Well alright then, just the one!
Garden peas were an absolute hype in the seventeenth century. They were enjoyed much the same way as we nowadays eat chocolate, like a delicious sin. Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV wrote in 1696: “Il y a des dames qui, après avoir soupé, et bien soupé, trouvent des pois chez elles avant de coucher, au risque d’une indigestion. C’est une mode, une fureur.” (There are ladies who, after haven dined, and dined well, eat garden peas in their own quarters before going to bed. It is a fashion fad, a hype).
For me, one of the most delicious ways of preparing garden peas is petit pois à la française or á la crême, garden peas with butterhead lettuce, butter, bacon and cream. A modern dietist’s nightmare, but it tastes very good!
François Pierre la Varenne includes an early recipe like this in Le cuisinier françois from 1651 (French edition Hyman p.120/121 asee bibliography). In his version the peas are boiled with lettuce or purslane, and then prepared like a previous recipe for asparagus à la crême (with butter or bacon, parsley, chives, butter and nutmeg).
The mysterious L.S.R.
For the recipe on this page I chose the version from L’Art de bien traiter (1674), written by the mysterious L.S.R.
Who lurks behind those initials is not known. Some suggestions are Le sieur Robert, Le sieur Rolland, or simply Le serviteur du Roi, but all that is pure guesswork. However, we do know something. He served at the castles Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte (where Vatel in the service of Nicolas Fouquet -minister of finance- organized in 1661 such a spectacular feast that Louis XIV became so envious thathe deicided to confisquate the possessions of the Vicomte de Vaux).
L.S.R. was rather conceited. Just look at his opinion on La varenne, who published his books just twenty years earlier: “Je crois même qu’on ne verra point ici les absurdités et les dégoûtantes leçons que le sieur de Varenne ose donner et soutenir, […]; la raison de cet aveuglement est qu’il ne s’est jamais trouvé personne pour en combattre les erreurs.” (‘Préface’, edition p.p 22/23, translation: I even believe that here <in this book, l’Art de bien traiter> one will find nowhere the absudities and distasteful lessons that mister Varenne dares to present and maintain, […]; the reason of this dazzlement <i.e. the continuing adoration of La Varenne by the public> is that never before has a person been found to contest his fallacies.)
L’Art de bien traiter (1674)
L’Art de bien traiter consists of five parts.
In the first part you’ll find recipes for soups (potages grands et petits), stews, entrées and entremets, pasties, sauces, jellies, salads and vegetables, but it opens with a description of the dining room in winter and summer, storing and choosing of wine, and a description of the ideal kitchen.
The second part concerns recipes for fish and other dishes for the jours maigres (the French court was of course catholic).
The third part provides suggestions for special meals (on the water, in a cave), a seasonal list of fruit that can be eaten in their natural state (raw), a chapter on conserving fruit and how to ornate tables for dessert (with lots of artfully arranged fresh fruit).
The paenultimate part describes the ambigu, an informal meal that has everything, hot and cold, savoury and sweet, on the table at the same time.
The fifth and last part has recipes for preserves, candied and dried fruit and sweets (pâtes de fruits).
The original recipe
l’Art de bien traiter (1674) has been published together with two other seventeenth-century cookbooks, Le cuisinier by Pierre de Lune and La maison réglée by Audiger, in L’art de la cuisine française au XVIIe siècle (Editions Payot).. The edition of Payot uses modernized spelling, that is why the text is taken from La Gastronomie au Grand Siècle p.217. I have the French edition of this book, so the English translation of the recipe is by me, not taken from the English edition.
This vegetable dish has a presence in the menu: it has flavour and is nourishing. So the meat or fish that is served with it should not be too elaborate.
Serve the peas with veal cutlets or veal steaks, marinated in vinegar, verjus, lemon juice and salt, patted dry and coated with flour, and then fried in lard or a mixture of butter and olive oil. This is a simplified version of the recipe for ‘cotelettes de veau marinée pour frire’, the first recipe in part 1, chapter 3 of L’Art de bien traiter, where these ‘cotelettes’ are just meant as garnish for stuffed veal breast.
Side dish for 4 persons; preparation in advance 15 minutes; preparation 20 minutes.
500 gr (3 cups) frozen garden peas or peas from the garden
50 gr butter
50 gr (2 ounces) bacon (it could be that just lard is meant, but I like it with bacon)
1 head of butterhead lettuce
2 tsp finely chopped chives
the needles of 1 sprig thyme
pinch of salt, even smaller pinches nutmeg and pepper
1 to 2 Tbsp good stock (from meat or vegetables)
½ dl or 3 Tbsp double cream
Preparation in advance
Rinse the lettuce, remove the outer, darker green leaves. Submerge the lettuce in ample boiling water for a few seconds, then drain well. The lettuce has lost most of its excess water. Cut the lettuce in thin strips. The recipe speaks of chopped lettuce, but I prefer the lettuce slightly larger. You decide.
Let the frozen peas thaw, but not completely.
Heat butter and bacon in a skillet until the fat has melted but is not yet turning brown. Add the peas, stir until all covered with a layer of butter/fat, then add the rest except for the cream. Cover with a lid, let simmer on a low fire, depending on the size and how far they were thawed, five to fifteen minutes. Add the cream, stir a few times.
The pea is a legume. Green peas have been eaten since at least the last five milennia. They were mostly first dried, and thus an important part of the daily fare together with other legumes like marrowfat peas, especially during medieval Lent.
Garden peas are eaten unripe, they are almost a different legume than peas, very sweet. In Dutch they are called doperwten or doppertjes, whilst the ripe peas are called erwten or groene erwten. Garden peas deteriorate in taste very quickly after being harvested. Therefore, unless you grow your own garden peas, it is best to use frozen peas. Canned peas are really NOT an option.
The juice of sour, unripe grapes that was used in the Middle Ages and up to the eighteenth century. You can still buy it, but you may have to look for it. In the Netherlands verjuice was also made from unripe apples and sorrel. You can use applecider vinegar as a substitute. Make your own Verjuice.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Alan Davidson, Tom Jaine The Oxford Companion to Food (División Academic). (Oxford, 2006; link goes to the third revised edtion of 2014).
- François Pierre, La Varenne’s Cookery: The French Cook, the French Pastry Chef, the French Confectioner. Engelse vertaling met inleiding en aantekeningen van Terence Scully (Prospect Books, 2006).
- François Pierre La Varenne , Le cuisinier françois d’apres l’édition de 1651, Facsimile edition with an introduction by Philip and Mary Hyman. (Houilles, 2002).
- François Pierre la Varenne, The French cook. Englished by I.D.G. 1653.. Edition of the English translation of Le cuisinier françois from 1653 (based on the 2nd French edition from 1652) in modernized English with an introduction by Philip en Mary Hyman.
- L.S.R., L’Art de bien traiter, uit 1674. Editie: L’art de la cuisine française au XVIIe siècle (Payot), Paris, 1995 pp. 17/237.
- Françoise Sabban en Silvano Serventi, La gastronomie au Grand Siècle. 100 recettes de France et d’Italie. Éditions Stock, 1998.
A French recipe for 17th-century garden peas