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A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine, 1650-1800 Hardcover – September 29, 2008
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Modern French habits of cooking, eating, and drinking were born in the Ancièn Regime, radically breaking with culinary traditions that originated in antiquity and creating a new aesthetic. This new culinary culture saw food and wine as important links between human beings and nature. Authentic foodstuffs and simple preparations became the hallmarks of the modern style. Pinkard traces the roots and development of this culinary revolution to many different historical trends, including changes in material culture, social transformations, medical theory and practice, and the Enlightenment. Pinkard illuminates the complex cultural meaning of food in her history of the new French cooking from its origins in the 1650s through the emergence of cuisine bourgeoise and the original nouvelle cuisine in the decades before 1789. This book also discusses the evolution of culinary techniques and includes historical recipes adapted for today's kitchens.
Amazon Exclusive: Author Susan Pinkard on the French Culinary Revolution
Why French food? There are a couple of answers to that question, one of which has to do with history and the other with my life.
From ancient Rome through the Renaissance, cooking all over Europe was pungent, spicy, and sweet or sweet/sour, rather like North African or Middle Eastern food is today. From Naples to London, Seville to Warsaw, cooks used local ingredients as well as imported spices to fuse layers of flavor into complex sauces that were meant to balance the elemental composition of the foods with which they were served. The point, aesthetically as well as in terms of diet, was to civilize ingredients and to render them wholesome by transforming them in the kitchen. Then, quite suddenly, French cooks broke with this ancient tradition. The aim of what was called “the delicate style” was to cook and serve ingredients in a manner that preserved the qualities with which they were endowed by nature: instead of being miraculously transformed by the cook, food was supposed to taste like what it was. In pursuit of this new aesthetic of naturalness and simplicity, cooks developed many techniques and recipes that continue to define French cuisine to this day. Indeed, the impact of the French culinary revolution reverberated far beyond the borders of France. The fact that so many of us moderns wish to eat and drink in a manner that represents the variety of nature reflects our lasting attachment to the idea of authenticity that first emerged in the kitchens of the ancien régime. Why and how had this major shift in sensibility come about? What does the culinary revolution reveal about other aspects of modern life that were also coming into focus in 17th- and 18th-century France? Those were the historical questions I set out to answer in this book.
The other reason why I decided to write about the rise of French cuisine is that I love to eat French food and I cook it almost every day. One of the enduring misconceptions about French cooking (especially in America) is that it is inherently fussy, expensive, and ridiculously rich. Although such a rococo element certainly exists, especially in fancy restaurant cooking, recipes from the cuisine bourgeoise (that is, home cooking as it has evolved in France over the past 250 years) are easy and economical to make and healthy to eat: roasted chicken with a quick deglazing sauce, inexpensive braised meats, poached fish with a little white wine, simply prepared vegetables, plain green salads, puréed soups of leeks, potatoes, and other fresh, cheap ingredients, just to name a few of my favorites. I hope that by focusing attention on the development of this aspect of the culinary tradition, my book will encourage readers to experiment with simple French foods. The historical recipes, in the appendix, are a good place to start.
Cook up the Enlightenment: Exclusive Recipe Excerpts from A Revolution in Taste
• Green Butter with Leek and Parsley (Marin)
• Potage aux Herbes (Marin)
• Roasted Chicken with Bitter Orange and Garlic Deglazing Sauce (Bonnefons)
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The French have been inextricably tied with fine cuisine, and Pinkard's accessible and often fascinating examination of the country's culinary evolution gives foodies a rich, savory treat. Beginning with medieval cooking, characterized by strong seasonings that gave food a singular flavor, Pinkard explains how cooking was greatly influenced by early medicine, which insisted that the body's "humours" could be regulated by spices. As more fruits and vegetables made their way onto French tables, preparation methods evolved. By the mid 1600s, cooks began to emphasize tastes and textures, first incorporating the sauces now associated with classic French cooking. By the mid 1700s there was a drive toward lightness and simplicity called nouvelle cuisine, "a style that could be just as expensive, subtle and exacting to execute as its twentieth-century namesake." Though she rarely points out similarities to current trends like "slow food" and organic ingredients, the parallels are clear and relevant. Digressions on eating patterns, typical meals, the evolution of the dinner party and classic recipes (reproduced in an appendix) add interest and depth. Despite occasional ventures into academic minutiae, anyone interested in the evolution of modern cooking and entertaining is sure to find Pinkard's history a wealth of lore and trivia.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Pinkard presents this transformation in three parts, beginning with an explanation of what came before: the ideas that shaped the cuisines of Southern Europe for 2000 years and the history of food supplies and dining habits in France during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Once we know what came before, we find ourselves in the mid-17th century, when two cookbooks ushered in the era of "le goût naturel", revolutionizing the way the French view and consume food: "Le Cuisinier françois" by François Pierre aka La Varenne and "Les Délices de la campagne" by Nicolas de Bonnefons. When the mid-18th century brought return-to-nature ideas into fashion, simple cooking had found a strong philosophical basis in the rejection of artifice.
When I read the introduction to "A Revolution in Taste", I was surprised by the author's claim that French cuisine strove to "keep it simple" and "let things taste of what they are" in the modern era. That might describe Southern Italian or Spanish cuisine, but I have always associated elaborate technique and presentation with classic French cuisine, and, to be frank, it doesn't have any taste. The preponderance of butter, cream, wine, and egg yolks dampens any flavor that the ingredients might naturally possess. But placing the change in French cuisine in its context is illuminating. By viewing it as a departure from the ancient cuisines of Europe, I can see how its embrace of natural flavors, relatively speaking, led to the cuisines that I most enjoy today.
"A Revolution in Taste" is articulate and concise, but dense. The author covers a lot of ground in fewer than 250 pages. She not only describes the evolving cuisines themselves, why they changed, and how the new ideas about cooking were disseminated, but also the dietetic and philosophical ideas that supported them, presentation and dining styles, the economic and globalization factors that affected the choice of ingredients, and touches upon the differences in aristocratic, bourgeois, and peasant ways of eating. Sometimes paragraphs are packed with too much information for comfort. But that is a quibble. For those who want to try the recipes, Pinkard provides reconstructions of about thirty 17th-18th century dishes in the Appendix, with complete instructions for the modern kitchen. Bon appétit.
You will learn how typical seating arrangements at medieval dining tables discouraged conversation during meals.
Or how, between 1600 and 1650, "culinary refinement" to flatter the tastes of gourmets began to take precedence over prevailing medical theories, some dating back to the time of Hippocrates, about the health effects of various foods and diets.
And how, with the growing profusion of fresh meats and vegetables, French cooking evolved from an early era of heavy, sweet and acidic sauces which largely masked the taste of the food (which might not be so darned good) to delicate cooking and sauces intended to highlight the freshness and natural flavors of meat and produce.
The development of roux based sauces, emulsions. The fact that "nouvelle cuisine" was actually a term first used about food and cooking in 1742 -- eat your hearts out, Gault-Millau.
The arrival of coffee in France in the mid-17th century and how it transformed the typical French breakfast. The evolution (the author calls it a "revolution") from winemaking for local consumption, with wines of reasonably low alcohol and little extract, intended for drinking young, to the deeper and richer Bordeaux, Burgundy and other French wines we collect and cellar today.
There is a handful of recipes from the 17th and 18th century (I've not tried them yet). An extensive bibliography for those who really want to dig in.
Quite the book for the serious foodie. Not likely to be a book most folks will take to the beach, however.
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My goals were go back to the extravagant, pre-classical period of French Cuisine, and...Read more