Sunday, 8 February 2009

Belle mere

I've slept with several French men and while not entirely successful romantically, it has been enormously useful for my cooking. To the point that, when serving French onion soup at Pogo café, feeling pleased with my efforts, I wanted to write on the menu board:
"I've fucked a lot of French men and sat in their mother's kitchens to bring you this delicious soup"
just so's the customers would be fully aware of the personal sacrifices entailed. Perhaps all dishes should be accompanied not so much by a descriptive list of ingredients but also the memories and experiences involved in learning how to make them.
My best tricks have been learnt not at my mother's knee but observing French mamans at work in their kitchens. I even made a film of my 'belle mere' talking through how to make an aioli, the bowl teetering on the edge of the kitchen table as she whisked and croaked in her regional Lyonnais accent, virtually impenetrable.
Another time, after a rainy night, she took me mushroom picking. All I saw was the back of her stocky form weaving through the trees like E.T. She carefully hid, in that canny peasant way, which trees were her favourites. At the end she had a basket full of chanterelles, ceps and 'trompettes de mort' (small black chanterelles) while I had two unidentifiable mushrooms. 
She was poor. I remember the Christmas she spent 'freelancing' for a local farmer; two days with a heap of live chickens, twisting their necks casually, prior to plucking. But fairy tales do happen. After decades bringing up ten children on her own(1), for her husband had died early, she, in her mid-sixties, met and married a man, moving from her HLM (council flat) where she slept on a sofabed, to live in his chateau. 

(1) She got a medal from President Giscard d'Estaing for having a 'famille nombreuse' (big family). In those days, after the second world war, they rewarded women who did their bit to re-populate France. My 'belle mere' showed me the medallion, shrugging with her lips down-turned, "How did this medal help? I'd rather have had some money".

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