Monday, January 13, 2014

Garlic soup

This rich and simple soup -- cool weather is on its way, summer's fresh emerald green woodlands now turn a ragged sage and brown, hence, it's time for soup -- comes from a cookbook I regret having given away, Roy Andries de Groot's The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth (1973). I used to dispense with cookbooks if, "after honest effort" as a prayerbook once said, I found I could only ever make use of one recipe from them. The Auberge fit that bill, this being its only doable concoction. Saddle of chamois is better left to professionals, no? 

But as I have lately been scouring that wonderful Amazon for old culinary classics, and have treated myself to things like An Illustrated History of French Cuisine (Christian Guy, tr. Elisabeth Abbott, 1962), Food and Drink in Britain (C. Anne Wilson, 1973) and Food in History (Reay Tannahill, 1973 -- evidently a banner year for food writing), it has occurred to me: I wish I still owned The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth.  I remember puzzling over its long and sophisticated menus; I remember savoring its lovely descriptions of the snowbound valleys of deep provincial France (Savoy) in midwinter; and I remember admiring, in a puzzled sort of way, its record of precisely thought-out cocktails, wines, and digestifs that accompanied each meal the author ate at the Auberge. Here for example is where I first discovered such a thing as Chartreuse, the green herbal liqueur of super secret formula that has been made by Carthusian monks near Grenoble since the seventeenth century. Then there were the two women who ran the auberge -- their relationship unexamined but, to our prurient minds, so interesting -- and the angry comments, which de Groot related in the preface to my edition, from readers of the first edition who harrumphed that they had used the book as a veritable tour guide but "could not find your famous inn, nor your two ladies that ran it ...."

He wondered why his readers got so snippy. Perhaps they didn't eat enough of this soup. What follows is nothing but water, garlic, bread crumbs, a bay leaf, cream, and butter. And a sprinkle of cheese. Because of the simplicity of its ingredients I believe it falls into the category the French call cuisine pauvre, the food of the poor. (It also falls into the category pain perdu, "lost bread," because it uses up bread leftovers.) Even the dressing it up with butter, cream, and cheese does not necessarily make it riche. As one of my Amazon gems tells me, butter throughout the middle ages was considered peasant food -- any Dark Age Bodo and his wife had a cow to give milk, and therefore cream and butter (see On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee, 1984, 2004. For more on Bodo specifically, you must read E.E. Powers' Medieval People, 1924). Imagine the privileged shunning butter! It "only slowly infiltrated noble kitchens," Harold McGee says. Perhaps lordly access to fresh meats made butter seem a poor substitute for joints and haunches.

So here is Roy Andries de Groot's garlic soup. I offer my transcription, with one small insistence: you must, must use homemade bread, or excellent bread from a very fine bakery, for the one and a half cups of crumbs needed. Commercial, factory produced bread is going to give you a horrid potful of something the consistency of thin glue. Try your nice homemade challah.

From start to finish preparation will only take you about 45 minutes. When you raise a fragrant spoonful to your lips -- I will attempt to paraphrase our author from memory -- you should reflect that "somewhere tonight ten thousand French families are doing the same, tasting your pleasure in garlic soup."

Garlic soup

Bring 6 cups cold water to a boil in a large pot. When the water is just boiling, add 4 cloves of garlic, minced, 2 bay leaves, and 1 and 1/4 cups bread crumbs. Simmer 30 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1/2 cup cream, 5 Tablespoons butter, and a little nutmeg. Add another 1/4 bread crumbs if necessary. The soup should be "the consistency of light cream."

Do not boil Serve hot, sprinkled with grated parmesan or Gruyère cheese. 

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