Thursday, September 07, 2006

Reading. de Pomiane.

Laurie Colwin led me to Elizabeth David, and Elizabeth David led me to Edouard de Pomiane. This is how literature works for me, a chain reaction of chance introductions that lead to something more. Colwin wrote about home cooking, about puddings and cakes and homey things like casseroles and roasted chickens and the cuisine of the refined slob and fresh produce and meat from the greenmarket and the butcher, respectively, home-baked bread. David wrote about how the English were bastardizing the great dishes of French and Italian cuisines and how it really ought to be done. There was a sense of simplicity in the way they talked and thought about food, and it continues with de Pomiane, who lived and cooked and wrote several decades before.

De Pomiane was a doctor and a research scientest at the Pasteur Institute. Somehow he wrote a cookbook and became a cooking teacher and food scientist, with a radio show in the 1930's. He was actually Polish by birth, and de Pomiane was the name his family assumed when they emigrated to France. I wonder what the French must have thought of him, of his assertion that a meal needed only one main dish, that it was ridiculous and unnecessary to follow a fish course with a meat course, of his modifications of traditional dishes. That is not to say he didn't believe in tradition; he did. In his introduction to Cooking with Pomiane he writes that it represents a momentary pause in the course of toil...the memory of happy moments...and their ephemeral return to life. Without tradition the past would be dead. Tradition brings back to life those whom we have loved, those to whom we owe the present and by consequence, the future. The trick was to reimagine traditional things in a new way, to make them lighter and quicker and modern.

I have not yet tried any of these recipes, but I have flipped through the pages of Cooking with Pomiane and the highly entertaining French Cooking in Ten Minutes and dreamed of dishes such as a cherry tart made with bread dough or filet steaks Dauphinois, or perhaps an omelet flambé (one of his ten-minute desserts). Most dishes give suggestions for which other dishes to serve alongside and which wine (usually red; either a rough red wine or perhaps a Côtes du Rhone or a good Burgundy, if you have it). His writing is clear and witty and offhandedly amusing. He remarks of a boiled leg of lamb, that it will look gray and a little sad, but when it is cut, the slices are rosy and running with delicious juice. He is constantly reassuring the reader/cook that even if something looks rather unprepossessing or even grotesque as it comes out of the oven, it will taste wonderful, and you believe him.

The premise that de Pomiane sets forth is that good food should be simple, easy to prepare, delicious, and not expensive, relying on the freshest of ingredients. He is a scientist, and writes in scientific terms (much is made of albumins coagulating in meats and fishes and eggs), but his writing is beautiful, almost poetic as he describes a dish of champignons à la crème as exquisite and velvety, a caress for your palate. His words are a caress of the palate as well.

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