Since the dreaded Coronavirus arrived, millions of people everywhere have been doing more cooking at home than ever. Serendipity has given culinary-travel author Carole Bumpus an unexpected advantage during the mandated confinement. Her latest book, “Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table, Book Two” is scheduled to be published this coming August 18.
Since sending out an invitation last month for volunteers to join her in her ‘virtual test kitchen’ to help test the recipes from this latest book in the “Savoring the Olde Ways” series, the response has been overwhelming.
She talked with this reporter by phone and said. “The outpouring of requests has been an absolute delight. To hear from friends both old and new; those from across the country and even from across the ‘pond,’ has been wonderful.”
The award-winning author’s voice was resonating with enthusiasm as she noted, “Some have enlisted their friends to join in on the fun, so, as you can imagine, I’m very gratified. I now have well over fifty ‘testers’, have sent out over ninety recipes for people to cook at home and I am still receiving requests. I feel as long as people are enjoying this experiment, I’m all in for continuing on. I will not need the results/feedback until the end of April.”
Bumpus considers this endeavor among the best forms of medicine for the duration of the “Secure in Place” ordinance that has pushed the nation and the world into sequestered life.
Reviewing all the submissions she has received thus far – some complete with video clips along with photos, Bumpus described the results as “Gorgeous!”
Since much of what Bumpus has written about concerns French cuisine, it is understandable why she was eager to receive the results of an ancient French recipe called “Teurgoule.” This baked rice pudding is well known to the Normandy region of France and is made with the simplest of ingredients—rice, milk, sugar and spice.
A family favorite for residents of Normandy, it is a comfort dish as some add either cinnamon and or nutmeg. The word “Teurgoule” roughly translates to something like “twisted mouth,” as the Normands were not used to the ‘spicy’ additions of either spice. Or as some have translated it to mean “melts in the mouth.” Some scholars think it might have even meant “fat milk” since the mixing of milk and rice baked together is thick and porridge-like.
It is easy to envision the expression on people’s faces gathered around their table in ages past, being altered, when tasting this slowly cooked sweet pudding. Certainly no doubt people’s mouths got burned because this pudding was brought to the table right from a wood-embers oven.
In our modern convenience world it is easy to obtain a wide variety of desserts and sugar-sweetened foods. Yet, in ancient times there was no table sugar or saccharine as we know it today. Honey while used would not be as readily available, so milk among other things like spices or fruit was a sweetening ingredient.
Bumpus explained a bit further as she noted. “In the late 1700s, the Normans experienced a drought; their wheat crop was decimated. In order to help feed his people, it has been said that François-Jean Orceau, a French officer and baron of Fontette, arranged for rice to be delivered to the Normans. But, no one in the North had tasted rice or knew how to cook it. It was either Orceau or a chef in the French king’s service who created this very recipe and it has long been hailed as the dessert that saved the French.”
Despite its fancy reputation over the years, French cooking is really very basic.
“The recipes I have chosen for this upcoming book were handed down through the generations by the generous French men and women I came to know in France, said Bumpus. The recipes are old, regional, seasonal, local, and simple. This is known as ‘cuisine pauvre‘ or peasant cooking.”
Now that shops are closed and supplies in some supermarkets run out quickly, cooking at home with basic ingredients is another advantage to all those participating in the ‘Savoring the Olde Ways’ test-kitchen endeavor.
Bumpus tells all those who request a recipe, “when collecting ingredients to test these recipes, consider where they came from. Most are from northern France, so expect to search for very rich cream, cheeses, milks, and wonderful hard ciders. Some recipes are from the seas around Brittany, and have no flamboyant flavors like those more prominently found in the south, or Provence.”
“And, as she explains, if they are heavily spiced, know that cultural influences from French colonies (in places like Morocco and French Indochina) have made them so. So, do as anyone would do under these circumstances, substitute ingredients if/as necessary. Have fun,” said Bumpus, “with your own creations. And take notes and photos.”
To learn more about Carole Bumpus and her culinary test kitchen adventures all within the confines of one’s own home, visit her web site.