Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thoughts on French Cuisine

NOTE: Google tells me that, in the last four years, many people have come to this blog looking for a vegan clafoutis recipe.  I imagine that the post that follows, something that is more of a story than a recipe, is quite frustrating.  So, if you are looking for the vegan clafoutis recipe, the place you want to go is here.

In particular, these are thoughts on French recipes.
I have not used enough French cookbooks to have a basis for comparison, although I have noticed that the Provencale cookbook I purchased in France shares with my family's recipes the quality I am about to describe for you. In short, French recipes are extremely precise on certain points, and incredibly vague when it comes to others.
Summer 2007 139
Take, for example, my mother's cousin's recipe for the pickled cherries written about here. The recipe states how much vinegar to use, how much and exactly what type of sugar to use, that exactly three pinches of cinnamon must go into the pickling solution, and exactly how many days the jars must sit "dans le noir" (in total darkness.) It even cautions you that the pickles, once the jar is opened, will be very strong, "like a new pot of mustard." But the recipe fails to include a detail that, by some standards,is vital.
Nowhere does the recipe tell you how many cherries to use.
My family's recipe for vin de cerisier or pechier (cherry-leaf or peachtree-leaf wine) is similarly composed. I don't have it on hand, but I do recall that it says to pluck exactly sixty leaves from your desired tree in the month of September only!!!!! (However I have witnessed my mother's other cousin picking cherry tree leaves for this recipe in October. October!!!!!)
Now, I turn to my family recipe for clafoutis, also spelled clafouti, pronounced by my family as "cleff-foo-TEA" but pronounced by the Barefoot Contessa as "claFOOty." I think of it is as a light, cake-y dessert with lots of fruit and less cake. Mark Bittman described it in How to Cook Everything as like a giant pancake baked in the oven with fruit. Either way, it's delicious. It can be made with pretty much any fruit. It's usually made with cherries, sour cherries (or as you Oregonians call them, "pie cherries"), and one distinguishing characteristic of clafoutis made with cherries is that you do not remove the pits from the cherries. It would change the way the dessert bakes. Or something. I don't know. I have had it both ways, and personally, I like it the old-fashioned way. It helps the fruit retain its structure and prevents the dessert from turning into messy pink mush.
Once pie cherries (oops, I mean, sour cherries!) came into season and were available at my local Whole Foods, I planned to make clafoutis. The recipe is not, as I suspected, on my computer. I've had my grandmere recite it to me over the phone before, but sometimes she changes her version over the phone. I wanted to find the original, as written and retyped into Gmail by my mother. Trying both spellings, I finally stumbled across the following. You will note that it shares with the other French recipes mentioned in this writing a strange lack of detail with reference to how much fruit you are supposed to use. But it was the last part of the recipe that had me the most dismayed.

2-3 EGGS

COOK IN A PIE PLATE AT I don't have that. oops.
[Updated Friday morning to include a picture of the finished product ready to be baked!]


Muriel said...

And according to Grandmere the most important ingredient, a pinch of salt!
Temp 450 degrees for 15 mins and then 325 for 45 mins to 1 hour or when cooked.

Muriel said...

Also I never make it with the cherries because I hate the pits. Pears are excellent.