Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Golden Quotebook: Enes Karic on Mass Murder

For a change away from Mayonnaise and lesser culinary arts than that, I offer you today a wise remark from a former Bosnian Minister of Education. 

When someone kills a man, he is put in prison. 
When someone kills 20 people, he is declared mentally ill and put in a psychiatric ward. 
But when someone kills 200,000 people, he is invited to Geneva for peace negotiati­ons. 

[Enes Karic, quoted in Time Magazine, 22 May 1995]

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Mayo Label Collection: Lesieur, le Roi Tournesoleil

To wrap up the triad of Prominent French Brands, we shall look at the Sun King among Marianne’s Mayo’s: Lesieur, both from Metropolitan France and from one of the Colonies d’Antan.

F4. Lesieur Tournesol. Paris, 1982. Price unknown, 262 ml/250 gr.

Ah, a very French Mayonnaise is Lesieur! It is, to our taste, the sunflower sauce par excellence! No other brand makes such fine use of the good old savoury oil from the soul of the sunflower seed.

That said, there is, of course, a drawback to the reliance on so very strong-flavoured an oil. Yes, it shines with a pronounced personality of its own; yet the same could be maintained of that jolly old fellow whose one and only party-trick is playing the musical saw: nobody else does it so well, but how often do you really wanna hear it? Therefore, I dare say that Lesieur is best kept for an occasional diversion, when one feels the need to get away from the usual brands made with milder oils. That way one can keep appreciating Lesieur’s uniqueness…

One other great objection is its texture. That is by far too sturdy. You can't stir it: instead, the rotating spoon breaks it into flakes, like congealed wax. If you happen to have guests, and cannot possibly serve the sauce in that shape, the solution is to mix in a one or two spoonfuls of quality olive oil.

T1. Lesieur. Hammamat, Tunesia. Feb 2000. 3,200 dinar (€ 2,55) 245 ml.

To my knowledge, Mayonnaise is no staple of Muslim cuisine. There is no particular reason why this should be so. The necessary eggs and oil are produced in abundance in the fertile Muslim lands. The Muslim kitchen has its charms, its savoir-faire and its rich, majestic dishes. So nothing stands in the way of a worthy Mayonnaise being produced. Another reason must be sought; and perhaps it may be found in the traditional Muslim way of eating. After all: the consumption of a Mayonnaise-based dish with the right hand from a large shared central plate, would certainly turn the collective dinner into a very gooey and unpleasant affair.

However that may be: North-African Mayonnaise only came in with colonialism; and small wonder, therefore, that I suffered a grand disillusion during my fortnight in Tunesia a decade ago. It turned out that both home-made and bottled products were bland, uninteresting affairs. Even the best hotels served only a pale, anaemic sauce which had seen neither salt, nor pepper, nor mustard, nor lemon juice. Picture Picasso using only yellow paint, and you will get the idea. The best bottle of one could score in local commerce was this lamentable Lesieur, a complete carbon copy of the above common French brand, and - seeing the multi-language and multi-script label slapped on top of it - produced for purposes of export and tourist catering only. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Mayo Label Collection: Blessed Benedicta

Ah, la France! Alma Mater to us all! Cradle of the Golden Sauce! Origin of The Blessing of Mankind! Land whose tongue first tasted and first baptised the Sauce of Sauces! Garden of Eden where that anonymous genius, the Original Adam of whisk and mixing bowl, first made Thee, Oh Paradisiacal Emulsion, for the benefit of his lovely spouse (1), and first named Thee, Oh Devine Dip, after Thy rich, delicious, magnificent yolk (2)! Happy, thrice happy realm where such timeless ambrosia as Oeuf Mayonnaise, Frites Mayonnaise, Lobster Mayonnaise and Mayonnaise à la Mayon­naise were first invented! Where bottled godsends like Amora, Beaumont, Benedicta, Casino, Lesieux, Maurel, Maille, Heinrich Hamker, Pikarome, and many many other superb brands may be had from the well-filled shelves of all your unsurpassed Supermarchés of taste and sophistication! How could I have forsaken thee for so long? How could I treat of thee only on the Ides of March of my second blogging year!? But be soothed, my beloved, be soothed! For yes, I shall be as Frank as You are! I may have forsaken thee a while, but never did I forget you for the flutter of an eyelid! Not a day goes by without a soft prayer for thy health, for thy happiness and for thy cuisine, brushes my lips, both before and after that greatest contribution thou hast made to Mankind's Happiness is partaken by my grateful mouth and palate!

(1) There are – Greek – historians who are convinced that this here brand goes back to the original Mayonnaise made in the Garden of Eden below the Tree of Knowledge.

(2) For the correct etymology of ‘Mayonnaise’, see this here earlier post.

Notre-Dame Cathedral:
Adam lets Eve taste the first Mayonnaise
'Il faut un peu de sel...' 

But, all modest patriotism aside, let us get back to business with the description of today’s fine brand: Benedicta from… - surprise! - …. France!

F2. Benedicta. Paris, 1981. Price unknown. 530 ml/500 gr

F10. Benedicta. Toulouse, June 1996. Ffr. 13 for 500 ml/470 gr

Benedicta is one of the great household names in France. It fills the slot of the Hellmanns, the Krafts and the Calvés that elsewhere destroy the tas­te buds and the reputation of national cuisines and undermine the competitive chances of home-made products in countries too feeble to defend themselves. (A happy nati­on is France in­deed! A magnificent Maginot line of Good Taste ensures that the Yankee-Kraut multinationals cannot get away with their cheap tricks here!)

With its subtle ver­bal reminder of mo­naste­ries, dark beer and (of cour­se) first class mustard, this Benedicta Mayonnaise is Blessed indeed! But it is also a brand which needs its time and demands a little patience from the partaker. At first bite after opening the jar, the taste seems to evaporate on the tongue, and a momentary disillusion sets in. Where is the Benedicta of my youth, the experienced, mature consumer asks himself? Did the manufacturer, like so many unscrupulous businessmen before him, trade in the glory of his former product for the gastronomy of the suburbs and the banality of the banlieux? Has Benedicta perhaps degenerated into a Been-adicta???

But no: it is not a change of recipe, but a lack of persistence, which causes the sensation. A couple of days after opening the jar, the sauce, left to breath for a reasonable period of time, matures on its own strength. It ripens. It grows. And an unexpected trea­sure of spicy aroma returns, rich in layers of flavor, generous in boons of satisfaction.

Sub­stance and colour of this brand are quite correct, although - espe­cially as we approach the bottom of the larger jars, the sauce tends to become somew­hat too flu­id. Hence it is not, perhaps, a brili­ant affair, but for those with patience, a worthwhile one!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Mayo Label collection: L’Amora, toujours l’Amora…

Two years ago, in the summer of 2012, I made a short visit to my dearly beloved Motherland, Southern France, after an absence of a considerable while (which – I assure you - had nothing at all to do with that little pending business of the Paris Interior Ministry concerning the precise state of my political loyalties during the German occupation back in the war years, as the Times Culinary Complement has recently suggested!) I went mainly for pleasure and rest, dear reader: to visit my Ex-en-Provence, to have a Nice time, To Lose a few bucks at the local roulette tables, to paint the town Orange, and so on and so forth. But I also visited for more serious reasons: to check up on the general direction the old country is taking, and foremost, naturally, to investigate that utterly supreme and all-important subject: The State of Mayonnaise in France (for the prominent role which She played in the genesis of the Golden Sauce see this here earlier article).

Well, what can I say, dear reader? La Douce France of my youth is obviously going down the drain. The place is nearly unrecognizable. If anything, it now looks like a particularly poor chunk of the American Midwest where for some odd reason the local bigwigs have decided to change the lingua franca to, well, French… (Did you know, by the by, that shortly after the American Revolution, the US Rebels were so very fed up with the British that Congress earnestly discussed changing the national language to German?? Imagine what this world would look like today if they’d gone down that sour Kraut road…!)

A French village, as it used to be...

There are now hamburger joints everywhere, dear reader! In the countryside restaurants are few and far between and bloody ALL OF THEM offer PIZZA, for crying out loud! At the same time it is of course rigorously forbidden to smoke anywhere in a bar or a bistro – for we may despise the Yanks, but my, don’t we love to imitate their every idiocy! Parking prohibitions condemn the innocent motorist to perennial motion, as he cannot stop for a second without generating parking tickets automatically allotted by sneaky closed circuit cameras in the pay of the National Treasury. There are myriads of Megastores (a.k.a. to our American cousins as ‘malls’) in every village, even the smallest ones. No longer does the crumbling church spire bid you welcome you to an amiable communauté… No: what meets the eye as you drive in is a Mondrian skyline of megalomaniac cubes containing Intermarché, E. Leclerc, Casino and all the evil rest of them… Naturally, these have driven out, crushed, bankrupted and exterminated all small shops, so that each village looks like a ghost town where the average age hovers around 85. The only places that still show any sort of social life are horrid tourist traps like, for instance, Les Beaux (a little hilltop town that once gave rise to the name for Bauxite aluminium ore). Formerly a charming medieval hamlet gently forgotten by the rotten world, it is now filled to the brim with a human mudslide of half-dressed rabble, which moves chomping and gulping with wide-open mouths through shoddily restored streets defaced by souvenir shops that sell tea towels printed with pictures showing you how very cute the place was before every building contained a souvenir shop selling tea towels…

The French village, as it is today...

And so on and so forth. It turns out that the true Défi Americain was to catch up as fast as we could with the Horrid Taste From Across The Ocean… And its true Writer was merely a Servant (let’s see how many of you get this joke!)

Fortunately some things, the TRULY WORTHWHILE THINGS, never changed. And guess what has changed least (and is therefore worthwhilest of them all…)?!

Yeah, you guessed it: Mayonnaise! French Mayonnaise!

Other than in the rest of Europe (not to mention post-communist Eastern Europe!) France never succumbed to the onslaught and virtual monopoly of the Three Mammoth Brands: Hellmans, Kraft and Calvé (soon I will dedicate a post to their imperialist doings, dear reader; as soon, that is, as Mr Snowdon sends me his views on the matter). No: France developed, and sold, and ate, and KEPT its own national brands. These were always many, but three stood out as savoury rocks in a raging sea: Amora, Benedicta, and Lesieux. Today we will dedicate a few words to the first of these gorgeous Three Graces.

F1. Amora. Paris, 1981. Price unknown; 425 ml/400 gr.

Mustard - a mild mustard, not one which comes armed with hypodermic needles or a free sadistic acupuncturist - is in our opinion essential to all Mayonnaise. And as mustard is a favourite of the French (happy, happy nation...!) the Amora corporation – biensûr: de Dijon! – put 1 and 1 together and generated a long tradition of mustard-rich Mayo, which works splendidly. Nomen Being Omen, we simply Love this brand. It is not fit to accompany all dishes, nor apt to be eaten at all hours of the day. But an Oeuf Mayonnaise prepared with Amora is a guaranteed success! Sad that the producer opted to mutilate his label with no fewer than three ugly yellow bottles announcing ‘45% extra’ and a big Gratuit. It tires the eye, and is redundant! Good Mayo needs no bush!

F3. Amora. Paris, 1982. Price unknown; 262 ml/250 gr.

This somewhat later label of the same fine brand provides us with a good occasion to draw our readers’ attention to the large differences that exist between the sorts of victuals depicted on national Mayonnaise-labels. In France, next to the customary vegetables and hard boiled eggs, cold meat appears consi­derably more frequently and in a more prominent place than elsewhere on the globe. Also, the French – ah, happy, happy nation! – exceptionally include lobsters, avocado's and artichokes in their pictorial selection. One sees, at a glance, what Great Nation invented Mayonnaise and guarded its hallowed traditions! And what nation does most honour to the Golden Sauce.

F16. Amora ‘de Dijon’. France, October 2011. € 1,39 for 235 gr.

And, praise where it is more than due: as the label was gradually changed over the decades, the strength, beauty and character of this excellent brand was strictly maintained. Amora in the 21st century was still as mustardy as always, as robust, as fierce… as… as… Divine! Even if there were some ominous signs of capitulation to health food manias on the label, such as the disappearance of all of yesteryear’s cold meats (has Cholesterolophobia taken root even in the land of Foie Gras???), and a laudable, but rather suspect emphasis on the ‘roughly 310,000 hens’ which are guaranteed free range happiness throughout the year due to the charity of Amora Mayonnaise. We are happy for those chicken. But… let not thy left egg know what thy right egg is doing, we softly mumble…