French Cooking For American Kitchens - M. Thérèse Bonney, 1929


by M. Thérèse Bonney and Louise Bonney, Robert M. McBride Publishing, first (and only) printing, 1929. A VERY hard to-find, important early book written for an American audience on French cuisine. Remember, in that era, the chances of a creative author writing about the glories of cookery rather than the growing army of home economists prattling on about portion size and the nutrition (of blah recipes) were about 100 to one.

The book was written by American sisters, one of whom was a cutting-edge artist who lived and worked in Paris before and after World War I (1914-1918), and, off and on, for the rest of her amazing life. While not anywhere as detailed and meticulous as Julia Child’s masterpiece which followed three decades (and another world war) later, this amazing book is a good primer for mostly French bourgeois home or casual bistro cooking, a good read, and the recipes are laid out in a chatty, informal manner.

"It is our idea in this book,” the authors wrote, “to de-bunk French cooking so that it will seem the simple and logical thing which is really is; and to tell you secrets not only of the grands chefs themselves but also of the ‘Maries’ of the homely French kitchen, the thousands of ‘Maries” who make eating anywhere in France a joy.” However, this is not a book for beginner cooks.

Here’s an example of their brisk, shorthand recipes, which are terrific, but assume an educated, experienced cook, their obvious audience:

“Morue á la Biscain

"Soak as we do. (Soaking cod was explained earlier). Cut in slices. Flour these slices, and brown them in hot oil. Remove and add to the oil – tomatoes in eighths, A little crushed garlic, and seasoning, and a dash of lemon juice. Cook. Turn over the cod. This is really the famous Brandade de Morue, dear to the Provençal palate.”

That's It! Short and Sweet.

As I said, M. (Mabel) Thérèse Bonney was an explosive entity in her time, starting in her young adulthood -- in the pre-flapper years preceding and following World War I (1914-1918). Astoundingly, her main claim to fame had nothing to do with culinary matters or food writing. Turns out, she grew to become a major figure in American photography, war journalism photography especially, certainly one of the first women in the field.

Earlier, her biographies inform us, she had taken a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. from Radcliffe, and a Ph. D. from Columbia University in Romance Languages, AND THEN studying further at the Sorbonne, publishing a thesis on the moral ideas in the plays of Alexander Dumas Sr., receiving a docteur-des-lettres degree in 1921, (when she was 27). Wikipedia tells us that "thus became the youngest person, the fourth woman, and the tenth American of either sex to receive the degree from the institution." WOW! She is best known now for the journalist side of her photo work, particularly for her photos taken during World War II on the Russian-Finnish front. Her war efforts earned her the Croix de guerre in May, 1941 and one of the five degrees the Légion d’honneur. Oh, in her younger days, incidentally, she was also a fashion model. Double WOW! And yet, somehow, she and her sister got down the whole French culinary repertoire down pat. Amazing book.

Hardback, no DJ, 295 pages. Fabric hard covers in bistro-like red and white checks, title pasted on front cover and spine in red with black type. Period illustrations and black and white photos (we assume by M. Thérèse Bonney) throughout. Condition: covers beginning to fade, and slightly worn at edges; spine sun-bleached; pages evenly tanned. A strong VG.

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