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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.
Top customer reviews
She had me right away when she set out three bubbles to pop:
- Under Catherine de Medici, the Italians brought high cuisine to France
- Spice was used to mask rotten food
- Dom Perignon invented champagne
And, to me, a lesser bubble (more pimple) -- that foods brought from the European discovery of the Americas QUICKLY transformed (caps mine) the European diet in the hundred years after Columbus.
In fine fashion, Dr. Pinkard gives us sufficient background of cuisine in Europe and especially France during the Medieval times, through the Renaissance into the transitional 17th century. We have sixty pages of informative writing which even pays good attention to ancient and Asian elements. I am happy to see her appreciation of Braudel in this history as the great scholar of the many small economic and social events that truly shape history.
She presents the Middle Ages as a cuisine much closer to what I think of as our contemporary styles. This was an age of complicated cooking. They loved to combine opposing tastes such as sweet and savory. Hot pepper (black peppercorns, not chili just yet) and garlic with honey or beet sugar. In part, such force of flavor is compensation for bland staples of greens and beens.
DR. Pinkard gives us plenty of Easter Eggs along the way. I learned the nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie..." I revisited the rhyme in my college days at Georgetown (who is the publisher of this book) as full of code concerning the religious wars. Now I read that part of the pageantry was to hide real live birds in an already baked pie crust of formidable size. And another informational egg: This is the time of the seven course meal. Medieval times understandably began with the entree, which opens the appetite. Openers tended to be acid while closers were mellow. She leads you through the intervening courses, with two more after leaving table.
Moving into the Renaissance, we find basic continuity. There is a lot of meat here, even for the lower classes. Of course, they eat tough, stringy beef, not lamb or pork or chicken because old cows and bulls are a product of the lucrative leather trade. Vegetables rise in stature and variety. Catherine comes to France, but in a continuity of cuisine. No transformation here. Good exposition is given for this period. But I am not sure the title is all that apt for this book as we move into its second part.
Revolution seems to me too easy an analogy of the French Revolution proper, but that was sudden, savage and severe. Maybe the publisher wanted a hook, rather than to have the sort of bland title that academics would typically use.
Post-Renaissance, we are introduced to two important cooks books that point the way to delicate cooking. Cooking to bring out the essence reaches to chemistry and to art. Also, the old social ways are replaced by the new society in Paris. Tables are not ridden by status and rank. Tables of a dozen can be sat around, rather than regimented in sitting order, right and left.
We have moved from the complex confusion to the simple. Instead of yoking opposites, emphasis is placed on essences of peas and chickens, cabbages and artichoke. If simple, the cooking is now rich. Cream, butter, flour and egg all coax the essence of the main ingredient to emerge.
Yet simple does not mean easy. Steps are many and some are laborious. Follow her through preparing pigeon bisque. Sauces are now magnifiers and amplifiers rather than masks or opposers.
Once she turns the corner of 1650, Dr. Pinkard is in her glory that makes the book rate the fifth star. Topic after significant topic is introduced, illuminated and evaluated. This book is one of history, not a cookbook. If you have at least intermediate skill and interest, whether home, hobbyist or professional, this book also serves as a useful source of ideas, information and inspiration.
In full disclosure, I noticed that her book is dedicated to Terry. If this means Terry Pinkard, he might have been my professor of philosophy at Georgetown (along with my friend Zia Sedghi). Susan was at University of Chicago, where my daughter finished her undergraduate degree recently. Highly recommended anyway.
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.
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