[Sca-cooks] La Varenne's stocks...

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Sun Jan 11 06:37:47 PST 2009

Hullo, the list!

Okay, in response to Brighid's question and also in counterpoint to  
some of the comments on Rumpolt connected therewith, I went and dug  
out my copy of Scully's translation of La Varenne's Cuisinier  
Francoise and Patisser Francoise, and La Varenne has some interesting  
things to say.

Unfortunately, between my vision having grown a little less sharp than  
it was a year ago, and this beautiful new keyboard that looks lovely  
but requires perfectly vertical keystrokes that aren't made too  
quickly for the keyboard to register without simply ignoring them and  
dropping letters, I'm not up to transcribing or even scanning, OCR and  
correcting three or four pages on the subject, but I can give a digest  
easily enough.

In general, we're still not taking meaty bones and aromatic  
vegetables, browning them (or not, in the case of white stocks) adding  
water, and then wine, a tomato product, etc.

La Varenne essentially describes two processes in multiple instances,  
and mixes and matches aspects of the two techniques for different  

He starts with boullion, which is, as might be expected, the juice  
left over from simmering meat in water or water and wine. More or less  
what most medieval cooks were doing. He uses boullion a fair amount in  
sauces and soups.

He also uses boullion to make stock, or at least this is how Scully  
translates it. In general I trust Scully, but when I don't have the  
original French, how can I be sure?

La Varenne instructs us to take cooked meat, squeeze the juices out  
with a press (this was still being done with cooked, carved duck  
carcasses in the 19th century to make the famous canard au sang -- I  
know of at least one list member who apparently actually owns a duck  
press, but it certainly ain't me). He says the juice of a boiled joint  
is more copious, but less rich, than the juice of a roast joint. He  
then instructs us, should this be insufficient juice for our needs, to  
remoisten the joint with boullion, let it steep a bit, and squeeze it  
again. Repeat as needed.

He also says we can take meat, pack it into a jar, wide-mouthed  
bottle, or narrow-mouthed pot, and, I think, top it off with boullion,  
then seal it with a piece of dough and some parchment tied over the  
top, and then cook the container in another pot of water for several  

This method is still being used into the 20th century (and possibly  
beyond) to make what the English and the Irish call "beef tea" to feed  
to the sick. I think that when La Varenne is not using this version of  
stock to make a sauce, he's feeding it to the sick, elderly, and  
generally infirm, as well.

He also includes a recipe for mushroom stock, which involves recooking  
boullion with the bruised, unattractive culls from your mushroom  
supply, plus the usual modernish aromatic suspects such as the onion  
stuck with cloves, which later gets removed and discarded, etc.

It's worth remembering that La Varenne is roughly contemporary with  
Kenelm Digby, but pretty much marks the starting point for French  
cuisine taking over the culinary world, so to speak. We're starting to  
see sauces thickened with roux (no, he didn't invent it, but he uses  
it more than Welser and Rumpolt), we're starting to see some basic  
modular preparations being prepared in quantity (things like puff  
pastry, roux, mixtures that suspiciously resemble mirepoix and  
duxelles, etc.) to plug in as ingredients in other recipes. Evidently  
we've got a little longer to wait to see stock being made and used in  
this way, at least in France. The hundred years after La Varenne's  
death (give or take ten) would see the birth of Careme, who pretty  
much takes the modern age of European cookery by the hand and drags it  
into the light...


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

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