Elisabeth Luard is a British food-writer, journalist and broadcaster specialising in the traditional cooking of Europe and Latin America (though she’ll take a swing round Africa and India if asked), placed in its social, geographical and historical context. The step-daughter of a British diplomat, her early schooling was in Uruguay, Spain, France and Mexico.

Mirroring her own childhood, she brought up her family of four children (with husband, writer and conservationist Nicholas Luard, founding-proprietor of satirical magazine Private Eye) in Andalusia, Languedoc and London. Later, with children grown, workplaces switched to the island of Mull in the Hebrides, Nicholas’s home territory, before, some 20 years ago, they moved to a remote farmhouse in the wilds of Wales. Widowed five years ago, Elisabeth continues to live and work in Wales.

As a journalist, she writes every month in the UK’s Country Living, and has a cookery-column in The Oldie - a tongue-in-cheek magazine edited by Richard Ingrams, founding editor of Private Eye - and for anyone else who offers employment. Among books-in-print (or available on the re-tread market) are European Peasant Cookery (US: The Old World Kitchen. 1985 and still in print), Festival Food (1988, reprinted 2009), The Food of Spain and Portugal (2004), Classic French (2006, includes her own illustrations) and Classic Spanish (2007, includes her own illustrations). The Latin American Kitchen (2003), Sacred Food (2001), Truffles (2006), Food Adventures (2006, a cookbook for children written with daughter-in-law, Frances Boswell, sometime food-editor at Martha Stewart Living).

Elisabeth LuardOther publications include autobiographies-with-recipes Family Life (1996), Still Life (1998) and My Life as a Wife (2008). As for the rest, well, she admits to a couple of doorstopper novels: Emerald (1993 - Thumping Good Read Award) and Marguerite (1995). To come: A Year in a Welsh Farmhouse Kitchen (Bloomsbury, scheduled spring 2011), The Oldie Cookbook (Oldie Publications, due Oct 2010, includes her own illustrations).

Elisabeth’s early career as a natural-history artist led to work as an illustrator, and while she no longer exhibits in London’s Tryon Gallery, she still takes travel-notes with watercolours and sketchbook. Her watercolour illustrations can currently be seen in Country Living. Sketches from her travel-notebooks are being used to illustrate her recipes in The Oldie Cookbook. As a proud granny of seven - two in New York and five in London -she visits regularly and cooks with her grandchildren whenever she can. website: elisabethluard.com

Articles by Author

These Savory Bites Recall Earlier Times In England Image

Anyone for delicious little frivolities with an aristocratic pedigree?

The peculiarly English habit of serving something savory as the final course in a meal — the place usually occupied by cheese — was still in fashion in the grander country houses of England until about half a century ago, when it dropped out of favor in domestic kitchens, although the custom didn’t entirely vanish in London’s gentlemen’s clubs and at formal civic occasions.

Savory bites originally intended to show off host’s good fortune

The savory — for those who’ve never been confronted by this small and salty bite on toast immediately after dessert — is a Victorian introduction to the British menu designed to show off the servants and the silver with as many courses as possible in the high old days of empire. Classics of the genre were roasted marrow bones; deviled herring roes; sweetbreads; chicken livers; smoked fish; salted anchovies pounded with butter; and prunes or oysters wrapped in bacon and flashed under the grill (devils and angels on horseback, respectively).

Savories, simple to prepare and good with the gentlemen’s port, suited the style of the relatively servantless 1920s. Agnes Jekyll, a columnist at the London Times, devotes an entire chapter to them in her book “Kitchen Essays” (London, 1922). Agnes’ sister-in-law Gertrude, known as Lady Jekyll, suggests puff-pastry boats as a more elegant vehicle than toast, as these can be prepared in advance and filled “with all manner of cargo such as eggs scrambled with cheese, or cold hard-boiled and chopped with a little gherkin and capers, sardines made into a purée beneath a thin veil of a soufflé mixture or a savoury custard, slightly browned in the oven; anchovies beaten with cream into a cold cayenne mousse, or coming chilled from the refrigerator with a thin sprinkle of cress.”

Place cards created by Monica Rawlins for meals at her home. Credit: Monica Rawlins

Place cards created by Monica Rawlins for meals at her home. Credit: Monica Rawlins

Agnes Jekyll’s readership at the time included my husband’s godmother, Monica Rawlins — born at the turn of the century — who acted as her father’s hostess at the family home, Syston Manor in Somerset, after the early death of her mother. Miss Rawlins’ delightful illustrated menus indicate six courses, concluding with the savory. As the youngest of three daughters and three sons (two killed in World War I), she was expected to remain unmarried at home — all very “Downton Abbey.” But she escaped to live a bohemian life as an artist in Wales, never married and left me, the widow of her godson, a glove box full of her menu cards and her annotated Edwardian-era cookbooks in the remote farmhouse that was hers for the rest of her life, and where I now live.

Savories are simple, delicious and too good to lose for lack of a menu opening. Serve them in much the same way as tapas or mezze, in combination and all on the table at the same time.

Choose four recipes to share between four people as the main course — no need for starters, though a green salad would not come amiss. Savories are also perfect for a summer lunch or a candlelit kitchen supper.

Queen Victoria’s Beef Marrow Toasts

Her Imperial Majesty’s chef, Charles Francatelli, confided to his readership that his royal employer, in spite of rumors concerning her health after the death of her beloved Prince Albert, was fortified with this little treat every day.

Serves 4

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 beef or veal marrow bones

4 slices of white bread

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or spring onion

Juice of 1 lemon

Directions

1. Have the butcher break the bone open to allow you to get at the marrow. Remove the raw marrow and cut it into hazelnut-sized pieces.

2. When you’re ready to serve, poach the marrow pieces delicately in a little boiling salted water for one minute only, and then drain immediately.

3. Meanwhile, toast the bread and then cut it into squares.

4. Pile the marrow on the hot toast, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the parsley, onion and a squeeze of lemon and serve without delay — marrow sets as it cools.

Lady Jekyll’s Mushroom Toasts

This was Miss Rawlins’ favorite savory, made with the big, flat field mushrooms that spring up overnight in the sheep pastures surrounding her house in the Welsh hills.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 ounces butter

8 large open-cap mushrooms

Salt to taste

8 tablespoons thick cream

1 teaspoon English mustard

White pepper to taste

Bread rounds for serving

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a frying pan and lay in the caps (save the stalks for a sauce or soup). Salt lightly and be patient while they lose their moisture and begin to fry. First they will sizzle, and then juices will run.

2. Meanwhile, combine the cream with the mustard and pepper and mix well.

3. Transfer the mushrooms carefully to a gratin dish when done. Finish each cap with a tablespoon of the cream seasoned with mustard and pepper.

4. Slip the dish under a grill or broiler until the cream bubbles.

5. Serve on bread toasted in the buttery juices left in the pan — get the pan good and hot so the bread is really crisp.

The Duchess of Windsor’s Doigts au Fromage (Fingers of Cheese)

The former Mrs. Simpson — hostess-with-the-mostest in postwar Paris — astonished her sophisticated guests with her English savories, an idea unknown in France. “A meal,” she said, “should always be witty and include a surprise.” Frozen cheese fingers supplies both.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Freeze Time: 2 to 3 hours

Total Time: start 2 to 3 hours ahead, 30 minutes prep and finish

Ingredients

1 medium-ripe camembert, crusts removed

1 heaped tablespoon curd cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ pint (½ cup) heavy cream, whipped stiff

Grated parmesan for dusting

Directions

1. Blend the camembert and curd cheese together by pushing them through a sieve or chop thoroughly in the food processor.

2. Season with salt and pepper and fold in the whipped cream.

3. Spread a layer the thickness of your thumb on a baking tray lined with cling film. Turn out the cheese mixture onto a hard, clean surface and cut into fingers.

4. Dust with finely grated parmesan and serve ice cold. This is perfect served with ripe strawberries dressed with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

Main illustration: Menu cards illustrated by Monica Rawlins for dinners at her home. Credit: Monica Rawlins

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How To Find The Flavor Du Jour In The Hills Of Provence Image

High in the hills of Provence, France, in early summer, far from the crowds of the Cote d’Azur, when the lavender fields are in bloom and the mountains are fragrant with rosemary and thyme, the markets of the Vaucluse are filled with the products of the region. No one is more proud of their regional cooking than people in the communities of la France profonde — deep rural France. Even the huge hypermarkets are obliged to carry local produce and give space to local growers.

The villages, on the other hand, have been steadily depopulating since the end of World War II. In the 1990s, when I spent a full school year in the region with my family of four children, only the larger towns had any hope of filling classrooms.

Life is hard up in the mountains. Shepherding and subsistence farming were the old ways, and the children of the war years had no desire to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Thereafter, the drift to the towns appeared unstoppable until the arrival of les soixante-huitants, the 68ers, a wave of young escapees from the university cities, particularly Paris, after the brutal suppression of the student uprisings of 1968.

In Provence, small towns populated by those escaping city life

The young who fought the tear gas of former French President Charles de Gaulle’s riot police with Molotov cocktails retreated to the old communist strongholds — centers of resistance under German occupation — escaping from joblessness (then as now) and the demands of the consumer society. By the 1990s, a new age of disillusionment brought a fresh crop of escapees to join the teenage children of the original good-lifers.

Village schools reopened, area cafes reclaimed their clientele and young farming families began to replant the old subsistence crops and revive traditional crafts. Among these second-wave escapees was the redoubtable Annie Pacaut, innkeeper at Savoillans in the valley du Toulourenc, who collected old farmhouse recipes and acquired a local following for cuisine grandmere, hearty dishes served without pretension and not a Michelin star in sight. Under Pacaut’s patronage, the village acquired an artisan baker using locally milled flour and a butcher specializing in regional charcuterie.

A mountain village in Provence, France. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

A mountain village in Provence, France. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Her menu was strictly du jour, and she was open Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday for lunch. Main courses were either milk-fed kid with an almond-thickened sauce or shoulder of one of the small mountain lambs braised with epeautre, or spelt, an ancient strain of wheat that appreciates altitude and poor soil.

The hors d’oeuvre was a rough-textured pate-de-campagne with homegrown radishes and home-pickled cornichons. Wine and water came in jugs, and the cheese course was equally unpretentious: a hank of salad (endive or frisée) dressed with local olive oil and vinegar topped with a little disk of goat cheese on a round of toast blistered under the grill. Should you wish for dessert, the baker could oblige (if it wasn’t too late) with a buttery chausson de pommes — apple turnover — and you might care to pass by the butcher on the way home for his air-cured saucisson, a cured sausage, or a second helping of paté.

Roast Kid or Lamb With Almond Sauce

Annie Pacaut’s recipe is for a whole milk-fed kid to serve 30, so I have adapted it for leg of lamb, a lean meat that works well with a rich sauce. Serve with plenty of bread for mopping.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

2 pounds (1 kilogram) leg of lamb, chopped in thick steaks across the bone

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces (200 grams) whole, unblanched almonds

1 whole garlic head, cloves separated but unskinned

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 cup white wine

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Check over the lamb steaks and trim off any gristle.

2. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a heavy casserole. Toast the almonds in the hot oil, remove and reserve.

3. Add the rest of the oil, reheat and fry the meat until it browns a little. Add the garlic cloves, parsley and wine and bubble to evaporate the alcohol.

4. Add the water and bubble up again.

5. Turn down the heat, cover and leave to simmer very gently for about 1½ hours, until the meat is tender enough to eat with a fork. (You may need to add a splash of boiling water if it looks like it is drying out.) You can also cook it in a low oven — 275 F (140 C or Gas 2) — for about 1½ hours.

6. When the meat is perfectly tender, pound the reserved almonds to a paste, dilute with a little of the lamb juices and stir the mixture back into the sauce to thicken it.

Peppered Lamb Shoulder With Spelt

Pearl barley is a possible substitute for the hard-grain spelt, Pacaut says. The secret to the flavor is an unreasonable amount of white pepper — white peppercorns are fierier though less aromatic than black. The result should be as hot as chili sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 small bone-in lamb shoulder

8 ounces (250 grams) spelt or barley grains

2 pounds (1 kilogram) fresh or canned tomatoes

12 garlic cloves

2 ounces (50 grams) unsalted butter

2 to 3 heaping tablespoons ground white pepper

Salt

Directions

1. Wipe the meat and rinse the grains through cold water, leaving them damp.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C or Gas 7).

3. Spread the tomatoes (skinned and roughly chopped if fresh) in a roomy roasting tin. Settle the lamb joint on top, and spoon the grains over the tomatoes.

4. Sprinkle with the garlic cloves, and drop a knob of butter in each corner.

5. Pour a glass of water over the grains to ensure they have enough liquid to swell.

6. Dust the meat with the pepper. Cover tightly with foil so the steam doesn’t escape.

7. Roast in the heated oven for half an hour, then prick the meat so the juices run and add more boiling water if the grains are beginning to dry out. Replace the foil, reduce the oven heat to 350 F (180 C or Gas 4) for 1½ to 2½ hours, depending on the size of the shoulder, until the meat is so tender it can be pulled apart with a fork.

Main illustration: Green almonds. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

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Turn To Fresh Herb Dishes On Pre-Easter Green Thursday Image

It’s almost Green Thursday — otherwise known as Clean Thursday, the day before Good Friday and three days before Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 17.

No time to waste. Get out the mop and bucket, dust the furniture, air the blankets, beat the carpet, wash the windows, scrub the larder, polish the pots and pans, bleach the kitchen table, shine the slate, sweep the chimney, black the grate, whitewash the stoop.

And when all is shiny and bright, head for the great outdoors and cut yourself a bunch of budding willow or birch or hazel or whatever shows signs of life in the undergrowth and bring it indoors to unfurl its leaves in the warmest room in the house.

All this must be done before sundown on Green Thursday to ensure happiness and prosperity in the year to come — a more than adequate reward for cleaning behind the fridge.

Green Thursday menu continues with the green theme

And if these chores are not on your list of things to do on Green Thursday, you’d be run out of town with a flea in your ear if you lived in, say, Eastern Europe or rural Germany or in one of the isolated farmhouses of France’s Massif Centrale — or indeed anywhere where people still sweep their own doorsteps, plant their own potatoes and maintain a modicum of self-sufficiency. A lesson to us all in these straightened times.

As for the food, well, no one has much time for cooking when they’re cleaning and scrubbing all day. Traditional Green Thursday menus vary from region to region, though the general rule is a generous helping of blood-cleansing spring herbs, preferably gathered from the wild, served either in soup or a salad.

greenthursday2

greenthursday2
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Chervil. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Herb Salad With Eggs and Spring Herring

Green Thursday is traditionally celebrated in Germany by those who have access to the fishing ports with the last of the spring herrings — known as groene, or green herrings, for the sheen on their silvery flanks. When the boats come in, the catch is freshly filleted by the quayside and eaten raw with diced onion or carried home and lightly salted for additional shelf life. Rollmops — brine-pickled herring-fillets — are an acceptable inland substitute.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Large bunch young spinach leaves, de-stalked, rinsed and shredded

Small bunch parsley, de-stalked and chopped

Small bunch chervil, de-stalked and chopped

Small bunch sorrel, de-stalked and chopped

Small bunch chives, chopped

Small bunch dill, chopped

8 fresh herring fillets or rollmops

1 pound potatoes, scrubbed and thickly sliced

4 hard-boiled eggs

For the sauce:

1 crème fraîche, also called soured cream

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons chopped gherkin or pickled cucumber

Directions

1. Combine the shredded spinach with the chopped herbs in a bowl.

2. Drain the herrings if roll-mopped, or salt lightly if fresh.

3. Boil the sliced potatoes in plenty of salted water till tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool.

4. Shell and chop the eggs.

5. Fold the soured cream with the chopped dill and pickle. Serve each component separately for people to help themselves. Accompany with black bread, sweet white butter and the last of the winter’s pickled cucumbers.

Fromage Frais Aux Fines Herbes (Fresh Cheese With Herbs)

Fresh white cheese beaten with cream and herbs is proper on Green Thursday in the uplands of France, where la cueillette, the gathering of wild greens from the countryside, is the inalienable right of every man, woman and child whether they own the land or not.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 pound fresh curd cheese (fromage frais or equivalant)

1 cup crème fraîche (soured cream)

2 garlic cloves or fresh green garlics, chopped

1 heaped tablespoon chopped parsley

1 heaped tablespoon chopped chives

1 heaped tablespoon chopped chervil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

For serving:

Baguette

Olives

Salad leaves (dandelion, corn salad, bittercress or sorrel, for example)

Walnut oil

Salt

Directions

1. Mix the fresh cheese with the cream in a bowl and beat till smooth.

2. Fork in the rest of the ingredients.

3. Drop the mixture into a glass cloth or square of washed-out cotton sheet, tie the edges corner to corner like a pocket hankie and hang on a hook or suspend on a wooden spoon over a basin to catch drippings. Leave to drain overnight in a cool place — the longer it’s left to drain the firmer it will be.

4. Serve chilled with plenty of warm baguette, a dish of olives and a salad of wild-gathered leaves dressed with walnut oil and salt (no need for vinegar if sorrel is present).

Bavarian Chervil Soup

Bavaria’s Krautelsuppe is a fresh green soup thickened with the last potatoes from storage — an interior spring clean to match the scrubbing and house painting of Green Thursday. Similar water-based soups are eaten throughout Lent in Germany and Eastern Europe as far as Hungary and Ukraine. Measure the herbs by filling a cup and lightly pressing the contents. Each cupful should weigh roughly 3 ounces.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1½ cups soft-leaf herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill), chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups chervil leaves, de-salted, de-stalked and chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 or 3 medium old potatoes, peeled and diced

2 cups picked-over salad greens (dandelion, corn salad, watercress, chicory), shredded

Salt and pepper

Directions

1. Pick over and wash the herbs and strip out any woody stems.

2. Melt the butter in a roomy pan and fry the onion gently till transparent. Add the chervil leaves, stir over the heat for 2 to 3 minutes till they collapse.

3. Add the diced potato and 4 cups cold water, bring to the boil and then turn down the heat. Salt lightly.

4. Simmer for 20 minutes till the potato is perfectly soft.

5. Add the herbs and salad greens. Reheat and allow to bubble up to collapse the greens.

6. Mash the soup to thicken it a little. Taste and add more salt if necessary and a vigorous turn of the peppermill.

7. Serve with buttered slices of rye bread and radishes.

Main illustration: A dinner party in France. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

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In Provence, Chickpea Soup A Palm Sunday Tradition Image

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before the movable Christian feast of Easter that this year falls on April 13, marks the allotted date of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem through streets strewn with palm fronds, a moment of optimism in the run-up to the gloom of Good Friday.

Thereafter, devout households use palm fronds to decorate streets, balconies and churches to commemorate the unfolding events of Easter week. Splendidly robed Greek Orthodox monks on the island of Patmos, Greece, re-enact the Last Supper beneath arches of palm fronds with a meal of bread and wine.

Elsewhere, as the Christian message spread, congregations in non-palm-tree regions (anyone without a Mediterranean coastline) adapted an older tradition, that of bringing budded greenery indoors to celebrate the return of spring. Willow wands and young growths of hazel and birch — though never hawthorn, which was considered to bring misfortune — were brought indoors and set to unfurl their leaves by the fireside. In Germany, branches of evergreens — holly or yew — were draped with pretzels and apples, a reminder of divine responsibility to restore fertility to fields and woods.

Today, chickpeas are a sign of thanks in Provence

In France, particularly Provence, a similar sentiment was expressed by hanging candied fruits and sugar cookies wrapped in brightly colored paper on branches of olive and bay. In the regional capital, Marseilles, the proper food for Palm Sunday is chickpeas, pois chiches, the result, as legend has it, of the arrival during the Great Famine — and there were many such throughout the Middle Ages — of a shipload of chickpeas from Egypt, much to the relief of the starving citizens who thereafter commemorated the occasion with chickpea soup.

Since then, by way of giving thanks, chickpea soup is traditionally eaten on Palm Sunday both in Marseilles and the surrounding countryside. This I learned when taking time out from family duties in the 1990s to complete my second novel in a borrowed chateau in the region — huge and drafty and heated by a kitchen range with an insatiable appetite for firewood collected from the forest.

Lambesc was the nearest market town, and Saturday was market day. At the end of a morning’s bargaining, it was usual for exhausted stall holders and customers to queue up for exotic dishes prepared with considerable showmanship by a member of Marseilles’ multiethnic community. Most popular were Moroccan couscous, Spanish paella sold by the scoop and Vietnamese nem,  neat little finger-length rolls of shredded vegetables enclosed in a rice pancake, much like Chinese spring rolls, and deep-fried to order.

There was, too, a local specialité du jour offered by the traiteur — a purveyor of ready-prepared dishes, cheese and charcuterie — from a table outside his shop fronting the market square. As soon as I took my place in the queue, the day’s recipe was discussed and embellished by the rest of the queue for the benefit of l’ecrivaine, the writer, myself. In Provence, everyone knows everyone else’s business, and they value their painters and poets and respect the need for a visiting writer to eat good food.

A re-creation of the Last Supper by Greek monks on the island of Patmos, Greece. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

A re-creation of the Last Supper by Greek monks on the island of Patmos, Greece. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

The traiteur’s menu changed with the season and, when appropriate, featured dishes traditional to festivals of the Roman Catholic Church. Meatless dishes were on offer throughout Lent, though prohibitions on enriching them with olive oil or even the odd lardons of bacon were disregarded. Tomorrow being Palm Sunday, I was assured as I joined the traiteur’s Saturday queue, the proper food was soupe aux pois chiches, a thick chickpea soup to be finished, when reheated at home, with the last of the winter’s cheese.

“Bon appetit, madame,” said the traiteur as he ladled out a generous portion. “And don’t forget the cheese.”

Soupe de pois chiche au fromage (Chickpea soup with cheese)

A meatless soup is proper during the last week of Lent, a somber time in the run-up to Easter, though the inclusion of eggs and cheese is a concession to the lighter mood of Palm Sunday, when people traditionally went to the graveyard to decorate ancestors’ final resting places with flowers. 

Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

1 pound (500 grams) chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

2 mature carrots, diced

2 sticks celery, washed and chopped

1 sprig of thyme

1 sprig of rosemary

1 or 2 bay leaves

¼ cup olive oil

A dozen peppercorns, crushed

Salt to taste

For finishing:

2 eggs forked with 4 tablespoons grated cheese

Directions

1. Drain the chickpeas.

2. Bring 4 pints of water to a boil. Add the chickpeas and the rest of the ingredients except the salt.

3. Bring the pot back to a boil. Lid tightly and leave to cook at a rolling simmer for about 2 hours.

4. Add the salt to the soup when the chickpeas are soft.

5. Pour a ladle full of the hot broth into the egg-and-cheese mixture. Off the heat, whisk the mixture into the soup. Do not reboil or the eggs will curdle and your lovely velvety thickening will vanish.

6. Serve with bread, more grated cheese and a salad of lovely spring leaves — young dandelion, lamb’s lettuce, sorrel, chicory — dressed quite plainly with lemon juice, a slick of good oil and salt.

Top illustration: Lunch in Provence, France. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

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Misbegotten Omelet Is A Shrove Tuesday Tradition Image

Lent, which begins Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year), was the start in Britain of a short period of carnival preceding the 40 days of the pre-Easter fast — abstention from good things including meat, eggs and butter.

As with carnival traditions everywhere, the festival traditionally was marked by egg games — some versions of which are still to be found as municipal events, particularly in the north of England — and involved competitive rituals and the license to behave badly by young people who had not yet acquired families of their own. Medieval market towns, ever on the lookout for trade, took the opportunity to throw rowdy entertainments such as greasing the pig, egg rolling, cockfighting, dancing on the village green, pancake feasts and general indulgence in as much socially unsuitable behavior as the community was prepared to tolerate. Sometimes the festival took the form of pelting rival gangs with raw eggs and flour bags, and there is mention in Victorian accounts of license granted to choirboys to chuck eggs at senior members of the clergy.

Similar traditions still exist in the lands of the Mediterranean, where Shrove Tuesday’s specialties were — and sometimes still are — prepared by children and young people, those who do not normally cook, so the recipes had to be simple, and the ingredients, just to add to the general anarchy, had to be begged, borrowed or stolen.

As recently as the 1970s, my own four young children took part in just such a Shrove Tuesday ritual in Languedoc in southern France, disappearing with classmates for the whole day and well into the evening. Afterward they were very mysterious about what they had been up to, and it was not until several years later that they told me they had all gone around the village pinching supplies from unattended larders. Then they sneaked off to an isolated barn and cooked up a gigantic omelet in a huge iron pan. After the omelet had been torn up and eaten (no plates, knives or forks permitted), the event developed into wild, unruly games. And that was as much as they were prepared to explain.

Shrove Tuesday Omelet

This is really a fat egg pancake cooked up with bacon and fortified with potato and onion, though these can be omitted if unobtainable from the larder.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

Eggs. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Eggs. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

About 4 ounces slab bacon, diced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large mild onion, finely sliced

2 to 3 cooked potatoes (about 1 pound), diced

8 large eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a roomy frying pan or skillet, fry the bacon gently till the fat runs.

2. Add the butter and onion and fry until soft and golden but not browned.

3. Add the diced potato and let it feel the heat.

4. Fork the eggs together to blend. When the potatoes are ready, pour the eggs over and around them.

5. Stir over a gentle heat till most of the egg is set, then stop stirring and let the omelet brown a little on the base.

6. Serve in its pan, without turning it out.

La Trouchia

Languedoc and Provence, France, like omelets cooked in the Spanish way, as a fat, juicy egg cake set in olive oil rather than the soft, rolled butter-cooked omelet of northern France. Only the leaves of chard are used — the stalks are too juicy and would make the omelets gray and damp as they cool to the right temperature for eating.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 pound Swiss chard leaves (save the stalks to cook like asparagus)

4 ounces strong cheese (such as Cantal, Gruyère, Emmental, cheddar)

8 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Generous handful of chervil or flat-leaf parsley, amounting to 3 to 4 heaped tablespoons when chopped

4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Wash and dry the chard leaves and slice finely.

2. Grate the cheese and beat it into the eggs in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Chop the herbs and then mix them in with the eggs.

4. Warm 3 tablespoons of the oil in a roomy frying pan or skillet. Stir in the chard leaves and turn them quickly in the oil till they wilt. (Don’t allow the greens to burn or they will taste bitter.)

5. Tip the contents of the pan into the eggs and stir all together.

6. Add the last tablespoon of oil to the pan. When it is quite hot but not burning, pour in the egg-chard mixture. Cover the pan and cook over a gentle heat until the eggs are set — 15 to 20 minutes should do the trick.

7. Turn the now-firm pancake out, reversing it as you do so the cooked side is uppermost, onto a plate. Slide it gently back into the hot pan (add a trickle more oil if necessary) and finish cooking uncovered on the other side — allow another 5 to 8 minutes. Notice that the cooking is very gentle, which is the style of an omelet in Languedoc and Provence, where culinary habits are closer to those of Catalonia, Spain.

Top illustration: A woman feeding hens. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

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How French Are Dining Family-Style Without A Fuss Image

The spirit of revolution is still alive in rural France and takes the form of the buffet dinatoire. This is a new-old way of coming to table in the farmhouses of France’s Massif Centrale, which allows the cook to join the guests, something of breakthrough for the usually formal French hostess, reports Jo Mills, my neighbor in the remote uplands of west Wales.

Mills was born and raised in the wilds of Lorraine, a region where the frontiers drift back and forth, depending on whether France or Germany has the political upper hand. Politics make little difference to the way the country people live, Mills says. As a child, she and her siblings did what French countryfolk have always done: gathered what can be defined as small game from the wild. While the adults hunted deer and boar — her husband, Terry, is a keen huntsman like her father — the children were in charge of snails and frogs.

Buffet dinatoire a more casual approach

Mills and her family, including grandchildren, spend the post-Christmas boar-hunting season in the uplands of southern France, at their forested property on the edge of the Massif Central. This year she reports a change in the way people eat, at least in rural regions. “They call it a ‘buffet dinatoire,’ dining buffet.” This means, she says, that rather than the usual procession of savory and sweet courses — or worse, fancy restaurant-style plating — all the dishes are placed on the table at the beginning of the meal for people to help themselves. As with tapas or meze, this new-old way of family-style eating allows the hostess to relax and enjoy the company of her guests, Mills says.

While gleanings such as snails and frogs are no longer permissible in France, at least by commercial gatherers — not that country people are inclined to follow rules — Mills’ memories of childhood include night hunts for frogs with torches. “It was easy. You shone the torch down the stream bank and you could see their eyes and the shapes where they were. They didn’t move, and all you had to do was pick them up and pop them in a canvas bucket and take them home.”

Preparation thereafter was simple. “Maman picked up the frogs one by one and whacked their heads on the kitchen table, so that was the end of that. Then papa snipped off the legs just below the waist and pulled off the skin. Like this they were left in pairs and salted and left overnight to shrink and firm. Then we cooked them in two different ways. For the adults, they were dusted through flour, fried in butter and finished with white wine and cream, which is what we do in Lorraine. For the children, they were fried in the same way but finished in an omelet — whisked-up egg poured into the pan and allowed to set like a pancake.

A wild boar. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

A wild boar. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

“We children took all our meals with the grownups and we had to know how to behave at table,” she added. “You had to make sure you didn’t take too much of anything. And my mother always transferred the food to serving dishes which were handed round from person to person. This is more formal than the buffet dinatoire, when everything is on the table, and if you’ve cooked a daube, it’s permissible to serve it in its cooking pot.”

During the hunting season, when Mills’ table is always crowded, she serves the products of la chasse, mostly wild boar – or marcassin – scourge of the farmer’s crops. A single well-grown boar will feed a large household for a month, so Mills fills the freezer with slow-cooked casseroles, the perfect centerpiece of the buffet dinatoire.

Whether this way of eating is a revival of the laden tables of the old formal tradition of service a la française — replaced mid-19th century by the labor-intensive service a la russe, which demands that each course be presented separately — or a new tradition designed to challenge the restaurant-dictated tyranny of art-on-a-plate served in a succession of tiny courses, an informal way of serving ensures the cook has a chance to enjoy the meal in the company of the guests.

A return to conviviality at table is long overdue. Roll on the buffet dinatoire — you have nothing to lose but your toque.

Marcassin en Daube

The boar meat can be replaced with venison or anything else from the hunter’s bag. The only unusual ingredient is serpolet, a particularly fragrant mountain thyme favored with wild meat in France.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

About 3 pounds wild boar or venison, cubed

Salt and pepper to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil

5 to 6 garlic cloves, unskinned

8 ounces pork-belly or fat-back bacon, diced

1 bottle of robust red wine

1 to 2 ounces dried cepes or other dried mushrooms, roughly torn

1 curl of dried or fresh orange zest

1 to 2 sprigs serpolet (or ordinary thyme)

2 to 3 cloves

A short length of cinnamon or cassia bark

½ teaspoon crushed black peppercorns

3 to 4 anchovy fillets

1 to 2 tablespoons black olives, stoned or not (as you please)

Directions

1. Dust the meat with a little flour seasoned with salt and pepper and fry in the olive oil until it browns a little. Wild meat is drier and firmer than farmed, so it takes less time to caramelize. Remove and reserve.

2. Add the garlic and diced pork to the pan drippings and fry for a few minutes. Add the reserved meat and wine and bubble up to evaporate the alcohol.

3. Turn down the heat, add the mushrooms and aromatics — orange zest, thyme, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns — and enough water to just submerge the meat. Bubble up again, cover tightly and leave to simmer gently for at least an hour, or as long as it takes for the meat to be tender enough to cut with a spoon. Add more boiling water if it looks as if it’s drying out.

4. When you’re ready to serve, mash the anchovies and olives into a spoonful of the hot juices and stir this into the daube. Taste and add salt if necessary and serve in its cooking pot. Serve with a potato gratin and a salad of bitter leaves — endive, chicory, dandelion — and set bread and cheese and an apple tart on the table and let the good times roll.

Top illustration: A French dinner party. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

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