A French Surprise


While visiting a local used bookstore today, I came across a volume I’d previously heard of, but had not seen. Specialites de la Maison, published in 1940 by the American Friends of France, is a collection of recipes “written in the first person by Hollywood and Broadway celebrities, artists, socialites, and other noteworthy tastemakers of the day,” according to its jacket.

I know nothing about French cooking.  Truth be told, other than baguettes, I don’t think I’ve every tried anything that could remotely be described as French.  It’s not for the lack of trying; I just haven’t gotten around to it, I guess.  I’m hoping that this book will change that.

The American Friends of France was created in 1917 to raise monies for French civilians displaced by the Great War, and later, to assist France as it recovered from the conflict’s devastation.   This book was an attempt to raise money to help in that cause.  It looks interesting, and for the price – I paid just two dollars for a book that was new and unused – it struck me silly to take a pass on it.  I’ve only examined a page or two, so I’m hoping that I can find something to try before I return to work.

This is a reprint of a vintage cookbook, meaning that there are no “modern” instructions; it uses the instructions that were current at the time the book was put to press.  One of the things that has often surprised (and confounded) me is that there are people who will purchase a “vintage” cookbook, and then are stunned because the recipe isn’t written in a modern manner (i.e., with oven temperature settings), or are shocked that the recipe utilizes ingredients that not to their liking.  I often point out to people that it is difficult to recreated many pre-1960s recipes authentically because of the near-excessive reliance on eggs (I had an 1853 recipe that started off with a dozen eggs!), lard, or interesting animal products, yet they’ll go buy that pre-1960s reprint cookbook and then huff, puff, and whine about how the thing is “unacceptable” for the modern palate.


Vintage cooking – at least for me – is largely experimental, and I have no problem taking a recipe and fooling around with it.  That means that it’s rare for me to nail it the first time out, but I usually have fun with the process.  If you’re not having fun in the kitchen, they why are you in there?  I’ll substitute in a heartbeat – 12 eggs becomes about 2.5 cups of egg whites, and I’ve rarely used lard – but when all is said and done, I can say, “Gee, this is pretty close to what this author intended, even if it’s not one-hundred percent accurate.”  In any case, that’s my philosophy and it hasn’t failed me yet.


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