"I was instantly transported back to the years I lived in France and devoured everything, especially the food. And the years that followed when I returned to London clutching my precious copy of La Cuisine Pour Tous, determined to become a serious cook." Pamela Timms - Mint
I actually started on another post. It was to be a First recipe post on La Soupe au Pistou, from Elizabeth David's A Book of Mediterranean Food. As I started to read the introduction I began to be overwhelmed with nostalgia for Mediterranean France, and then as I was looking for pictures of the soup I came across an article about it - well actually another version from French Provinicial Cooking - in which, almost at the start, the words at the top of the page appeared.
And those words made me rush to my bookshelves to retrieve my own very battered and aged copy of this book. It's a very obscure book, or so I thought until I looked into it and I did not think that anyone would have heard of it. My copy is the 1955 edition - in French - bought by me in France, for exactly the same reasons as Pamela Timms. Well not quite. I was determined to show my mother how wonderful French food was and how we could reproduce it at home. I thought it would have all the basic everyday things in it that I also had devoured in France.
And indeed it does - well actually not quite. It does not have a recipe for Soupe au pistou for example, or for the green beans that we ate almost every day. However, it has 1243 tiny recipes for so many things. They are tiny - a few lines each - and there are no pictures. It's also a very small book in dimensions but not in thickness. It's actually quite thick.
You look up your recipe in the index which takes you to the numbered recipe rather than the page. A good system. I am often frustrated at finding page numbers from indexes - they are always in different places, and sometimes they don't appear at all because of huge glossy pictures. What you have here is simple, practical and no nonsense. Or as another blogger says:
"She also basically sticks it to Julia and makes French cooking seem less like a prolonged session at the dentist’s." Cynthia Bertelson - Gherkins and Tomatoes
'She' in this instance is Ginette Mathiot who wrote the original version in 1932 - hence the no frills look - at the tender age of 24. Here she is much later in life after an illustrious career teaching and writing about food. Her book is a French institution - a sort of French Mrs. Beeton or I suppose a Delia How to Cook. My version is the 1955 edition and I may well have bought it just a year or so after that. Although the book has been generally credited to her the cover and the title page say that actually it was written:
"par un groupe de professeurs de l'enseignement menager, sous la direction de Ginette Mathiot. (by a group of Home economics teachers under the direction of Ginette Mathiot)"
I used to slightly mock my mother for only having Mrs Beeton's cookbook, but here I was in my early teens buying a similar French version back home.
It was simple though and true to its aims:
"Voici Madame et Monsieur, un livre de recettes simples, c'est à dire faciles à réussir, et saines, c'est-à-dire n'exigeant pas un apport considérable de denrées rares, difficiles à se procurer ou très couteuses." (a book of simple recipes, that is to say, easy to accomplish and sensible, that is to say not requiring a considerable number of rare and difficult to procure, not mention expensive ingredients.) Ginette Mathiot
Take that Yotam et al.!
Retrieving this book from my bookshelf brought back such a flood of happy memories of the time I spent in France as a young teenager.
Here I am on the steps leading up to my French friend's flat, with her dog Boulot at my feet, and a typical French bike in the background. There just had to be a bike. We are in the small town/large village of Meung sur Loire on the banks of the River Loire, a few kilometres down river from Orléans. It was a beautiful place as you can see from the photographs below. I have a much better one of the town hall somewhere but try as I may I just cannot find it today.
In the end I think La Cuisine pour Tous was a disappointment for me - mainly because it did not have those basic things like the beans. But it looks well used and I was certainly proud of it. And I see that in the back I have written: "Dishes I shall make one day - Cassoulet, paella." Such ambition! And I did. I've made them more than once - but alas not from this book.
It must have been my point of reference for French food for a few years before I discovered Elizabeth David. I hang on to it for sentimental reasons and what a coincidence to find somebody else who felt exactly the same as I did about discovering a whole new world of food, hitherto unguessed at. Difficult to do that today. We are all so familiar with food from everywhere.
I shall return to soupe au pistol some time soon.