I have all sorts of postcards and old photo albums that I have collected since living in France. I find it sad that one no longer knows who any of these people are. These memories of long ago in France. There are souvenirs of holidays and meals taken in hotels and restaurants, probably all closed and forgotten. I began to think of all those menus, lunches and dinners, and thought of the wonderful book by M.F.K. Fisher, “Long Ago in France”.
Mary Frances Kennedy Fischer was a writer of food, travel and memories. A gifted translater, she translated “Physiologie du Gout” by Brillat Savarin.She was THE pioneer in food writing in the U.S.A, and the first to take food writing seriously.She led an extraordinary life, travelling, eating, loving and remembering life. She was a single mother of two daughters, in a time of severe conservatism.She believed that eating well was one of the “arts of life”; M.F.K.Fisher influenced and inspired many cooks, both domestic and professional, especially in America. Cooks and food writers such as Alice Walters from Chez Panisse in San Francisco, who herself went on to change the way Americans thought about food.
In 1928 until 1932, Mary Frances and her new husband Al Fisher, travelled to France, Paris first, then on to Dijon, where Al was studying for his doctorate at the University of Burgundy. Mary Frances, attended night classes at the Ecoles des Beaux Arts, studying sculpture and painting for the 3 years they were there. It was in Dijon that she first leant about French Cuisine and the french way of life. There are many wonderful insights into life at this time.
At one stage in their time in Dijon, Al and Mary Frances joined the Club Alpin. Where they had “probably the most orgiastic eating” while they lived there.They heard “good French from the lawyers and architects who belonged, for one reason or another ,but mostly gastronomic.” They walked and crawled all over that corner of France , seeing castles and convents and wine cellars rarely seen by the public. The meals went on for hours , and in the interest of culture they also saw forgotten styles of preservation with a widow in some tiny village, or picked up recipes from local restaurants. And spontaneously while looking at some rare architectural form in a Chateau, they would be whisked away to a nearby village, of “one of the great pastry makers of all time! Sure enough the toothless village heroine’s Fantaises, light, delicate, fried in pure butter to a colour clearer than gold, paler than Josephine Baker... would be the most delicious in all of France”….
Recipe for Fantaises
Makes 25 to 30 strips
500 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
90g caster sugar 8 eggs
100g soft butter
1 teaspoon orangeflower water 1tablespoon Cognac
Oil for frying; (I use oil for frying it’s less tricky than butter, although you could use clarified butter or ghee.) icing sugar for dusting
Place the flour in a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the baking powder, sugar, eggs, butter, orangefower water and Cognac.Stir briskly with a wooden spoon, until all the ingredients in the centre are blended, then start pushing in the flour from the sides of the bowl, until this forms a dough.Form into a ball, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 2 hours. Heat the oil in a deep pan or fryer to 160°. Roll out the dough on a floured board to a thickness of 4mm and cut into strips 3cm wide by 8 cm long. Cut the strips with a crinkle edged pastry cutter for a lacey appearance. The strips can be tied in a bow or a loose knot, or cooked in single strips. Drop the fritters into the hot oil 3 or 4 at a time cook until golden brown. do not let the oil get too hot or the fritters will discolour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paer, sprinkled with caster sugar, dust the fritters with icing sugar and serve immediately or at room temperature.