French Cooking in Ten Minutes
by Edouard de Pomaine
North Point Press,1996 (originally published in 1930). 142 pg., over 250 recipes.
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"My pen is full of ink, and there's a stack of paper in front of me. It's nice to imagine that I'll be able to let my pen go and you'll understand everything it writes down." (from the introduction)
I'm in no hurry to cook from this book; I'm completely content to read it.
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Look of the Book
This is a neat little volume. Although I have a new paperback edition, the book retains its original character in its typeface and its tidy, un-slick layout. Best of all are the original black-and-white woodcut illustrations. They're every bit as charming and quirky as the author. (I also like that the paper used is a cream-colored substantial stock which even smells good!)
Is it possible to fall in love with a cookbook without being attracted to its recipes? It happened to me with French Cooking in Ten Minutes
I was first drawn to the book as a historic curiosity. Written in 1930, this may have been the first "meals-in-minutes" cookbook. But what really won me over was the personality of the author, Edourad de Pomaine, whose presence bursts forth from every page. In my mind, de Pomaine is like a culinary counterpart to Agatha Christie's brilliant, eccentric, anal-retentive detective Hercule Poirot who has generously - and somewhat imperiously- taken the reader under his wing to impart his culinary knowledge and his highly developed personal system of cuisine rapide.
You feel as if he were he were right by your side talking you neatly and exactingly through the entire endeavor from the basics (yes, how to boil water) to the refinements ("A Few Words on How to Behave at the Table"). He is colorful yet precise with his directives ("serve snails...while they're still hot enough to burn your fingers"). The book is scattered with de Pomaine's opinionated gems. On white sauce:"This is a horrible sauce. Fortunately, you can add whatever you like and transform it into a very nice one." (He follows with several recipes.)
Many of recipes, partly due to the ten-minute time constraint, to which de Pomaine assiduously adheres (I picture him cooking with sauté pan in one hand, stopwatch in the other), are limited in subtlty and imagination. Still, he's good on quick classics like omelettes and sauces. The selection of recipes make a good window on French cooking in the time of Colette and Coco Chanel: lots of meat (especially veal), sauces, eggs, simple vegetable treatments. I think we can forgive him for using canned vegetables occasionally since frozen foods were still a thing of the future when he wrote this.
His magisterial self-regard is endearing rather than annoying. At the end of his recipe for Chestnut Cream he preens: "This is a wonderful dessert, made in almost no time at all. It is the triumph of ten-minute cooking." I don't really care if I ever make one of his dishes. There are certain cookbooks I'd rather curl up with than cook with. And this is one of them.