History of French Cooking – Part 2

Posted by on July 9, 2011

History of French Cooking, Part 2, starts with the Renaissance.  The Renaissance period saw a refinement of cuisine and tableware introduced by Catherine de Medicis and her Florentine cooks.  That is how creams and zabagliones appeared, as well as spinach.  Contrary to popular belief (no doubt brought about by the story of a “chicken in every pot”, Henry IV was not a gourmet, but a voracious eater.  Under his reign appeared the  classic French sauces: Bearnaise, Mornay and Florentines, due to the influence of Catherine de Medicis and her Florentine chefs.

The 17th century saw the blossoming of the court of the King Sun (Louis XIV); it is then that gastronomy, as we know it today, took its roots.  It must be said, however, that, like his grandfather Henry IV, Louis XIV was more a gluton than a gourmet.  It is in the 17th century that Don Perignom invented champagne.  Ice cream, as we know it, appeared on tables.  It is then than cooking began to be considered an art in France and that the reign of the Master Chefs began.  Let us salute in passing the  most celebrated of all, the one who had such a professional conscience that he plunged a sword through his body because the fish did not arrive on time.  He was Vatel, the chef of Prince de Condé.

The populace, contrary to what has been proclaimed, lived a pretty good life except for a few dark years, during the seventy-five years of Louis XIV’s reign. Let’s not forget that our ancestors had a much larger appetite than we do.  When Bruyère wrote that the peasants devoured roots, let’s note, that in those days roots were what we now call carrots, turnips, parsnips and other plants with roots.

It is around 1550 that the potato first appeared in Europe, brought back from South America by the Spanish Conquistadors, but no one believed in it, and it is not until the reign of Louis XV that Parmentier developed its culture in France.  To promote it they served, at the Court, a banquet featuring eighty different recipes of potato dishes.  On Parmentier’s tomb in the cemetary Père Lachaise, since his death in 1813, a potato plant blooms each year.

Very little transition in cooking between  the 17th and 18th century.

Under the reign of Louis XV, cooking became very trendy.  The nobles, the ladies, the king, the queen, everyone tried their hand.  The queen, Maria Leczczynska, imported polish dishes, rich in cream.  Everyone tried to become a chef, and many succeeded.  For his part, Louis XV became a specialist of coffee which, introduced shortly before, became a furor.  During the Court’s suppers, Louis XV always prepared the coffee himself with great care.  From that time on, cooking became an art and attained its apogy around 1900.

Louis XVI had a robust appetite which was not even affected by the approach of the guillotine. Immediately following his death sentence he hate: six pork chops, a whole chicken, several eggs and three glasses of wine.  At that time fresh tiny green peas  were the rage as well as foie gras perfumed with cognac and truffles.  There lived then in France a young, brilliant and very handsome American, who represented his country.  He was enthused by French cooking and the wines of France – and a certain French young lady with whom he shared a passionate love story. He very much appreciated France’s douceur de vivre (the good life) and made many very close friend there.  We must be discreet here, since this young man became President of the United States. We are talking about none other than Thomas Jefferson. In 1777, he brought back to America a vast connaisance of French wines, French menus, and French chefs.  A French chef delighted the guests at the White house for eight years.  Most of all, Thomas Jefferson brought back from France the recipe for ice cream, which he wrote down himself, and which became a natioonal dish.  This recipe in his own handwriting still exists in the White House archives.

This concludes part 2 of the History of French cooking.  Part 3 will begin with the French Revolution.  See you then.

2 Responses to History of French Cooking – Part 2

  1. Meghan

    I used your blogs about French cooking to research for my AP French class – they were very helpful and interesting. You know a lot about France and are a great writer! Thank you very much! 🙂

    • Francine Fuqua

      Thank you so much Meghan. I grew up in France until I was 20 years old and married an American. I also love, love history and cooking, thus the articles. have a good holiday sseason. Francine Fuqua

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