Dumas and the Repast of the Bastille

A great story is a great story; It’s almost as simple as that but what strikes me every time with Dumas and his writing style, (beside is his skill for dramatics and grand adventure) is the repasts he serves up. His detail of a sumptuous feasts, cellars of wines, sweet meats and grand fetes; all are are seamlessly woven into all of his novels; almost like embroidering streaks of delicious silver and gold into a grand tapestry. As a cook and a reader, this, for me is tops.
Let me give you one great example I read just the other day in, The Man in the Iron Mask-it is a repast that was being held at the Bastille of all places:

“He had a guest to-day and the spit turned more heavily than usual. Roast partridges flanked with quails and flanking a larded leveret*; boiled fowls; ham fried and sprinkled with white wine; cardons of guipuzcoa** and la bisque écrevisse***: these together with the soups and hors-d’oeuvre, constituted the bill of fare.”

All pictures belong to their respective authors.

*A leveret is a hare that is less than a year old.

**Guipuscoa is a province of spain and part of the Autonomous region of the Basque country; a cardon is a plant that is similar to a cactus. (Can anyone help me out here-I’m a bit at a loss myself.)

***A crawfish bisque: http://www.tabasco.com/tabasco-recipes/recipe/4223/crawfish-bisque/ (Where better to find a good crawfish dish than Louisiana; from Tabasco hot sauce, here is there recipe.



Smokey Mountains

Smokey Mountains


Food in French Romanticism; Émile Zola, The Belly of Paris (Part 1)

Today, I’d like to share with you a taste of yesterday but in a perhaps, unconventional way; to highlight the mentioned foodstuffs in one of Zola’s most popular works, The Belly of Paris. If you love to eat and love a bit of gluttony (literary and otherwise), follow me as a make a brief interlude between the heat of the kitchen to the comfort of an armchair:

Les Halles, Paris 1880 by Victor Gilbert

Les Halles, Paris 1880 by Victor Gilbert

The first strong presence of food comes to you right from the beginning. The protagonist is riding atop  a vegetable wagons bounty, on a pile of cabbages; Winding along a darkened way in a caravan of nine that snaked behind and in-front. “…With their mountains of cabbages and peas, their piles of artichokes, lettuces, celery and leaks seamed to be rolling over him as if to bury him beneath an avalanche of food.

Our protagonist has been sorely abused by the Emperors might and has just returned from 8 years of harsh exile. He is starved to delirium. As he arrives and the carts are unloaded, he finds himself in the legendary Les Halles open air market of Paris. 

But, he finds himself, with a stolen carrot in his belly, and a cup of hot wine, but also at arrival managed to find, out of coincidence, his now fortune-favored step brother and wife. They own an exquisite charcuterie, that, Florent is brought to. It is named Quenu-Gradelle. (Simply by the joining of their families name) Now, Zola begins an almost intimate description of the contents of this savory eat-house. I’ll tell you a bit of a summary, highlighting the picturesqueness of hanging sausages and smoked meats.

This is the first sight, Zola describes about the Charcuterie; it’s sign. Let this give you an idea of what lay in store for you: “…chubby little cupids in the midst of boars’, heads, pork chops and string of sausages;…” Then, as if Zola was incredibly hungry when he came to this point, “There were vast quantities of rich, succulent things, things that melted in the mouth.” Personally, I can’t find a fault in the man; have you tasted the delicate, savory taste of a proscuitto or a great bunch of sage-seasoned pork sausages? In the viewing window we are taken to paradise.

At the first tier, there are jars of rilletes; potted meats of goose or pork, matched with sweet and mild pots of mustard. The viewers eyes are brought to the next tier which holds Sundays-best dressed hams with golden crust and ribbons about the knuckles. Here is a bit of the old Parisian, the next delicacy described are the stuffed  Strasbourg tongues, pigs’ trotters; specially seasoned pigs feet, and the house specialty, Black pudding seasoned with lard, pepper salt and onions.  I get the impression that the eye of this starving wretched man is absolutely crushed by the sight, like a man drowning in the sea, a sweet, sweet sea.

Lets talk about sausage then Zola, and he does,”…andouilles piled up in twos and bursting with health…”  “Saucissons in little silver copes that made them look like choristers.” (Saucissons are typical french dry sausages then come in many varieties.) But look on and past the display!

There are hot meat-pies, great cuts of veal and ham, pots of fois gras, snails stuffed with butter and parsley, hanging saveloys; like a modern equivalent of the Coney Island hotdog, red with saltpeter, and sometimes fried, “…like cords and tassels of an opulent tapestry.” The viewers eyes digest one thing after another, “…large tureens in which the meats and minces lay asleep in lakes of solidified fat.”

Zola, what a large appetite you have!

Zola, what a large appetite you have!

Between the truffled Dishes, lardons, Petit Salé; Salted and brined pork slices, I am wanting a Quenu-Gradelle Charcuterie on my block. If you like all things smoked, salted, cured and stuffed, here’s my shout-out; Visit http://www.reddit.com/r/charcuterie for all your gluttonous delights and fancies.

Twenty Years After, Alexandre, Dumas

The next installation Romances that follows, The Three Musketeers, is, Twenty Years After. Alexandre Dumas does not fall short of simply swashbuckling in this novel. As you’d expect from this great novelist, general and gourmand, the contents of this book are rich with timeless wit, burning friendship, adventure, savory food spreads and fine french wine. (some Spanish too.)

This month, I encourage you to find yourself a copy and read along with me and share your thoughts. Don’t worry, if you have not read, The Three Musketeers, it is not necessary for understanding this book. I recommend that you do read it though as it fills in nuances and beautiful subtleties in the following series.

If you need further convincing, please allow yourself the privilege of skimming some quotes to whet your appetite.


Athos to his Raoul viscomte de Bragelonne: “I see your future as through a cloud. It will be better than ours. We have had a minister without a king; you, on the contrary, will have a king without a minister. You will be able then to serve, love and honor the king. If he prove a tyrant-for power in its giddiness often becomes tyranny-serve, love and honor the royalty; that is the infallible principle.”

 “There is no figure so expressive as that of a real gourmand before a good table…”

D’artagnan: “’Should that diamond ever fall again into my hands,’ he was saying, ‘I should turn it at once into money, I should purchase certain properties around my father’s Château -a pretty residence, but which has for all its dependencies only a garden scarcely as large as the Cimetière des Innocents -and there I would await in my majesty, until some rich heiress, attracted by my good looks, came to spouse me. Then I would have three sons; I would make of the first a great nobleman like Athos; of the second, a handsome soldier like Porthos; and of the third, a pretty Abbé like Aramis.’”

To his lacky Bazin: Because you always have your beadle’s costume on your shoulders,’ interupted Aramis, ‘and pass all your time reading breviary. But I forwarn you that if by dint of polishing the things in the chapels you forget how to clean my sword, I will make a great fire of all your holy images and roast you in it.’”

“Bazin, scandalized, made the sign of the cross with a bottle…”