Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cooking with Pomiane

I'm delighted.

Starting this blog was an excuse for me to buy a copy of my favorite food book, perhaps ever, Cooking with Pomiane, by Edouard de Pomiane, and it arrived in the mail yesterday.

The book captures everything I think is wonderful about cooking and eating, and is written in a style that is direct and engaging. The beauty of Pomiane's work is in the little, telling detail, and in the intense, multi-sensual pleasure of cuisine he manages to capture. For instance, his recipe for fried mushrooms:

1/2 lb. small, firm mushrooms, lard or vegetable oil for deep-frying, 2 eggs, 5 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder.

[there follows a fairly standard recipe, that includes making a batter, dunking and frying the mushrooms, and serving them sprinkled with salt and fried parseley]

and then:

Taste one of the mushrooms--with your fingers, of course. You will burn your tongue, but this is the classic way to sample a friture. Inside their crisp, burning jackets the mushrooms are hardly warm and almost raw, full of the delicate, earthy scent of the fields.
I love the way Pomiane addresses you, the reader so directly, it is disarming; and I love the way he manages to capture the taste, feel, and smell of this dish.

This reminds me of an essay by Alain de Botton "On Writing (and Trouts)," in which he describes how hard it is to write in a way that really captures life. Speaking of his own first book, a journal he kept at age eight, he says, "If the book is unreadable, it's because, despite the author's best intentions, and neat handwriting, he is unable to capture much of what is actually happening. There is a list of facts, the trout, and a weather reprot, but life has slipped out of the picture." He goes on:
Much writing is like that. even when the spelling improves, it takes a struggle to arrange words so they do justice to our intentions. Typically the written account grazes the surface of an event, we see a sunset and later in the diary, fumble for something and call it 'beautiful' when we know it was a lot more, but the more can't be fixed and is soon forgotten. ...It takes more to capture life than a faithful record of sense-experience.

Another bit that I can not get enough of is a set of essays at the end of the book, which describe whole meals. These combine descriptions of shopping, cooking, and eating, with recipes. The section entitled "A Lunch in the Country" is perfect--the menu is so aesthetically on target ("My friends must be given the warmest welcome I can offer, without any pretensions or fuss--no complicated, dressed-up dishes. ...I shall give them the very best that is to be found in the village, and cook it in the simplest possible way. I need to make: scrambled eggs, shoulder of lamb roasted on the spit, mushrooms with thyme, fresh garden peas with lettuce.") The final paragraph:

And now there are a succession of joys:
The eggs with a glass of cider--just like velvet
The roast with its gravy and the mushrooms which I warmed whilst I was dishing the roast--a rustic cooking with a primitive freshness. With this, a glass of Burgundy.
The peas follow, soothingly bland
The cheese...the strawberries and cream...the coffee...a thimbleful of plum brandy....Contentment....The joy of living and of loving one's friends.
I am perhaps most impressed by these touches in Pomiane's work because he was not, by profession, at least, an essayist. He was a food scientist who worked at the Institute Pasteur in Paris in the first half of the 20th century.

I should confess I have never cooked out of this book. Not that you couldn't, only that I haven't. I savor it more for aesthetics than recipes.

Perhaps I will try some of the recipes soon.


Blogger The Modesto Kid said...

Did a double take when I read your post title, thought it said "Cooking with Ptomaine." Yuk yuk. Now to read the post...

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not as though I have anything on MY blog, but anyway, yours would be dramatically enhanced by photographs

3:34 PM  
Anonymous JO said...

ugh, I loooove this book. I have no reason why I haven't bought it yet. I'mma gonna do it now.

11:13 AM  

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