09 July 2014

Tante Marie's French Pastry

In 1954, Oxford University published Charlotte Turgeon's translation of Tante Marie's French Pastry.  One of the reasons we love to read and write about cookbooks is the cultural analysis that a small cookbook can bring to light.

At the time, Tante Marie's French Pastry was considered quite complex and technical.  Cooks, mostly women, were admonished that spending the day making a French pastry might seem like some sort of drudgery, but the finished product was worth it. We were told that there might be days that making pastry would seem like a breeze.  We were told that even if we did commit to making pastry all day, we had the luxury of freezing some of the dough for later use; so again, this expenditure of time was well worth the effort.

As with so many books of this era, the instructions are slim.  A cookbook today probably has a vast list of ingredients, defines terms, illustrates difficult techniques, and warns of possible pitfalls.  In 1954, you were on your own! 

Recently the Huffington Post featured a list of 7 things your grandparents know how to do that you don't.  Among them, cooking, ironing, sewing and canning. All these skills (with the possible exception of ironing) are commonplace among young whippersnappers.  But it does illustrate the pitfalls of an old cookbook.  In 1954, a twenty-something woman was probably a wife, had children, and cooked at least once a day, probably twice a day.  She knew how to bake: cakes, bread, and pies all came rather naturally.  Scant directions were the norm.  

Consider the above illustration. What is this an illustration of, one might ask.  Well, this is to show the novice French baker how to incorporate butter into dough.  Does that jump right off the page?

Now let us take that pastry darling the macaron. There are thousands of photos of these bite-sized confections and in recent years there have been nearly 50 books solely dedicated to the baking and eating of macarons.  There are cooking aids that will outline the precise measure of your macaron.  And if you screw it up, just go out to the Starbucks and buy a box.  And what of "macaron" itself.  Current writing would have us use the French "macaron" as that is what we are making.  In America, our macaroon is a coconut confection.  At one time, we used the term interchangeably, as did Turgeon.  But the difference between a "macaron" and a "macaroon" are rather substantial and our use of the language has caught up with this culinary difference. 

In 1954, it was a little harder.  Here is the 1950's recipe for making the glorious macaron.


These macaroons are brittle and delicious.

1 cup ground almonds
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg whites, beaten stiff

Preheat oven to 275

Mix ground almonds thoroughly with the sugar and vanilla.  Stir in the beaten egg whites.  Line a baking sheet with shelf paper.  Drop the mixture in small mounds from a teaspoon, leaving a little space around each cookie.  Flatten each cookie with the bottom of a small glass dipped in powdered sugar.  Bake 20 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the paper.  To remove them, moisten the underside of the paper.  After 2 or 3 minutes the cookies will life off very easily.

Sometimes it seems that these stripped down recipes might actually be easier to follow than the more complicated type.  Who knows? But it is fun to try.

1 comment:

  1. I too love old cookbooks for the glimpse into everyday history.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin