Bonjour mes amis!
What’s your pleasure today — crêpes suzette, crème brûlée, or tarte tatin? Ah, je sais. Tough to decide when all three could make your toes curl with a single bite.
Not to worry. Once again, we are rescued by verse, a single poem by New Zealander Elizabeth Smither serving up all three luscious desserts. Put on an extra large bib, open wide, and bump up against creativity’s longtime friend: the accident. BTW, we have enough cherries for everyone.
THREE WOMEN SHARING A BOWL OF CRÈME BRÛLÉE
by Elizabeth Smither
In a small brown pudding bowl
with a syrup-coloured stripe
on a brown base plate
our three spoons scoop.
‘One crème brûlée, s’il vous plaît
and three dining-with-the-devil spoons.’
One indivisible glacé cherry
at the centre like a navel
how unsophisticated in a sophisticated
restaurant to have just one
surviving appetite after the appetiser
a glass of house white
and two compatriots press-ganged
into something they’ve never conceived:
burnt cream. Culinary accidents
the culinary leader speaks of
that upended tart with apples
dropped on the hot plate by a furious
overheated woman named Tatin
or crêpes Suzette accidentally designed
by someone half-pickled
accidents which on the instant of occurring
or in culinary terms — combining — become
a poet’s inspired instinctive metre
a villanelle perhaps, an enjambment
so full of joy its creation
resembles wind through the open window.
‘Satisfactory?’ The waiter goes past
peers in the bowl where spoons
keep returning over faint protests
‘I’m not really hungry but I can’t resist.’
‘You have the cherry. It was your idea.’
And as the last crumbs of the crust
are tenderly scraped we seem to be
wrapping the crying Tatin in a shawl
and setting her in a rocker, bringing brandy
or toasting crêpes Suzette with more brandy
deliriously clinking glasses until we swoon
over the tablecloth in huge top-heavy hats.
~ from A Question of Gravity (Arc Publications, 2004)
Sounds like a good time, no?
Just goes to show what can happen when you put three women, a bottle of wine, brandy, and a decadent dessert together at the same table. Mon Dieu! A good poet knows how to stir the pot.
I was, of course, intrigued by the culinary accidents mentioned in the poem. As is often the case, the exact origins of these famous dishes are disputed. Still, the so-called theories make for good stories. Crêpes Suzette? Perhaps a 14-year-old assistant waiter accidentally set the cordials on fire while preparing dessert in a chafing dish for Edward VII, Prince of Wales (whose main squeeze at the time was Princess Suzanne). Or perhaps actress Suzanne (“Suzette”) Reichenberg, playing a maid on the Comédie Française stage was serving crêpes, and the chef decided to flambé them to get the audience’s attention.
How the French love booze, butter and fire!
My favorite story is about the Tarte Tatin. Don’t you just love saying that? Repeat after me in your best French accent: TARTE TATIN. Oh, the alliteration! *kisses fingertips*
Seems Stéphanie Tatin, who ran the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron with her sister Caroline (1898), accidentally overcooked the apples, butter and sugar intended for a traditional pie.
She tried to rescue the burning concoction by covering the apples with the pastry base and then baking it. Of course the guests loved this upside down tart, which became a signature dish at the hotel and was later immortalized when restaurateur Louis Vaudable added it to the menu at Maxim’s in Paris.
And what of Crème Brûlée? No accident regarding its creation, but often mistakenly considered French when it actually originated in England. “Burnt Cream” was a favorite at Cambridge (Trinity College); they claim to have been the first to produce this rich custard with a caramelized sugar topping.
Lesson to be learned: whenever faced with a potential dessert disaster, flip it over or flambé it. Avert a writing crisis by firing up your imagination, turning ideas inside out, and respecting “mistakes” for their unseen potential. The altered flavor of just one word, if given a chance, could make all the difference.
Or, you could always
get plastered sip wine with a few friends and share a creamy dessert. If your pie insists on being upside down, stand on your head to eat it. Clink clink.
♥ The supremely talented April Halprin Wayland is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Teaching Authors. If you have an extra spoon, share your dessert of choice with her. If not, I’m sure she’ll appreciate your writing a message to her in raisins. She is just the sort of person who probably loves saying, “Tarte Tatin” over and over. ☺
♥ Pour vous, yet another recipe for the aforementioned Tarte Tatin, because I simply can’t help myself.
Have a good weekend. ☺
Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.