Carole Bumpus

Fiction and Non-fiction Travel and Food Writer

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Grandma Neustrom’s Swedish Rye Bread

Riffling through the dog-eared recipes from my past, I ran across one of my family favorites: my grandmother’s Swedish rye bread recipe. For me, the very words conjured up memories of early childhood redolent with the aromas of baking bread filled with the goodness of dark molasses and the tantalizing smells from my tiny cup of coffee. You see, following World War II, my father was released from the Army and he moved our then-small family—that was my mother, older sister, Melody, and a six-week-old me—from a Texas Army base back to my father’s hometown in Nebraska. Until he could get on his feet financially, we lived in the basement apartment of my Swedish grandparent’s home for my first six years of life.

Morning after morning, I remember hearing my Grandmother shuffle across the kitchen floor above our apartment, singing a happy little tune, as she busily prepared and baked her ‘famous’ bread. I would whine to encourage my mother to dress me more quickly as I would impatiently wait to hear my Grandmother’s call, “Yoo-hoo, Yoo–hoo, my Carole. Are you awake down there?” Quickly, I would trundle to the staircase and climb those twelve red linoleum steps to the first floor to be swept up into her full-bosomed embrace. She would kiss me from head to toe with wet, sticky kisses, then pass me over to my grandfather, who would place me on a stack of books (no thick phone books, though, as the town was much too small) onto a kitchen chair. And there at the table awaiting my arrival was one tiny cup filled with tantalizing Swedish coffee (no milk or cream added—no, no) and a thick slab of hot-from-the-oven Swedish rye bread, already oozing with a pat of butter and pooling into my own special plate. Picking up the slice with my chubby fingers, I would bite into that rich dark bread and butter would leak out of the corners of my mouth and drip down my chin. Then, my Grandma’s high pitched giggle would erupt and my Grandpa would smile from ear to ear, as his glasses slipped down his bulbous nose. Coffee and Swedish rye bread! Ah! I can’t think of a better way to start a day! This experience of sharing good food, along with rich coffee, and the warmth of a grandparents’ love led me to equate the importance of bringing families and friends together at the table. This also culminated in my writing an historical novel, A Cup of Redemption, which is the story of women building a friendship by sharing food, recipes and family stories. [Novel published October, 2014]

My new book, of which I’m most excited about, is Recipes for Redemption: A Companion Cookbook for A Cup of Redemption. It will provide the promised recipes—all traditional French—which were culled from the pages, the times, and the regional influences found in the historical novel A Cup of Redemption. Told through the voices of the three main characters—Marcelle, Sophie and Kate—the recipes shared are the very ones these women learned at the knees of their mothers and grandmothers. Whether “cuisine pauvre” (or peasant cooking), “war food” from WWII, or simply a family favorite, each recipe is carefully described and footnoted with interesting, often amusing culinary notes. Flavored with witty repartee and slathered with common sense, this cookbook is filled with heart, soul, humor, and delectable delight. I’m certain you will love it!

Call it ‘Cuisine Pauvre’

As my fingers poise over the key board, my heart leaps forward with anticipation. I’m about to begin writing. I love it! I love it, like I love when I’m poised in the kitchen ready to prepare a new recipe. Another creative attempt at either delighting my family or sending them into a nighttime of dreams in Technicolor. (That can happen.) But, it’s that anticipation of stumbling onto something new that excites me. I guess that’s how I began to write in the first place:

Excerpt from Chapter Two – Floating Island – A Cup of Redemption

Before Kate’s first dinner with Sophie neared an end, the cheese board was passed, accompanied with a basket of baguette slices. Sophie’s mother, Marcelle, leaned close to Kate and asked, “You are interested in learning our cuisine, n’est ce pas?” Marcelle peered over the top of her wine glass as she spoke.

“Yes, Madame, I would love to learn what makes your French cuisine world-famous; your haute-cuisine,” Kate said.

“Our haute-cuisine?” Marcelle bit into her cheese and bread. A twinkle flitted through her dark eyes.

“Yes, but more than ‘haute-cuisine’ I would prefer learning the fine art of traditional French cooking.”

“Well, Madame, our traditional cooking is rarely considered fine, but we certainly keep a respectable ‘cuisine pauvre.’”

Kate was brought up short with this term and her face turned quizzically toward Sophie.

“Kate, ‘cuisine pauvre’ means ‘poor kitchen’ and refers to the traditional-type of peasant cooking. These are the recipes that have been handed down through the many, many generations and this is the type of cooking Maman taught me. As a matter of fact, we continue to use her recipes every day. Like this evening!” Sophie popped up from the table, disappeared into the kitchen, and then reappeared at the table.

“And for our finalé,” Sophie announced, “we have as the pièce de résistance, Maman’s ‘Floating Island’ dessert.” Sophie winked at her mother as everyone swooned. Kate’s eyes grew wide as what looked like a bowl of white cotton was placed before her. She picked up her spoon and with the first bite, discovered the delicate sweet flavor of meringue and orange, which lifted off her spoon and onto her tongue like a soft cloud. De-lect-able!

 

Excerpt from A Cup of Redemption – Chapter Two – Floating Island

“I’m curious, Madame,” Kate said as she picked up her fork. “What foods did you prepare as a young wife in France? Did you prepare the Floating Island back then?”

“What foods did I prepare? In France?” Marcelle echoed the question. She threw her head back and laughed, her deeply resonant voice filling the room. But, then she sat back in her chair, as her eyes lighted on the birds fluttering outside the sliding glass door.   Kate was surprised at her laughter, but followed her gaze to see what had caught her attention. The California hills, just beyond her backyard, were vibrant green from recent winter rains, and the birds were having a heyday. She imagined Marcelle’s mind fluttering too, back through the cobwebs of her past. Through the glass table top Marcelle’s shoeless feet swung under the chair, back and forth, to and fro. Marcelle stretched her back, picked up her fork and sampled the lemon tart.

“Mmm, trés bon, Madame.” She swallowed. “Maybe I should get your recipe.” She paused. “Well, to answer your question,” she began, her rich voice rising, “I never had to diet.” She tossed her head back and laughed again as she licked lemon curd off her lips. She pulled her large brown sweater about herself, as Sophie tittered at the old family joke. Clearly Marcelle Zabél had stories to tell.

“It was during World War II, you see,” Marcelle began again, “and we had to forage in the fields for every potato, every carrot, even for an onion or two. We had a chicken once in a while, or a bit of rabbit. You know, some of the foods I learned to cook back in ‘43, I still prepare today, like Paté de Pomme de Terre. You wanted recipes, oui? I’ll be sure to give you that one.”

Kate nodded. “I would love that.”

“Potatoes and cabbages were our mainstays, of course, but we were lucky to have anything at all,” Marcelle continued. “Sometimes, when the Germans confiscated our food, we were forced to sneak into the night in search of even one potato. It was perilous, mind you. We hoped no land mines had been laid during the day and that no German caught us outdoors after curfew.

Kate had not been prepared for this turn in the conversation and looked for help from Sophie, who merely shrugged and waved a limp hand into the air. “C’est la guerre, as they say,” she laughed. “And, it is Maman’s story.” She patted her mother’s hand once again, reassuring her, or perhaps, herself.

 

Savoring the Olde Ways gives way to A Cup of Redemption – blog hop

I was invited by Darlene Frank, a fellow member of the California Writers Club, to join her ‘blog hop’.  It seemed like a fun thing to do, so I agreed.  She also invited my daughter, Adaire Salome-Keating, to join her as well.  So, this ‘blog hop’ is our first mother-daughter event.

Darlene requested that we answer four questions about our own writing, so this is my response:

What am I working on/writing?

In 2000, I had the extraordinary good fortune of being befriended by a well-known and accomplished chef and culinary teacher, Sharon Shipley of Sunnyvale, California.  (Sadly, she has since passed away.)  I traveled with her throughout France and Italy in her search for traditional recipes, (known as cucina povera in Italian and cuisine pauvre in French) and to help her set up traditional cooking tours.  Sharon was laser-focused on the foods and their preparation but I was drawn to and fascinated by the intrinsic bond woven by families who shared their daily meal.

As a retired family therapist, I continue to hold an interest in family dynamics and am especially curious about the ‘glue’ that holds European families together.  Is it their religion?  Is it their traditions?  Could it be their culture?  To curb my curiosity, I decided to interview the families we met.  And, because most families come together at the family table, I began to ask people simple questions like, ‘What kinds of foods did you enjoy as a child?’, ‘What were your favorite holidays and traditions?’ and ‘What is the family recipe you continue to prepare?’  That line of questioning led to over seventy interviews in France and over thirty-five interviews in Italy along with receiving a plethora of ‘favorite family recipes’ they were willing to part with.  In fact, I received the honor of having many of these recipes prepared for me in their kitchens, at their tables, along with their favorite wines and delightful stories.  This became the basis for my travel/food tales I call Savoring the Olde Ways.

Then, a funny thing happened!  During one of my interviews with an elderly French woman, I was brought up short.  Instead of a simple recipe, she slowly began to reveal her life story—along with a secret past, which included not just stories of WWI, but also WWII.  Unfortunately, within a few months, she passed away, but with the help of her daughter, I continued to research her story, her letters, journals and we traveled extensively throughout France together. What I discovered about her life—which was one filled with selfless courage, love, and honor of family, was that her greatest desire was to find out her own identity.  My novel, A Cup of Redemption, which is based on her life, is being published this Fall by She Writes Press—on October 27th, to be exact.

So, after a short twelve-year hiatus, I now feel content to be able to settle back once again among the discarded chapters, recipes and kitchen interviews from years ago.

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

My writing is driven by the interviews and the interviewees—their interests, their favorite traditions, their cultural norms and their family stories.  Because many of the stories also included the impact of war—no matter the generation—the conversations easily glided into the ‘why’ of certain shared traditions and recipes born out of poverty or sacrifice during war.  The importance of ‘family’ was very pronounced, especially when the family had suffered so much loss.  So, I write about the human experience along with the passion for food and the sharing of recipes—which tends to nurture each and every one.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m driven by my desire to understand the women and families who, in spite of suffering so much, have given their families reasons to stand up, be courageous, laugh and rejoice.  Enjoy life, because you never know what the future holds!

How does my writing process work?

I pack my car with my favorite beach chair, notes, pen and paper, sunscreen, cheese sticks, bottled water and head to ‘my’ beach.  There, I let my mind wander back and forth from the surf, to the children laughing delightedly as the cold water engulfs their toes, to the birds skittering along the lacy fringes of the waves, to opening myself up to all the gifts I was given years ago—through those precious conversations over the kitchen tables in France and Italy.  You see, I enjoy a sweet life!

Whose next on this blog hop?

As it turns out, I’m not so adept in getting my ‘ducks in a row’, but the two women authors I would like to introduce are:  Elise Frances Miller, author of A Time to Cast Away Stones and Bernadette “Bette” Houchens, who is a new voice and in the process of completing her first memoir.  Both are member of our California Writers Club in Belmont, California!  They will be coming up on this roster the week of July 21st.   At that time I will introduce them and give you their bios and details.  But, right now they both are either on vacation or have just returned.  (Tis the season!)  Stay tuned.

You are welcome to comment below.  And be certain to check out Darlene Frank’s blog post (http://www.darlenefrankwriting.com/ ) along with Adaire Salomé-Keating’s post (http://adventuresofaddgirl.com/)

 

Three Seeds of Inspiration

ACupOfRedemptionHiRezSometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it. You may not understand its value at the time, but if you are lucky you plant the seed and curiously await the results. That happened to me a few years back, and planting those seeds has made all the difference.

Before I decided to write my debut novel, A Cup of Redemption, I was busy writing short stories involving travel and food memoirs. While interviewing an elderly French woman, Marcelle, about her favorite French recipes—cuisine pauvre, or “French peasant food”—she stunned me when I asked, “What recipes did you prepare as a young wife?”

“Recipes?” she answered with a not unkind laugh. “We were in the middle of World War II and my husband was part of the French Résistance. It was often too dangerous for me to sneak into the field to get a potato or two for my family. We were in hiding. Recipes? Now, that was something I only dreamed of.”

My original idea of writing a regional French cookbook slipped by the wayside as my desire to understand this woman became pronounced. How had this woman, who struggled under the weight of war, managed her family? How had she, along with so many other valiant women and families, survived with war scrapping on their doorsteps? I’ve written about this moment before but, for me, this was defining moment and my first “seed” of inspiration.

On a second occasion—actually, on a food tour in southern Italy, I was resting on a large rock near an ancient sixth-century B.C. Greek temple in Paestum. With rapt attention I was listening to a retired professor giving a short talk—not about cucina povera (Italian peasant food), which was the reason I was touring—but about military history.  He was waxing poetic about the battle which had taken place nearby in Salerno—not during Greek or Roman times, but during World War II. Waving his hand to the north and pointing beyond our view, he regaled us with the perilous happenings on those nearby beaches between the Allies and the Germans. With great detail as to strategy used, generals in charge, numbers of military involved, numbers killed and/or wounded, he explained the tragic outcome of that particular battle.

I nodded my head with interest, but waited until he completed his talk. Then I asked my question: “What about the people who lived here? How many were killed? How did families survive in the midst of this tragedy?”

He may have been dumbfounded by the naïveté of my question, but I, too, was left limp-jawed by his answer: “The military keep no records of unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by a military action, especially when it comes to unintended civilian casualties. It is known as ‘collateral damage.’ ”

I walked away from that conversation struck by the audacity of war and those who led it. I knew this gentleman was an expert in his field and he was only reporting on what was recorded, but I couldn’t get his words out of my mind: “It is known as ‘collateral damage.’ ” Not the people are considered collateral damage. I found the military’s total disregard of civilians—those vast numbers of men, women, children caught in the cross-hairs of war and never counted—was daunting. This was my second seed.

A year or so later, during a conversation with a young French woman, she mentioned her concern for her eighty-year-old grandmother from Bordeaux. The Twin Towers had come down, and so as the world was anxiously awaiting to learn if and when war would break out, her grandmother hit the reset button. Her experience of starvation in Paris during World War II was one she would never forget. And she was not taking any chances! She ordered a ton of potatoes to be delivered to her door. This was the third “seed,” for I began to realize how the impact of a war sixty years prior brought up memories along with a sense of immediacy and emergency for those who have lived with it . . . as did the following generations.

My novel, which focuses on three women—two French, one American, who separately experienced life-changing events during war—is about women’s struggles to rise up during and after the devastation of war. So, by the time I flew to France to follow up on Marcelle’s story, she had passed away and I was there to help her daughter unravel some of her mother’s mysteries. And it was there I was able to reap the fruits from the seeds of inspiration which had been planted.

Those three non-linear conversations—or seeds—propelled me forward for years—digging through archives, interviewing others, working with translators, reviewing  transcriptions, plus reading, researching, and reading some more. (This is part of the writing process, I promise you. And, by the way, research is probably one of the most seductive things you can do, as you don’t want to stop.)

So, why did I take you on this lengthy description of my writing process? For me, my passion and drive to write this novel—which took twelve years, by the way—culminated with three offhand comments or three seeds of inspiration. You see, the seed of a story can find you anywhere or any time.

L’Exode Out of Paris – June, 1940

4:30 a.m.  When Marcelle awakened that day, it had been another beautiful June morning. The cool air that swept into the small open window held the scent of jasmine and the promise of early summer. She crawled out of bed and inhaled the sweet fragrance.  She peeked out through the blackout shades to see if the sun would be rising shortly. It was too hard to imagine that Paris had entered into this nightmare. How could it possibly be?Paris has never looked lovelier!

By 11:30 a.m., Marcelle and her roommate, Gené, had packed their bags-only one per person—and had been waiting for the train to take them to Bordeaux. Since 5:30 a.m. In fact, their entire Citroën crew was congregated outside the Gare d’Austerlitz station. Standing on one leg, then the other, sitting on their belongings, shifting back and forth, all were waiting. Unfortunately, they were not alone. A mass of a thousand others surrounded them, all waiting for the same trains.

But now the heat of mid-day had become unbearable and there was nowhere to go. As the sun beat down, the hopeful passengers began shedding their jackets, hats, and sweaters, as they had layered for the trip.

Gené, not able to stand still, insisted on checking for the train, yet again. Marcelle folded her jacket in quarters, placed it atop her valise and sat down. Her job was to hold their place in line. Time and time again, Gené returned with no new information, saying “Le train qui a été retardé!” Well, Marcelle knew the train was delayed! Every fifteen minutes or so, the station master had been screeching, ‘Nous vous prions de nous excuser pour ce retard!’ We apologize for the delay!

Through the din and confusion, families clustered together. Haggard mothers chastised their errant toddlers while desperately clutching crying babies and belongings to their chests. Marcelle thought of her small son, Thierry, who she had left with the nurses until she could send for him. At least, he wouldn’t have to face this madness. He was much too sensitive to endure this noise.

The piercing voice of a young woman jolted Marcelle to her senses. She looked up. The woman was asking for help with her students. She was a teacher from a nearby girls’ school and had arrived with one hundred orphans and was desperate to get her young girls on board the first train leaving Paris.

“They must be saved,” she cried out. “They have to go first! They have no one left!”

A voice near Marcelle called out, “Are they Jewish?”

The teacher blanched, shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She dared not answer that question. After much deliberation the station master, frantically pulling his hair, escorted the young girls inside the station as hundreds of others pressed forward to join them. The teacher, frazzled by the experience, sat despondently weeping on someone’s forgotten luggage.

“I will never see them again,” she cried, “and I don’t even know where they are going.”

Placing her hand on the sobbing woman’s shoulder, Marcelle asked, “What about you? Aren’t you going with them?”

“I have no pass from the school to leave. I have no idea what I will do now.” She looked wildly about her. “There must be children left in Paris to teach—somewhere.”

Before Marcelle could respond, the teacher, as if crazed, stood up with tears streaming down her blotchy face and disappeared into the crowd.

Remaining on top of her own suitcase, Marcelle fingered her evacuation pass. Only defense factory employees were given these passes and were allowed to leave the city. She questioned whether or not she should leave, but knew in her heart that, at the age of 22 and a single mother, this was her only opportunity for employment. She sent up a prayer once again to her beloved Sainte Anne d’Auray to watch over her son and return her soon to take him with her.

The day turned into evening and the final train came, loaded up and left the station. Hundreds, thousands, who had been patiently waiting at the station, had been left forlornly behind. Marcelle and Gené picked up their bags and returned to their pensione. They now had no other choice. The next day they would do as everyone else was doing . . . join the l’Exode, the walk to Bordeaux.

 

Excerpt from A Cup of Redemption

Rarely do we, as individuals, prepare for war; and rarely do we prepare for war on our own doorstep.  The following is an excerpt from the upcoming novel, A Cup of Redemption.   Our heroine, Marcelle, is a young lady of twenty-one, unmarried mother of one and working the only job available to her in Paris: the Citroen factory.  Aware that the manufacture of cars has halted and weapons are being made, she still can’t fathom how the world will quickly change around her.  How can it be?  They live in beautiful Paris!

May, 1940 – Paris, France

Marcelle had read about the bombings in Dunkirk and as she and her roommate, Geneviève, dressed that morning for work at Citroen, they listened to a French-language correspondent on a German radio station, ‘Parisians, you were right to take advantage of your last peaceful Sunday.’  They looked at each other and laughed. “Propaganda,” tossed Marcelle. “That’s all this is.  More propaganda.”

But, just as they turned onto St. Germaine Boulevard, a cacophony of sound erupted; they were jolted by the sights and sounds. It was as if a moving farmyard was sweeping past them.  The refugees of human flotsam and jetsam of dazed and disheveled peasants passed them by.  Seeming not to see anything before them, people moved along not knowing where they were heading, just walking, walking.  Beaten-down women with exhaustion etched into their eyes carried infants swaddled in mud and blood-spattered blankets.  Terrified-looking children with tear-streaked faces held hands or led puppies on a string.  Older children pushed baby carriages loaded down with bedding, pots and pans.  Teens pulled small wagons with wailing toddlers clamoring to get out or get in.  Horses, oxen, and cattle were harnessed to farm wagons, carriages, cars and drays.  The elderly, with eyes glazed and faces hardened, perched on top of these conveyances clutching babies, valises, chickens in a parrot cage, or each other.

Horses whinnied, children cried, horns honked, dogs barked, but the ever-grinding wheels of this odd parade creaked by.

“Where are the men?” Marcelle asked an old woman who appeared to be observing the parade.

“You don’t know?”  Her voice cracked with emotion as tears flowed down her wizened cheeks.  “There are no men.  There are no soldiers.  They were either captured or killed.  And the Maginot, that mighty line of defense for France?”

“The Maginot Line?” asked Marcelle.

“It didn’t hold!”

“What do you mean it didn’t hold?” Gené gasped.

“The enemy came by plane.  Mademoiselles, the only French soldiers you are apt to see are running ahead of the Germans because the Germans are at our back door,” she spit out.  Marcelle gaped at the woman.

“Were you there?  Is that what you’ve seen?  The Germans are entering France?”

The old woman nodded sadly, and said, “What we’ve seen will haunt us for a lifetime, Mademoiselles.  Our homes were destroyed; our husbands and sons killed.  We’ve stepped past the dead bodies of innocent children strafed by German airplanes . . .  Oh, I’ve lived too long.  Too long.  I can’t go on.”  She slumped down on the sidewalk and began to cry piteously.

 

Savoring the Olde Ways

      If ever you have searched for a sure-fire ‘recipe’ to open a topic of conversation, try asking someone about their favorite childhood foods.  But I must warn you.  Prepare yourself:  Grab a cup of coffee, settle into a comfortable chair, or snug up to the kitchen table because you are headed for a most passionate journey.  Immediately, the fondest of memories will rise to the surface—moments of delight of holidays past, favorite foods, cherished traditions and beloved family stories will all bubble forth.  And before you know it, he or she will jump up, eyes bright with excitement, rush to the kitchen cupboard and return with a favorite recipe card clutched in hand.  “Here it is,” will be the exclamation.  And there, all smudged with past efforts, will be the proof of a favorite recipe worthy of sharing.  With arms flailing and mixing motions sweeping the air, the culinary treasure will be rattled off to you, along with a chorus of laughter and stories shared about times of days past.

    As a retired family therapist with a not-so-uncommon love of good food and travel, I challenged myself to search for stories in both Italy and France. Beginning with the simple desire to learn more about “family” through culture and tradition, I asked each person—no matter their age—to tell me about their favorite foods.  The above scenario was repeated for me time and again.  I was not only invited into the warmth of their kitchens to sample the best of their traditional foods, but was served, as a side dish, the most amazing of stories.  Yes, some folklore; some myth; but always with an element of truth mixed in with a pinch of humor and offered graciously as if on a platter.

It was a most delectable journey I embarked on a number of years ago and it is one that I continue today.  And so you will find in the writings that I offer you through my website, an ‘amuse-bouche,’ so to speak—a small compilation of recipes, stories and anecdotes to whet your appetite for the books to come.

My book(s) yet to be published are entitled, Savoring the Olde Ways: Italian-Style; Savoring the Olde Ways: French-Style; and Savoring the Olde Ways: Provençe-Style.

 

 

 

A Cup of Redemption

ACupOfRedemptionHiRezPROLOGUE

FIND ME, FIND POURRETTE

October 2001

The autumnal breeze swept over the French village cemetery of Evaux-les-Bains and cut through the tombstones where the three adults remained before their mother’s grave. No one spoke. No one cried. Sophie swallowed hard. Grief, she thought, is a private matter.She knew how to contain her emotions, as did her brothers. Their mother, Marcelle, had taught them well.

A blue silk scarf slid off Sophie’s head and onto her shoulders. Her short brown curls, touched faintly with grey, appeared to have sprouted wings as the wind buffeted her bird-like body. She felt her brothers sway on either side of her, as swirling dry leaves lifted up and around them. Thierry, the oldest, breathed in hard, touched his chest and then gasped. At sixty-four, he already had heart problems. She feared their mother’s death would push him over the edge. Sophie looked up at him, his face tense and taut as a mask. Has he ever forgiven Maman for abandoning him? Over fifty years of explanations should have helped, but had they? Does anyone ever get over being abandoned?

Click here to learn more about the book.

A GIFT FROM THE ARDENNES

As a going-away gift after my stay in her Beine-Nauroy home (about one hundred miles east of Paris), Martine Zabée handed me a ream of paper on which she had copied some pages from a favorite cookbook she enjoyed from the Ardennes region.

“This is a region just north of where we live,” she said. She was out of breath as she had rushed off early that morning to make the copies for me and then returned right before we were to head out of town.

“This may not be precisely from our Champagne Region, but I thought you might appreciate these recipes. We all live so close to each other as neighbors and these recipes are ones I use quite often. These pages are written in the dialect of the Ardennais but if you can get these pages translated, I think you will find a richness of culture bound into every one of these pages. We are not so very different, you see,” she said as she pressed the pages into my arms.

It was almost a year later when my friend and translator, Josiane Selvage, had time to translate the pages Martine had given me, so I had no idea what a gift this truly was. I think you, too, will appreciate them. As an amuse bouche, or a short excerpt to my book, Savoring the Olde Ways, I will begin with this most delightful introduction to the cookbook:

CUISINE DES ARDENNES
By Monique Esquerré-Anciaux

This book comes to you from our marvelous grandmother, who was named Marie-Louise, but was known affectionately by her nickname, Loulou. From all of her kindness, her tenderness, and her skill, she reigned over the old family house…a large house which, with all of its size easily accommodated her fifteen grandchildren. She loved to invite us to gather together for theater or for marionettes, with parts which we played on stilts, in and around the large and small tables, flower stands and vases. And, with the plays, always a “gouters” or an afternoon snack which could only animate her spirited cheerfulness.

How could I ever forget this generous and tender heart? I remember her, small and fine, with her clear blue eyes, as light as her heart, and of her humor, which contrasted surprisingly with her somber figure (the fashion of her time was with discrete colors but my grandmother chose to decorate her neckline with white pearls or with a jet black necklace, which was the only apparent sign of her coquettery). How could I have forgotten her style of a natural quality and her treasures of fantasy, which became the small salt of life?

I also remember her faithful servant, Berthe, with which fell the enormous responsibility of the ovens. As children, we contemplated the beating of the pastry dough with her strong white arms, covered in flour, while taking out of the smoking wood fires the moist cakes, the white rolls fried in butter called ‘lost bread’, the crotté bread or golden brown bread, without ever forgetting the moist cake of Saint Nicolas’s Day! Ah, what a tender evocation!

It was on December 6th, Saint Nicolas’ Day that our grandmother chose to spoil us most. Because of her, Christmas was always a holy, religious holiday, and New Year’s Day was that of the New Year’s gifts, but Saint Nicolas’ Day was especially for the children. That day, Loulou covered the fireplace mantle with a show of toys, delicacies, small animals made with red sugar and figurines made out of gingerbread or chocolate; and when it was all ready, she sat down in her large armchair, close to the hearth, and Berthe, out in the hall, gave the three knocks just as is done in the opera as the curtain begins to rise.

With great emotion, we came down the stairs and lined up, one behind the other, and by row of size. We then crossed the salon to join our grandmother with whom Saint Nicolas had left a large envelope. With a tender but somewhat malicious voice, she read to us from this celestial courier. She transmitted to us congratulations and the small reproaches for unquestionable small misdeeds. We listened to her, most attentive, to her little impressions, but never to homilies. Our turn passed, and with relief, we gave ourselves up, all in a chorus, with the greatest insane laughter. Then, finally, the distribution came of the toys and the little snacks which were quite useful to enervate us which Berthe had prepared.

Thursday after Thursday, holiday after holidays, my grandmother wove the weft of precious and intense moments, into the memories of our childhood. But, will you say, we were talking about the Ardennes, right? Where are they located then? And, invariably, with your hand you will vaguely point out toward an area between the Vosges and the Somme. However, they simply are located in the North-East of France, between the Marne River and Belgium, not at the end of the world.

And, for the recipe? I’m still working on translating the some 300 items in the book. Stay tuned . . . Carole

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