In The Food Of France, published by Knopf in 1958, Waverley Root divides French cuisine into three domains: butter, lard, and oil. The book is a delightful tour, province by province, describing what is eaten and how it is prepared.
When I read the book I was already a Julia Child fan, preparing meals for my friends from the first volume of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Knopf, 1961. I had a set of Le Creuset enameled, cast iron cookware and some of the other kitchen tools she recommended. I enjoyed the many rich sauces containing butter and cream.
My introduction to French food was in San Francisco just a few years earlier. Roderick, my roommate at the time, received money from his parents in England for his birthday. Instead of spending it on himself he generously invited his ex-girlfriend, Jill, and me to have dinner with him at Chez Marguerite, a small North Beach restaurant.
The meal began with escargot traditionally prepared with butter and garlic. I ordered filet of sole in a Mornay sauce, Jill had the tournedos and Roderick Châteaubriand. I don’t remember dessert; perhaps it was Crème Brûlée.
I couldn’t imagine not having butter daily with meals, preferring sweet rather salted butter most Americans use.
Visiting my father in Greece, where he lived after his retirement, most of the food his wife cooked was served swimming in oil and tomato sauce I left uneaten. My father praised the benefits of olive oil while I held firm to my preference for butter. The virtues of the Mediterranean diet weren’t widely publicized then.
However, years later when consuming fatty foods became problematic for me, I gradually cut down on my personal use of butter. By then I more often cooked Italian rather than French food. Now during summer I make pesto weekly with fresh organic basil I buy at the Saturday famers market and eat it with homemade fettuccini I also make from scratch.
I still keep sweet butter in the freezer for recipes that require it but it’s no longer in my daily diet. I’ve definitely developed a taste for olive oil and can’t imagine living without it.
image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved