I had it on my wish list, but I never imagined it would show up in the Shirley Post Office.

Terence Scully’s relatively new (2006) annotated translation of La Varenne’s Cookery is masterful. The book contains translations of The French Cook, The French Pastry Chef and The French Confectioner. Scully has done an exhaustive job of translating the work, offering obvious puns on Francois Pierre’s name, to obscure mistranslations in earlier editions when the verb for “breaking" a calf’s foot, les cassez, is translated as les fricassez, to fry.

In the post The Art of Cooking Omelettes, Madame Romaine de Lyon referred to the term baveuse for omlettes, meaning runny, but Scully tells us the term baveuse is properly translated as “slobbery” which I believe is the best description of runny omelettes.

Francois Pierre de la Varenne, published Le Cuisinier francois in 1651. In the next 75 years, the book went through 30 editions. Perhaps it was due to the vast knowledge he imparted about cooking and perhaps it was because of recipes like this:

Lark In Ragout

When larks are dressed, remove their gizzard: crush their stomach a little; flour them and sauté them in lard. When they are a russet colour, simmer them and season them with capers and mushrooms; you can add in lemon peel, or the stock of a leg of mutton or orange juice or a bouquet of herbs; remove their fat. Serve them with whatever you have served.

When I read this recipe I couldn’t help but wonder how small a lark’s gizzard would be. Since that is the only organ we are told to remove, I guess the heart and liver and incorporated into the dish with the “stomach crushing” instruction. Perhaps the tiny gizzard would be too chewy in the dish.

Pithivier, France is noted for its eponymous gateaux but it is also known for its pâté d'alouette, lark paté. Since shooting larks was banned in France in 1982, it would seem that that the only "lark" is in the paté's name.

Thanks again, Sandra. Next time I see you, I’ll whip up some lark ragout.

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