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The Art of Cookbook Giving: Larousse Gastronomique

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© 2010 Helana Brigman
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Groggy, walking into the living room, and thoroughly confused, I woke up the Saturday morning after finals week to presents.  

It wasn’t my birthday and it was two weeks before Christmas, but presents awaited me nonetheless.  Apparently, my karma is catching up with me.

Tearing through a rather heavy, but perfectly wrapped box, I squealed with delight at the sight of the Larousse Gastronomique cookbook.  I just couldn’t believe it.  I wanted this book for years, but never had the gumption to shell out the money for it (buying a cookbook can be a rather gruesome process as Deb Perelman laments over at her food blog Smitten Kitchen).  And yet, I couldn’t believe it! This volume is an essential addition to any serious foodie’s kitchen who enjoys French cooking.  Although it is a bit pricey (a $60 value at Barnes & Noble), cheaper, used, and sometimes more chicly illustrated versions are available on Amazon.

Needless to say, most girls would slap a guy for giving them cookbooks or even kitchen items, but I’m not any girl.  I love cooking–it centers me, makes me happy, calms me down, and has highly meditative qualities.  Plus, I can’t describe how cool it is to cook for friends and experience the validation of someone enjoying your food.  Actualizing a recipe sur la table and watching others eat it? Now that’s the meaning behind Clearly Delicious experiences.

So, I loved receiving this cookbook and here’s why.

Pictured: 4 Volumes of Gastronomique (Vegetables & Salads, Fish & Seafood, Desserts, Cakes, & Pastries, & Meat)

Timeless: Unlike most books on French cooking, the Larousse Gastronomique cookbook is timeless.  Published originally in 1938, these recipes represent a very specific moment in French cooking before electronic gadgets, preservatives, and the increasingly small culinary world.  Dishes read with attention to their provincial, or city particulars informing readers that if you live in Provence, this is what the locals would eat.  Whereas, if you’ve taken up residence in Paris, these are the dishes you might find sur votre amis tables.

Accessible: The recipes are frequently short and easy to read.  Regardless of what cooking system you subscribe to (i.e., metric, US, etc.), the book lists all of the variations to the recipe.  If “Roast Figs with a Coulis of Red Fruits” calls for 50 g of butter, then the recipe also indicates that this would equal 2 ounces, or 1/4 a cup of butter (pg. 100, Desserts).

Comprehensive: This cookbook is huge (and with good reasoning).  Tallying in at 1,536 pages, Larousse Gastronomique includes everything from meat, poultry, and game to desserts and classic French puddings.  If you’re wondering how to make a “Rum Zabaglione with Marrons Glacés” (pg 100, Desserts), or how to prepare a “Pheasant à la Sainte-Alliance” (356, Meats), all of the recipes are here.  I think it is difficult to gage whether this book has “everything” important to early twentieth-century French cuisine, but it comes pretty close.

Pictured: “Asparagus Velouté Soup” (recipe, page 25, Vegetables)

In sum, other, more modern books on French cooking barely hold a light to this comprehensive, beautiful, classic text.  It’s as much an artifact as it is a piece of art.

For the French-loving-foodie on your Christmas list, if you haven’t gotten him/her a present yet, I would highly suggest picking this book up.  Again, the Larousse Gastronomique cookbook is a bit of an investment, but consider all of the future tasty treats you will be investing in for your own stomach down the road.  Or, just get it for him/her just because.  Honestly, does anyone really need an excuse to cook classic French food?

Helana

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The Art of Cookbook Giving: Larousse Gastronomique, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
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  1. By Clearly Delicious » Asparagus Velouté Soup on February 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

    […] recipe comes from the LaRousse Gastronomique Cookbook, Vegetables section.  The recipe can be found on page […]

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