Today, when we think of meals using the freshest local produce available, we automatically think of chefs like Alice Waters. The very method of keeping ingredients simple, local, and fresh conjures up images of the Ferry Market in San Francisco. For me, Alice Waters and Californian cuisine seems to epitomize this way of cooking.
Of course, this technique did not originate in California. Food gurus like Alice Waters merely helped popularize a way of cooking that stems back to 17th-century France. 17th-century food writers, like Nicholas de Bonnefons, encouraged cooks to use the freshest and simplest ingredients from their gardens. In Le Jardinier français (1651) and Les Délices de la campagne (1654), Bonnefons helped to create a revolutionary vision of cuisine by persuading aristocrats all over France to cultivate their gardens. He believed that the flavors should never be diluted. In other words, a pea soup should capture the essence of peas: “a cabbage soup must be completely infused with the essence of cabbage, a turnip soup with turnip.”
To me, it’s most shocking that it wasn’t until 1683 that a doctor finally declared fruits and vegetables healthy foods. In The Essence of Style (2005), Joan DeJean states that Dr. Nicolas Venette was the first medical authority to affirm that vegetables and fruits were healthy. DeJean explains, “In the Middle Ages, vegetables were thought to be indigestible, coarse fare fit for peasants.” This view on vegetables clearly changed drastically during the 17th century. In fact, Louis XIV was apparently obsessed with his garden, the famous potager du roi. And, Versailles went insane for the freshest green peas coming out of Louis XIV’s garden. DeJean describes a “craze for fine fruit” and “young tender vegetables being the rage.”
The second half of the seventeenth century was a golden age for fruits and vegetables. Many more varieties than ever before began to be cultivated: sixty kinds of pears were available in France at the beginning of the seventeenth century, but nearly four hundred in Bonnefon’s day. Asparagus, artichokes, and spinach originally became important in French cuisine; the strawberry mentioned for the first time in a cookbook in The French Cook (1651).
So, today, when you are reading ideology about Slow Foods or eating baby green peas you could think back to the court of Louis XIV.
Images courtesy of from top to bottom - http://www.barcelonawinebar.com/spainpictures.htm, http://www.potager-du-roi.fr/presse/presse.html, and http://www.nandyala.org/mahanandi/archives/category/vegetables/peas-bataani/