So I’ve been reading this wonderful book called Les Recettes des Fées, or Fairy Recipes, and let me tell you, when I brought it to the nightly study session with my students who stay overnight at school, the girls all wanted a piece of it. The idea is marvelous, the stories and selections from La Chatte Blanche (The White Cat) by Madame d’Aulnoy or tales by les frères Grimm, WHATSHISNAME Perrault and les Milles et un Nuits are fabulous. There’s also a true story about Louis XIV, and how he envisioned the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris as being even better than a walled and inaccessible fairy garden. He demanded that his gardeners provide him with exotic fruits and vegetable delicacies from around the world, available…you guessed it…all year round. No matter what the season.
Magic! And more magically still, they succeeded in doing so. There were oranges from the orangeries and les poires de trois goûts (‘three-flavor pears’) from the pear tree grove, something called a mouille-bouche (‘wet-mouth,’ eh, okay, I’ll run with you on that one, fruit-namer-person) and other strange and unusual garden foods. The pigeon-throated apple, the Madame’s-thigh, the lying flirt. Good god, how French.
And then, most magical of all, Louis XIV’s garden manager, a certain Monsieur Perrault, becomes one of the most famous fairy-story writers of all time. Coincidence? Or garden magic?
Unfortunately, even fairy-story photos date, and the recipes in the book are only passing good, but the point is WHAT A CONCEPT. Fairy recipes. I mean, doesn’t it just make you want to dive straight in? The sections are divided by theme—the Magic House, the Enchanted Garden, the Mysterious Forest…all tropes of fairy tales that, even though we’re extremely familiar with them, still make the mind race with possibilities. What happens in a magic house? Can I please be there? Particularly to have whatever she’s having?
What do you eat in a mysterious forest? An enchanted garden? And I love the thought that, way back when, many eons ago when everybody and not just hipsters ate in sync with the seasons, the idea of eating an orange in February was a truly Big Deal. Louis XIV’s garden must have seemed impossible, and definitely magical, to the people of France, and the gardeners like real life wizards.
Which is why it’s so cheeky and fun to hear the book’s writers, who are perhaps under the influence of modern French garden movements that lean more towards the English-style garden, despair of the Tuileries‘ straight lines and rigid construction. Who, they say, would squeeze a fairy garden into perfect geometry!
A hubris-led king, I guess. That’s who.
I don’t think the girls in my study session would have ever picked this book up off the shelves and checked it out. Most of them have been in the school library exactly negative times, and treat it like some kind of open wound that kills on contact. And yet, when someone puts the right book all up in their face and takes the choice out of it, they grab it. You never get too old for fairy tales and magical feasts.
For fun, here’s a recipe to go with Margot-la-Malice, a Grimm Brother’s chef who gets properly drunk and eats her boss’s crispy roasted chapons. And somehow gets away with it.
The Roasted Hens of Margot-the-Menace
“Si l’invité n’arrive pas, il va falloir que je retire les chapons du feu ; mais c’est un crime et une désolation de ne pas les manger quand ils sont cuits à point, juteux et parfaits !”
“If your guest doesn’t arrive soon, I’ll have to take these hens off the fire—but it’s a crime and a desolation not to eat them when they’re pink, juicy, and cooked to perfection!”
Ingredients and Materials
2 fat hens
1 large block of unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Fresh herbs, preferably from a magic garden
A roasting tray
A bottle of wine
A wine glass
First of all, have a couple glasses of good French wine. Then take your two quality hens (frankly, one just isn’t enough) and empty and clean them. Free the skin from the breasts with your fingers, then stuff the skin and the cavities full of herbs—sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, whatever you have on hand—and several large lumps of soft butter. Add a few crushed cloves of garlic. Then take the remaining butter and smash it between your hands until it’s good and malleable. Rub this, with wild abandon, all over your birds’ parts and cavities. Drink more wine. Think about what to eat for dessert. Salt and pepper both birds, from back to breast, inside and out, and pop them in an oven tray. Fill the oven tray with herbs and crushed garlic cloves still in their skins. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil. Pour yourself another glass of wine. Pop the tray in a 350-degree oven and attentively baste for about an hour, or however long it takes for the birds to be ‘juicy and cooked to perfection.’ This can be tested by removing a leg to see if it’s adequately cooked. If it comes away easily in your hand and is delectably tasty, this means it’s time to pull these birds out, open another bottle, and get down to the serious business of eating.