Modern Culinary Art

L'Art Culinaire Moderne

I have written about my grandmother on a few occasions in the past. She is my father’s mother and she lives not too far from me, which allows me to visit and bask in the glow of her tenderness and her general wisdom on all things life.

In the past few years, my ever-growing passion for food and cooking have definitely brought us closer: as a devoted cook herself, I can see how happy she is that a grandchild of hers would share that interest and be delighted to converse endlessly about tips and recipes and tricks of the trade.

Since she doesn’t speak English and has never used a computer — much less been on the Internet — it is somewhat difficult to explain what C&Z is, but I try (clippings help), she gets the general idea, and she’s very eager to help. Most recently, she decided to entrust me with one of her cooking bibles called L’Art Culinaire Moderne written by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, which she acquired in late 1946 as her handwritten ex-libris attests.

I am fascinated by vintage cookbooks and this one is no exception. With more than 700 pages, 3,500 recipes and 270 pages of illustrations, the author’s ambition is to establish the standards of la bonne table française et étrangère — French and foreign cuisine — for the use of the home cook (needless to say, this is a woman we’re talking about here).

The book covers an impressive array of recipes for soups, sauces, hors d’oeuvre, egg dishes, fish, red meat, poultry, foie gras, game, pâtés, vegetables, cheese, fruits, baked goods, candy, entremets, ice-creams and preserves. Although the vast majority of recipes are very French, Pellaprat ventures a tentative toe into the exotic territories of foreign cuisines, devoting an entire section to what he calls “le couscous des Arabes” and giving recipes for Russian borchtch, Brazilian feijoada or American cocktails. He also throws in a dictionary of cooking terms, priceless entertaining advice, menus for different occasions and diets for various ailments.

The illustrated techniques and dishes are beautiful, and they’re a wonderful testament to the taste for intricate, over-the-top or just plain weird presentations that were the norm back then.

Like many cookbooks of that time, the recipes are mostly general directions with few precise measurements, assuming that the reader has already been taught the basics by her mother or at school. What I love to do is just pick a page at random (Zéphirs de volaille à la crème, Fricandeau à l’oseille, Pommes de terre Mirette) and delight in the old-fashioned names of the dishes (Maquereaux grillés Maître d’Hôtel, Tomates à la Hussarde, Melon en surprise), before poring over the recipes, picking up ideas here and there, or finally learning what exactly is that classic sauce or dish (Sauce gribiche, Barbue à la Dugléré, Mousse de volaille à la Mornay) I’ve sometimes read about.

And now I am terribly tempted to throw a dinner party for which I’d cook exclusively from this book. Of course, girls would have to wear long narrow skirts, shoulder-padded rayon shirts and pompadour hairdos, while guys would sport their grandfather’s best hand-painted tie, and we would listen to classics from the swinging 40’s…

  • What a wonderful gift! My grandmothers have played a very important part of my life and I grew up helping each of them in the kitchen. I received one of the cookbooks my maternal grandmother received as a wedding present in 1948 and I love to page through and read her handwritten comments and variations tha she documented. On some of the section dividers she added additional recipes and often mentions which of her aunts or neighbors gave her the recipe. My paternal grandmother is an Italian married to a midwest farm boy (what a culinary mix!) and the countless times I’ve made homemade lasagna noodles with her and now we share jam and preserve recipes as I am developing my love of canning. (I’m not nearly as dedicated as she was though – she would work all day on the farm, in the garden and make sure dinner was cleared and clean. My grandfather would go to bed with the chickens and she would stay up into the night making sure she got all of the canning and preserving done before the summer and fall bounty disappeared.)

    What a wonderful thing to share!

  • Jen

    This English version of this type of book is called:
    ‘Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.’ First published in 1859, the book has become, (much like yours!) a collectors item. What a wonderful resource!
    As for Mrs. Beeton, her book also covers important subjects such as: how to prepare for large dinner parties and, of course, how to deal with servants….which is something I have always had a problem with…HA!
    My friends’ mum has a copy and, when I am visiting, I manage to haul it down from the bookshelf and sit happily for hours, delicately turning the pages.
    Enjoy the book Clothide and consider this, your site is a continuation of this tradition. It sounds as though your grandmother understands a good deal.


  • Elizabeth

    I LOVE the tomato salad that is transformed into a clock!!! (Click the word “weird” for photo.)

  • Wow! I just googled titled of the cookbook and I found a webpage with the entire text version of this book on the internet. Check it out!

  • Hi, I put a link to your blog for Blog Day 2005. Good writing!

  • john

    “Over-the-top” est un gigot, n’est-ce pas?

  • Rainey

    What a treasure!

    Your entry about la cocotte inspired some of us to think about the kitchen treasures we got from the cooks that came before us. It’s a long, important line back into our heritage.

    You’re so lucky to have such a grandmother and such a cookbook.

  • Bonjour, Mlle Chocolat. Thanks for sharing. My own grandmom passed away a year ago. She was a wonderful, well-seasoned, well-versed and well-traveled woman – and she had the best collections of cookbooks!

    Keep up the wonderful work with your blog, and learn all you can from your grandmother.

  • Ann/brighidsdaughter

    What a wonderful treasure! Wish I could see it, I love old cookbooks too.

  • Meg

    Clotilde, this reminds me of one of my most treasured cookbooks which I inherited from my Austrian grandmother. It’s called “An American Woman’s Cookbook” and I can just see my grandmother, newly arrived in America herself, being attracted to the title. It’s a fascinating piece of social history, too. It helpfully informs the reader that “It is possible, with good organization, too entertain without servants”!

    It would be interesting to compare the two books!

    And congratulations on having the luck to have your grandmother near you and the wisdom to spend time with her. I miss both of my grandmothers terribly.

  • Martha Hubbard

    I still have the Joy of Cooking that I was given as a wedding present in 1967 as well as my grandmother’s sister’s copy which she willed to me – a first edition. AND I refer to them constantly. Like you – I love old cookbooks and I suspect that most people who treasure good cooking had a grandmother’s influence somewhere back there.

  • I have the English version of this book,
    bought it in ‘used’ books shop,here in Israel, it looks like a new one ,

  • Alisa

    I’m in on the dinner party. You could turn it into a pot-luck (not so french, I know) give each person a recipe to follow from the book, and bring it to the dinner.

  • Alisa

    #2 – You are so fortunate to have this relationship with your “mamy”. The book is an amazing gift as well.

  • Ken

    I checked my collection of cookbooks and found it! (en français bien sûr) It will be my next nightly book to read as I go to sleep each night reading a cookbook. (currently – Le meilleur de la Cuisine Française – Saveures et terroirs)

    A dinner party from the era as you suggest would be great fun. Invite my wife and me. It’s a lot more fun eating many of these creations than actually preparing them. We know.

    Ken, from Floride (the retirement capital of the USA)

  • Jean-Paul

    Celui de Mamy étant maintenant en de très bonnes mains, je viens de m’en acheter un sur E-bay ce week-end !!!

  • i have this book — in english! but i haven’t cooked from it in years… it will be interesting to see which recipes you try — perhaps i’ll follow along and try some more.

  • David Brown

    My 1974 published copy is invaluable. Translated to use ingredients readily available in the UK in pounds and ounces with conversion tables at the end.
    A supplement mainly about menus, UK training and qualifications, nutrition charts and more pictures takes it to well over 1000 pages.
    Not bad for a pound (about USD1,85) secondhand

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