On July 14, 1789, disgruntled citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille, a fortress to the east of the city that was, at the time, the seat of the city’s hated police, a whimsically old stockade prison by generations of kings of France and a deposit of gunpowder much sought after by these same citizens.
From there, this date marks French July 4, the country’s independence day and the launch of the French Revolution.
It was also a bread riot.
In 1789 (and most of the years leading up to it), over 95 percent of a peasant’s or urban poor’s calorie intake consisted of cereals, mostly in the form of bread or porridge. The average lower-class Parisian of 1789 ate about 3 pounds of bread a day.
Because those who controlled cereals – certainly not the lower classes – played quickly and freely with the price of cereals, especially wheat (and in addition would hoard it, often in the Bastille itself), not only bread but all commodities. food was scarce or out of shopping. power of the less powerful. The central trope of Victor Hugo’s “Miserables” is the arrest and incarceration of Jean Valjean for having stolen a loaf of bread.
Most significantly, when the French today line up to buy their daily baguette, their purchase is a persistent and recurring vote for the freedom that was purchased from them in 1789.
And far beyond the quintessential bread in the world, what wonders the French have offered the world of food and wine since then. It’s a story as thick and delicious as a homemade mayonnaise (which of course they also taught us how to make).
Just look at all the French cooking or culinary terms that we and others around the world use in the discourse of eating and drinking: aperitif, bisque, pâté, roux, flute, au jus, hors d’oeuvres. , blanch, julienne, flambé, nouvelle cuisine, gratin, crouton, terrine, restaurant, starter, pancake, bouquet garni, you get the idea.
In the world of wine, perhaps more than any other country, France counts both for the historical development of great wine and winemaking as well as for the central idea which places things in the culture of the vine. Other countries, including ours, have contributed a lot to the same spheres of wine, but once again the simple soldiers of the words on the march make the meaning of France vibrate here: cru, cuvée, sommelier, rosé, terroir, tasting, gross, cellar, dosage, appellation, sorting and so on.
The first restaurants, as we know them, were born in Paris at the time of the Revolution and such public tables were decidedly symbols of tripartite “liberty, fraternity, equality” where citizens ate with other citizens like (roughly) equal, an activity was completely new for the time. Basically, history inherited from France this normative way of eating away from home.
These tables and their restaurants, in the same egalitarian spirit, even prohibited tips, another heritage that continues today. Restaurants ruled after the Revolution. The French penal code of 1791 punished theft in a restaurant as in a house (but not in a market or other business, ha).
It was not a simple freedom that was unleashed on France on July 14, 1789. When the highly layered ways of cooking and eating became less elitist, less courteous, or regal, a multitude of well-trained and skilled chefs also came along. been released (a euphemism for the “unemployed”). They have dramatically improved the quality of emerging restaurants and cuisines. Massialot, Menon, Carême, Escoffier – again, the pulse of words.
And over the decades since. If we have traveled to France, we have all eaten well, or we have just gone there just for that purpose. We honor French cuisine and the history of French cuisine in a way that we honor all ancestors: for the gifts they gave us, the lessons they taught us, the trainings of ourselves that ‘they realized. And we don’t just “let” it all happen; we choose to make it happen and we want it to happen.
The recipe here is one that my own family has passed on for years. It is particularly delicious on or around July 14, to protect yourself from the summer heat. It’s a spin on a classic French cold soup called vichyssoise and contains many of a French cook’s must-have dishes – leeks, garlic, fresh vegetables, cream and broth – and butter. Always butter.
Chilled fennel and leek soup
Makes 8 small bowls or 4 large.
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 cups of celery, chopped
- 4 cups fennel bulb, trimmed from the fronds and stems, seeded, chopped
- 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, peeled, chopped
- 1/2 pound waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold), peeled and chopped
- 1 liter of chicken broth
- 3/4 cup half and half
- 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon of sea or kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Add celery, fennel, leek and garlic and stir over medium heat until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the potato and broth and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, another 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool a bit to avoid splashing the mixture in the next step.
- In a blender, in batches of 2 cups, puree the soup until very smooth. (You can also use an immersion blender on the entire batch.) Return the soup to the pot and add half and half, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Let cool overnight in the refrigerator before serving. To serve, stir one last time and serve in pre-chilled bowls with a swirl of lightly fruity extra virgin olive oil, or a splash of fried sherry or light Madeira.