Une tranche de pain bis (A slice of brown bread)

champignons de Paris (Paris mushrooms); from a website of of l'Université Pierre et Marie Curie


Last week’s Dirty Cookies concerned savoring the unpalatable. Since then, in a recent issue of The Brooklyn Rail, I have come across some of Colette’s many encouragements to savor the rather more palatable. From Mary Ann Caws’s translation, “I Love Being a Gourmande”:

The real gourmet is the one who takes as much delight in a buttered tartine as in a grilled lobster, if the butter is a fine one, and the bread well kneaded. . . . As far as “favorite dishes” are concerned, I prefer . . . everything good, that makes, at mealtime, a little feast for the papillaries and the mind. One day, I feel like salads, loving as I do pure olive oil, fruity, and red wine vinegar that I prepare at home. One day, meat is the thing, in its least harmful forms, on a charcoal fire, sprinkled with fresh pepper—black, from the Antilles—with a pinch of ground salt, I certainly didn’t say: sel fin. If the entrecôte is prepared with parsley, if it has retained a succulent rim of fat, it doesn’t even need butter. . . .

I refuse the help of the Paris mushroom, for it liquefies the gravy without any real profit. I banish it from the poulet chasseur, from the sautéed rabbit, from the filet of veal, that it renders still more pallid. But I smile at it when it is there alone, bare and rose-tinted, ready to be sautéed in an irreproachable butter, or grilled, or eaten raw, moistened with oil and lemon. In last November’s mild weather, I found some edible mushrooms in the grasses of the bois de Boulogne. Liberated from their leathery skin and consumed right there, how delicate they were!

I could not help but be reminded, not only of my own Zeteo essay On Savoring, but also of one of my favorite Colette passages, from her Prisons et paradis:

Une tranche de pain bis, longue d’un pied, coupée à même la miche de douze livres, . . . noyée dans le lait frais ; un gros cornichon blanc macéré trois jours dans le vinaigre et un décimètre cube de lard rosé, sans maigre : enfin un pichet de cidre dur, tiré à la cannelle du tonneau . . . Que vous semble ce menu ? C’est celui d’un de mes goûters d’enfant. En voulez-vous un autre ?

A foot-long slice of brown bread, cut from a twelve-pound loaf, . . . drowned in fresh milk; a large white pickle steeped three days in vinegar and a small cube of pink bacon, not lean; topped off by a little jug of hard cider filled from the spigot of the barrel . . . What do you think of this menu? It’s the menu of one my childhood treats. Would you like another?

— Wm. Eaton

William Eaton is the Editor of Zeteo. A collection of his essays, Surviving the Twenty-First Century, will be published by Serving House Books. For more, see Surviving the website.


Credits & Links

The photograph of champignons de Paris (Paris mushrooms) comes from a website on these mushrooms, which site (last modified 15 octobre 2010) is the work of l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie. In French. Note that this is the browner variety or “rose tinted”—variété rosé—of this mushroom, which is often sold in its quite white form (variété blanche). The site notes, inter alia, that this species of mushroom, Agaric bisporus, is one of the few that has been cultivated for centuries and that these mushrooms, as seems evident in the photo, thrive on decomposing organic matter.

Mary Ann Caws, I Love Being a Gourmande, The Brooklyn Rail, November 5, 2014. Colette’s text, in French, first appeared in Paris-Soir, 27 January, 1939, and has been reprinted in Colette, J’aime être gourmande (L’Herne, 2011), a small volume put together by Gérard Bonal et Frédéric Maget.

Caws is a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York (where Zeteo was born). Reaktion Books recently published her The Modern Art Cookbook.

Colette, Prisons et Paradis (Hachette, 1932). In French.

Francophones can also find the “childhood snack” passage in Lettre adressée à Madame ou Monsieur Untel, rédacteur en chef d’un journal prestigieux de la France.

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Une tranche de pain bis

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