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A Wee Bit Of History: American and French Revolutions
Watching the series of conversations which details the paradox in our country’s history by Heather Cox Richardson on YouTube has made me reflect on the ideas of The Enlightenment, that pushed the colonies into declaring freedom for white male colonists in North America. With characteristic eccentricity, our family celebrates both July 4th and July 14, since we would never be having our Independence Day celebrations if the French government and some radical (to their class) aristocrats had not come to the aid of the colonists. While the dominant members of the thirteen colonies in the mid 1700s wanted to break away from a government across the sea, the revolution in France was one of overthrowing the government at home. In the colonies, families were split over loyalty to the Crown versus a craving for independence. In France it was pure class warfare.
When we invited our friends from Lyon — the Three Js – we had assumed they would be intrigued to see first hand the role that France had played in the creation of Canada and the United States. To our surprise, they knew very little about the relationship. The French & Indian Wars (which I remember having to study interminably) resulted in France losing its very lucrative trade outposts in North America in 1763. And loosely, the military aid the colonists received from France was a payback by the French to the British. We should note that both our revolutions continued well into the 19th century, ours with the American Civil War and in France with the Communard Revolt. Each had its own misery in the aftermath of victory.
Quatorze Juillet En Amerique
On July 4th, our family has enjoyed many American themed menus (I used to happily follow the ones in the old Gourmet centerfolds), but we freely switch gears and do a loosely derived French summer menu to honor Quatorze Juillet. One year we had some British, French and American friends to celebrate. We played all the national anthems while we made toasts. I remember vaguely that there were a lot of clinking glasses and that we had a very mixed grill (which actually was Italian). The salad (made by the French contingent) had the French flag artfully laid out in red (beet) white (jicama) And blue (dyed root vegetable of unknown origin). And we mercilessly devoured an American flag tart. If I remember correctly, all sides enjoyed peaceful coexistence and suffered no repercussions for any unorthodoxy.
A Cool French Menu to Celebrate American and French Revolutions
No need to suffer heat prostration for this July meal. Other than the clafoutis, there is no slaving over a hot oven, microwave or grill for anything else.. This menu allows you to celebrate Quatorze Juillet so that you too can raise lots of glasses to celebrate the past and hope for a better future. Jacqueline Panel’s first course is really not a recipe but, as my Italian son-in-law would say, a procedure. You slice a small cantaloupe or Cavaillon melon in half, remove the seeds to create a bowl, add the raspberries and some ruby port, chill and serve. Voila! For a side dish I wrote about this lovely sturdy salad that requires no care in my post about Julia Cuvy who died during the Covid 19 lockdown in France. I make it every summer.
What could be better than a recipe from a tall, deep-voiced American woman who clasped French Cuisine to her ample bosom. This salad, which can be a first course or the main deal, is from the cookbook hatched from her television programs in the 1960s, which sparked its own revolution. Julia Child’s Mayonnaise de Crabe is a great transatlantic marriage between a French salad and our Maryland Blue Crab, which is a slam dunk winner over any crab I have tasted across the pond. I very crankily ask you to make a mayonnaise (I am with David Tanis on this). It is not hard and the difference leaves Dukes and Hellmans in the dust.
- 1/2 lb ( (227gr) crab meat
- 1/2 tb (7.3ml) lemon juice
- 2 tb (30ml) extra virgin olive oil - a light one, not peppery
- fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper (or Tabasco)
- 1 tbs (15ml) finely minced shallots or scallions
- 2 to 3 tbs (30-45ml) fresh minced herbs such as parsley, tarragon, chervil, basil or chives.
- Homemade mayonnaise
- Sliced or quartered tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- Hard boiled egg quarters
- Sliced radishes
- Additional chopped parsley
- Place the crab in a mixing bowl and season to taste with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper (or Tabasco) and your mix of herbs.
- Toss lightly and let stand for at least 20 minutes (or several hours in the fridge) to absorb the flavorings of the seasonings.
- Before serving, drain the crab if there is a lot of liquid.
- Toss again with just enough mayonnaise to lightly enrobe the crab.
- Taste again for seasoning and adjust.
- You can make individual plates or one platter. -surround the crab salad with mixed greens of your choice.
- Add an additional garnish of mayonnaise to the top of the crab salad
- Garnish individual plates or the platter with, quartered hard boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes and/or radishes, capers, anchovies and additional herbs of your choice.
- This recipe makes a perfect main meal for two people or an appetizer for four.
- I double this recipe when we have guests, and the leftovers are delicious the next day.
The Clafoutis Quest
Both Nils Bertrand and I share this memory of having tasted or made a clafoutis once in our lives that was divine. We have driven our spouses crazy in our efforts to recreate the clafoutis of our memories. His was in some little restaurant somewhere in France. Mine was from a cookbook that I sold in the shop until it went out of print. I have cooked out of this book off and on since 1975! I had forgotten that this was The Recipe because Jeannette Seaver had titled it a Plum Custard Cake. The author is a French violinist who married an American journalist, became a citizen and currently runs a publishing company that is not intimidated by censorship, be it by government or current social mores. While that is impressive, I treasure this nifty cookbook Jeanette Seaver wrote while raising her family, frugally using the techniques and recipes she had learned in France. Lots of neat notes about using leftovers, learning how to work with what you can purchase in an American supermarket and little treasures like this plum clafoutis. This recipe nails it. My only change is that I liberally sprinkle almond flour or powder after I have buttered the dish. And yes, the addition of rum or kirsch in the batter is a great touch, and my children loved it.
- 1 1/2 lbs (680g) plums
- 2 oz (57gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup (236ml) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (64gr) white all purpose (flour
- 2/3 cup (150gr) sugar - I prefer caster sugar
- 2 tsp (10ml) vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 400F (205C)
- Wash, halve (or quarter if large) ,and pit plums
- In a mixer or blender, combine the eggs, flour, butter, milk, sugar and vanilla extract so that you have a smooth batter.
- Butter a casserole or gratin dish (or pie pan) that holds about 1 - 1/12 quarts capacity.
- Place the halved and pitted plums in the dish and pour the batter over them.
- Bake for about 45 minutes until the batter has become firm on the surface, but the batter will have a custard like consistency.
- Remove from the oven, sprinkkle with sugar and serve warm.
- She suggests adding 1/4 cup Kirsch or rum to the batter and I concur.
- I have also topped this with my standby whipped cream
- It is delicious cold too.
- I sprinkle almond flour on the bottom of the dish after I have buttered it.
- I also add a pinch of fine sea salt to the batter.
- Sometimes, if the batter looks a little clumpy, i strain it and with the back of wood spoon or a Rubbermaid spoonula, I i push through the clumpy bits.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.