One of our Thanksgiving dinner guests brought me the most wonderful gift–two gorgeous reprints put out by an amazing press I hadn’t heard of before, Persephone Books in London. According to them, their goal is to publish “forgotten fiction and non-fiction by unjustly neglected authors.” Amen to that. The first of the two books I was given are They Can’t Ration These by the Vicomte de Maudit (don’t you just love it when you have the chance to use the word “Vicomte”? I do.), first published in 1940. It’s a guide to getting by on what nature has to offer you in wartime (and according to the flap copy, the poor old Vicomte is believed to have been captured by the Nazis after the fall of France and was never heard from again.). The second, from which today’s Friday Food Writers is taken, is a 1950 sort of guide to everyday cooking called Plats du Jour. Clearly it would not be possible to dislike a book written by two women named Patience and Primrose no matter what it was, but this one just happens to be a delightful primer on the matter of food in England after the war, when Continental influence was beginning to seep in and people were beginning to take an interest in cooking again after the lean years. It’s full of recipes and general advice and all kinds of goodies, but I thought I’d give you a snippet of the introduction which expresses the authors’ general feelings about how to eat well, (which, I confess, are pretty much mine, too).
It is a personal point of view encouraged by the experience of simple meals abroad where attention is given not only to the vin de pays, but to the kind of bread, the choice of cheese, and the crispness of the salad, as well as to the preparation of the principal dish. It is borne out in everyday life by the limited time available for cooking, the consequence of preoccupations outside the family. Some of the dishes given here do not amount to a plat du jour in the substantial sense outlined…Where the occasion is a special one, a pate, or an extravagance in the form of Dublin Bay prawns or smoked salmon may be called for to precede a Daube a la Provencale or a Poulet a l’estragon. But barring such exceptions, the liberating idea prevails, a concentration of culinary activity, a close attention to a particular dish, which, once composed, can often be left to combine its flavors in a slow oven, later to be enjoyed with a glass of enhancing wine.
Enhancing. Yes. That’s the word I’ve been looking for to describe wine for my entire adult life. And with that–happy weekend!