Found Meals of the Lost Generation: An Edible Time-Capsule of the Creative Scene of 1920s Paris
From James Joyce’s cocoa to Gertrude Stein’s nameless cookies.
By Maria Popova
Given my voracious appetite for unusual cookbooks — particularly those at the intersection of literature, art, and cuisine, such as the vintage treasure Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, the recently released Modern Art Cookbook, those real recipes from Roald Dahl’s children’s books, Salvador Dalí’s erotic gastronomy, Andy Warhol’s little-known illustrated recipes, and Dinah Fried’s magnificent photographs of meals from famous fiction — I was delighted to chance upon the 1994 gem Found Meals of the Lost Generation: Recipes and Anecdotes from 1920s Paris (public library). This unusual compendium offers what author Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter aptly calls “social history with recipes, a kind of edible time machine” transporting us to the Parisian creative coterie of the 1920s, which Hemingway termed a “movable feast.” Each chapter is devoted to a major literary or artistic figure from that era’s artistic ecosystem, cumulatively known as the Lost Generation — including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Josephine Baker, and Isadora Duncan — and weaves together biographical anecdotes with recipes for an actual meal in which that person participated.
Rodriguez-Hunter writes of the Lost Generation’s singular allure:
They rebelled against their parents, danced to loud and shocking music, were disillusioned by war, flirted with cocaine, pushed the boundaries of sexual freedom, cut their hair geometrically and colored it with henna, loved abstract art, joined cults, flew in airplanes in a world grown small, drove fast cars, pondered their subconscious motivations, rejected conformism, and a lot of them drank or drugged too much… They were the Moderns — the first modern generation.
These generational pioneers were born into a unique precipice of cultural change — the automobile had arrived, but it was clunky and expensive; phones were around, but far from common; the radio was yet to be invented; children worked in factories and most families lived in homes with outdoor toilets. During their heyday, the members of the Lost Generation witnessed and partook in remarkable social shifts — women’s right to vote, Freud’s liberation of the subconscious, the invention of the airplane, the rise of the cinema, and a seemingly uncontainable range of other innovations. Meanwhile, WWI had left millions disillusioned and dejected. Paris, emerging as the capital of Modernism, offered alluring respite from the breakage of the human spirit. In promising unparalleled creative refuge and revival, the city attracted a steady cohort of American expat artists and writers, who fused with the local community at literary salons, art exhibitions, parties, and various other social cross-pollinators.
The excitements and ambivalences of those changes became deeply embedded in how the Lost Generation lived and celebrated their lives — which invariably included their cuisine.
Here are a few favorites, beginning with hot chocolate, quaintly termed cocoa, à la James Joyce — one can easily envision him sipping it while sitting at his desk, careful not to drip any on his white writing coat.
In a saucepan over very low heat combine 1 cup boiling water, ¼ cup of your favorite powdered cocoa, a dash of salt, and sugar to taste (approximately 3 tablespoons). Mix thoroughly. Add 3 cups scalded milk. Stir gently while mixture slowly heats, approximately 3 minutes. If desired, add 1 teaspoon vanilla near the end. Remove from heat, beat lightly with wire whisk, and pour into moustache cups or mugs.
Perhaps as James Joyce was warming up for his most revealing interview with a cup of hot chocolate, his interviewer, Djuna Barnes, was fortifying herself with a salad of winter lettuces.
A SALAD OF WINTER LETTUCES
In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon walnut oil, 2 tablespoons high-quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar, and 1 finely minced shallot. Let flavors blend while preparing the salad.
Cut away and discard the stem of two large Belgian endives, removing whole leaves. Discard stems of 1 bunch watercress, breaking into sprigs. Tear 1 frisée endive into pieces (or equivalent amount of curly endive). Wash and dry all greens and place in salad bowl. Peel a small celeriac, slice it thinly, and cut slices into strips; add no more than ½ cup celeriac strips to greens. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Just before serving, sprinkle petals of 1 perfect red rose across the salad.
Even though Ernest Hemingway believed that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life,” it’s hard to imagine him feasting on these cervelas — short, fat sausages made of pork, usually seasoned with garlic — all by himself.
CERVELAS WITH MUSTARD SAUCE
Plunge 4 fresh cervelas or other pork/garlic sausages into a pot of boiling water, reduce heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water. In frying pan, melt small amount butter over moderate heat. Add sausages and cook until lightly browned. Serve with Mustard Sauce.
In a small mixing bowl combine 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard and 3 tablespoons boiling water. Slowly add, drop by drop, 1/3 cup olive oil, beating constantly with a wire whip. The resulting sauce should be creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice if desired.
Cut a 3 ½ pound chicken into pieces. Dip each piece into milk, season with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and let dry 30 minutes. In heavy skillet heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté chicken on all sides until nicely browned. Add 1 cup hot water, ¼ teaspoon cumin, and ¼ teaspoon sage, and let come to boil. Immediately reduce heat, cover, and let simmer 45 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until all moisture has evaporated from pan. Serve.
A couple of decades before George Orwell concocted his 11 golden rules for the perfect cup of tea, Nina Hamnett and Jean Cocteau delighted Paris with their Formosa oolong tea, often considered the very best tea available — one would expect nothing less of Cocteau as a host.
FORMOSA OOLONG TEA
Bring a generous amount of very pure water to boil. Heat teapot by rinsing with boiling water. Put 1 teaspoonful of Formosa oolong or other tea into pot for each person; add an extra spoonful “for the pot.” Add boiling water approximately 1 cup per teaspoon of tea. Stir well. Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve.
And what would the era’s culinary scene be like without Parisian power couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, the former being the fairy godmother of the city’s creative community and the latter a culinary legend herself? Their jugged hare with red currant “found meal” is something Gertrude Stein recalls being served frequently by the wife of Henri Matisse, whose paintings became a centerpiece of Stein’s famed, generation-defining art collection.
Cut a 5-pound rabbit or hare into pieces and place in deep (sic) bowl. In a separate bowl combine 1 cup red wine such as burgundy, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 large onion cut into quarters, 2 sliced carrots, 1 bay leaf, 12 whole peppercorns, 4 sprigs parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Stir ingredients well and pour over rabbit. If rabbit is not covered by mixture, add more wine. Cover and let marinate in refrigerator overnight.
Two hours before serving, drain rabbit mixture through a colander reserving marinade. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large frying pan; sauté rabbit until browned on all sides. Remove to covered casserole. Sauté onions and carrots until soft in the same pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Add vegetables to casserole. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup water and add reserved marinade to casserole. Place casserole, covered, preheated in 300 degree oven. Prepare a beurre manié by blending with a fork ¼ cup flour and 2 tablespoons softened butter; stir into the casserole after 1 hour. Return casserole to oven for another 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange rabbit on a serving platter, strain sauce over meat, and surround with boiled potatoes. Serve with red currant jelly-wine sauce.
RED CURRANT JELLY-WINE SAUCE
Slowly heat 1 cup red currant jelly over medium fire; when runny, add 1 cup good red wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; mix well and simmer gently, uncovered, 5 minutes. Thicken to taste with sauce from the rabbit casserole. Just before serving blend in 1tablespoon brandy.
And for dessert, it hardly gets more modernist than Stein’s “nameless cookies” — because, after all, a cookie is a cookie is a cookie.
Sift together ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 cups white flour. Cream 1 cup butter and add the flour mixture slowly, little by little; this procedure, stirring rather than beating as flour is added, should take about 20 minutes. At midway point, add 1 tablespoon curaçao and 1 teaspoon brandy. When mixture has been combined, roll the dough into small “sausage” rolls about 2 inches long and ½ inch thick. Place on lightly oiled cookie sheet 1 inch apart in preheated 275º oven; bake 20 minutes. Remove gently with spatula, gently sifting powdered sugar over them while still hot. Kept in tightly closed container, cookies will last up to 3 weeks.
Found Meals of the Lost Generation is absolutely delicious in its entirety. Complement it with the era’s ultimate culinary time-capsule, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, then revisit The Modern Art Cookbook and the Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook.
Published November 3, 2014