‘3 Mysterious Dishes’, by Pierre Cardascia

3 Mysterious Dishes Served with
Recipe-Telling as a Narrative Form.

Recipe-telling as a narrative form:

Often, I feel I’m too verbose and too wordy when I give my recipes. Naturally, people listen with the curious politeness of those who pick out one valuable information from a gigantic mass of speeches.  But I cannot ignore the despair in their eyes: nobody expects such endless dissertations on the perfect timing in pasta cooking.

Where has the concise style of these little recipes, cut out from the magazines, gone? Well, I think it is a family syndrome… Cooking is far from written science here, as it is a whole experience of orality. As far as I can remember, the transmissions of recipes have always been a spoken cabal between initiates. I can rehear my grandmother, closing her eyes to dive into her memory, looking inside – not looking for a same-inside book, but to focus. The hands find the moves again. The nose, the smells. The ear, the thrills. And since there is an inside eye, it doesn’t look for lines in a book, but for colours like caramel or roasty-gold – not the gilt from Versailles or the “black and white” of books[1].  Sometimes, in this research, she meets some other voices and suddenly it is my grandfather who says from beyond the grave: “crudo or cutto, it has seen the fire…”[2]

 Despite that, she collected recipes in a book, like all the housewives of her time. But it was more something between a hobby and a social duty (“Well-glued recipes show the clean order of your soul”) than a true authentic practice. I saw her gluing recipes, but I never saw her reading recipes. And it was far later,  when 35 years had passed, that I met a true “secret familial  cookbook” for the first time. In fact, I don’t meet the Book, only its furious guardians. Before that, I always thought that the “secret cookbook” was only a narrative topos of american movies.

And we return to our subject: I never considered recipes to be a technical writing but a narrative-form, something I have to call the art of recipe-telling. What is recipe-telling about? Recipes, yes. But what is the tale? If it can give a mythological dimension to the recipe, revealing the very origin of the dish and its genealogy, it is not the only possible configuration.
The intricacy of the narratives and of the technical aspects can produce a wide range of effects. For example, we can take Moby Dick from Melville, in which pages of encyclopedia come to cut the narration, such that we don’t know if they complete, comment, refine the action … or suspend it. (Can we find a recipe for cooking a whale in the book? I don’t remember. There are soups: chowders.) For another example, let try to take the full measure of a language which could express the art of slicing vegetables in 55 different ways (actual numbers!). The technical language of the chefs can do it: they can cut us in mirepoix, in brunoise, in macedonia (different sizes of dices). Please, I don’t want to be mirepoix-ed!    

So, you understand the exercise: I will do some recipe-telling. Each of the following stories is at the same time a recipe and a short-story.

The alchemy of the Green Lion’s Cream
3 days of sleepless nights.
3 days of perusing the cryptic tome from della Mirandola, but the arcane stood quiet. In my mortar, under my pestle, I mixed the queen’s milk[3] and the fruit who speaks for you[4]. But never does the green lion roar. The cream turned to a sluggish mud. Is this fermentation a part of the Great Work? I couldn’t believe it … and kept perusing the cryptic tome from della Mirandola for 3 days of sleepless nights.

On the fourth night, I fell asleep and in my dream, I saw the angel of citrinitas under the sign of Venus. She said: “The lion you are looking for, roars only in the secret of a tomb. Protect it from the breath of life under a layer of primitive jelly.”
At the dawn of the fifth day, I was able to perform the miracle. Following the angelic guidance, I added lemon juice to the mixture, put it in little vessels and hermetically closed them with jelly[5].

And it is the proof that even in cooking, the easy-half of the path is study and erudition. But the hardest-half path is the experience and revelation.   

Red-beans croissants[6]
In our tiny town, we looked at the new baker suspiciously. He left his homeland Japan to learn the art of bakery in France. And when our major conducted a recruitment campaign[7] to replace the former baker who retired, he applied successfully. 
In our tiny town, we liked him, but we looked at him a bit suspiciously. It was unnatural, an Asian baker who has a shop in our forsaken Creuse’s countryside! 

Then the affair of the Red-Beans Croissant happened.
As our baker really wants to sell local products, he visited many farms to find the most typical cereals and the most traditional ways to do that. However, one day, he met another lunatic farmer who grew Azuki red-beans in his field. My old chap, can you believe it? Azuki beans in La Creuse! Tarbais beans at Tarbes, I could understand it, but red-beans in La Creuse! Our Japanese baker believed it was an omen of good fortune, a sign which pointed toward a direction, a guide-star in a bean! 
So he designed a pastry which mixed two traditions:  a 100% pure butter laminated dough, stuffed with anko, which is a paste or  jam made of mashed beans[8]. A purée.

From his point of view, it was a good idea: he grew up with this kind of pastry. But for us, in our tiny town, it was just an impossible combination. It became the laughingstock of all the region, but his new notoriety raises curiosity upon our little town. And sometimes, from biggest town, from Gueret[9], even from Paris, people come to taste his red-beans croissants.
But nobody in the village tasted them. Our brave baker tried to convince us: “cocoa beans are beans too”. We didn’t want to give him any reason to think he could have successfully reached something of our local traditions. It was our “pain au chocolat, la la la” … Nothing else.

Then came the 13th wave of the pandemic, with the collapse of South America, the following Civil War and all the troubles which followed. And among all the death and all the woes, there was the chocolate shortage… We could survive a chocolate shortage, it was not a big a disaster. And we did. But one day, you know, someone of the village bought one of these red-bean croissants. Not for him, but for a child who was ill or for any other reason nobody cared for. And it tasted good. And somebody wanted to try. And I tried. And it tasted good. And finally, everybody tried and despite all the woes of universe, we were happy together.

Moral: it took the travel through all the globe of a Japanese baker with one fixed dream, it took his infinite patience against our scorn and jokes, it took the economical collapse of a whole continent, to make us try something new in our life.
Never had a continent collapsed for a worthier reason.  

The SS-Sauerkraut case

In the homicide department, there are no good cases. The homicides between rich people are the same that the ones among the poor, the same between the sages and the fools—always same stinky cases, with old stenches of vices and dramas.

The murder of a German tourist in a shabby hostel of the red-light district is almost a routine. The fact that the victim was found in a posture, which rules out the hypothesis of greedy crime, is routine too. I saw all of these too often. What makes this case so memorable was in the autopsy report from the forensic doctor. In the case dedicated to the content of the alimentary bolus, we could read these few words: SS Sauerkraut.
What did that mean? How could the expert suspect a political motivation only by analysing digested sauerkraut? Furthermore, the victim was too young to be a former Nazi, so the link between SS, sauerkraut and our victim was not clear. Maybe it was just a particularly misplaced dark humour from the coroner?

The more I think about this puzzle, the less I understand it.
Finally, I did what a routinesque detective would do when he doesn’t understand: I called the forensic department.
            The link between SS Sauerkraut, political murder and neo-Nazi conspiracy? I really don’t know, but it seems to be a wonderful story! But sorry, the SS in SS Sauerkraut does not stand for Schutzstaffel but for Spaghetti Squash[10] Sauerkraut. It is the specialty of a new restaurant and everybody is mad about it! You know, once cooked, the flesh of this squash makes long strands – sometimes you have to help them with a fork or a grater. Usually, you can eat them directly, it is nice. But in this place, they cook “sauerkraut” with them. A classic version: sour and fat and a less-conventional on sweet-salty contrast. For the classic version, they cook the squash with onions, garlic, some juniper berries and a touch of apple cider vinegar[11] and add fatty meat on it. For the sweety-salty, you can use chicken white sausages or white pudding and cook the squash flesh with apples. You know, squashes are sweeter than fermented cabbages…

            – Okay doctor. And how can I find the murderer with this?

           – I don’t know, you are the detective, detective. I’m just an old man who spent too much time in the mortuaries and in the restaurants. But you should do the same. Not for the mortuaries, but you can begin your investigations at the restaurant I mentioned. I’ll give you the address.”
And this is how I solve the mystery of the SS Sauerkraut. Oh? The murderer? The motives of the crime? They are all non-interesting: routine, routine, routine … 

Pierre Cardascia is a french philosopher, game-designer and entrepreneur. After a phd in analytical philosophy, logics and game-semantics, he escaped from his university. Now, he creates the games, which provide the experimental materials he couldn’t find in the amphitheaters. One day, he will return from his adventures in the World, with new insights.

[1]Okay, this « black and white » is mine. But I do my best to give it some flavours. 

[2]His expression is to say: « I’m not sure of the cooking time, but it will be enough. » Especially for dishes hard to taste like lasagnes.

[3]Queen’s milk = reginae lac  = Régilait = a brand of condensed sweetened milk.

[4]« Avocado » is a fruit who speaks for you. It comes from the euphony between « avocado » and « advocate »

[5]You can put whatever you want : the purpose is to prevent the oxydation of the avocados. If you don’t have jelly or don’t like it, you can try to put a coconut-tapioca cream, but it is another recipe, another story…

[6]The chocolate croissant is not a croissant. In french, it is not « croissant au chocolat », but … a very controversial subject ! « Petits pains », « Pains au chocolat »,  « Chocolatine »…

[7]It is the fate of tiny town : they are not attractive enough for young peoples ! So the major have to create the best conditions to « catch » young people who can run the vital activities. We need a baker !

[8]Rince. Boil until the beans are mashable, like if you were cooking mashed potatoes. Rince again. Add sugar (slowly, low heat) as if you were making a jam. When you have the texture you want, remove it from fire and mix. Very easy to do, a lot of adaptations are possible : brown sugar, another sugar, some salt to exhaust the sweeteness etc etc …

[9]Préfecture and biggest town of La Creuse. But it is a tiny town…

[10]Can be done with a Siam Squash too.

[11]The narrator of the previous part would have said that you should use a French white wine from Alsace instead.

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