Once upon a time long ago ...
... There was a raven-haired beauty with sparkling eyes, cherry lips and peachy skin, tanned to olive by the strong sun of her island home. She loved the beach and the surf, and she would go every day during summer in her knitted bathing costume (made to fit perfectly, with the shorts taken up, daringly, far beyond the mid thigh), carrying her sturdy wooden surfboard, to paddle, surf and play. The beauty had a loving father, mother and sisters, and she was extremely happy, because she was set to marry her dashing, witty, beloved fiancee. The year was 1924; the beauty's name was Grace; and she was my grandmother.To celebrate the imminent nuptials, on the sixth of March, 1924, Grace was taken out to a very special dinner at Phair's Hotel, Melbourne. This dinner was organised by the Societé Française and sponsored by none other than Champagne G. H. Mumm & Co - and therefore the sparkling eyes of Grace and her fellow guests (her fiancé, Kenneth Wootton, and two friends) were matched by some very good French sparkling wines.
I was so charmed to discover this - and the meal it documents - that I've decided to take you through it. And then, if you're still with me, I'm going to recreate some dishes from it. (But not all at once, because eight courses is a bit much for your typical dinner in 2013, especially when you're finding it difficult to fit into your jeans.)
With the cocktails came a plate of oysters, tuna and olives. A delicate palate cleanser followed this, in the form of asparagus soup; then the serious food started.
Lobster å l'Americaine led the way (this recipe, with the lobster poached gently in a sauce of tomato, butter, white wine, cognac, shallots and herbs was invented by French chef Pierre Fraysse for the American restaurant Chez Peter's in the 1850s).
Next was an Entrec ote Bordelaise - we'd recognise this as a premium eye or Scotch fillet steak, seared, sliced and served with a red wine jus.
Just in case that wasn't enough, there was a succulent wild duckling to follow (the 'Sarcelle', according to Mr Google, is the smallest wild freshwater duck in Europe). Although there's no indication of how this was cooked, I'm betting on it being either a Magret de Canard (roasted duck breast) or a Confit de Canard (confit duck leg) - these being the two most common and traditional methods of serving duck in France.
My grandmother enjoyed cakes and sweet things, so I'm thinking she probably would have made room for Peach Melba, and - oh, maybe just one of the petits fours that were served with coffee and Cognac.
Certainly, if she was anything like me, she would have been able to down at least one liqueur - after the Cognac - and (unlike me) being a lifelong smoker, she would have welcomed an elegant French cigarette to finish.
Now, as I promised earlier, I'm on a mission to recreate elements of this menu. That's the kind of culinary challenge I really enjoy. I'm not going to be prissy about it: I'm going to try to stick to the descriptions, but create my own dishes to fit the brief. Today I'm going to experiment with the first two courses....
Huitres, Thon, Olives
Oysters, Tuna, Olives)
Tuna, oysters and olives are all brought together by lemon, so that became the central additional flavour.
I bought some lovely fresh Tasmanian oysters. It's pretty hard to improve a good oyster with cooking, so these are au naturel, with a wedge of lemon and a sprinkle of pepper.
For the thon, I decided on a seared tuna log - with lemon zest and a scattering of finely-chopped black olives with a line of mayonnaise and some lemon zest.
(Secretly, I also sprinkled some soy and mirin dressing over the tuna before putting the mayo on.)
Potage Pointes d'Adperges (Asparagus soup)
In my quest to be all French about an asparagus soup, I found some lovely French recettes online. I then found that my French vocab was not entirely up to the task. I was forced to abandon Mr Google and venture upstairs to fetch the trusty Gasc's Concise French Dictionary.
This was a depressing experience. The first realisation brought to me by Monsieur Gasc was that I need glasses. The second was that 'crabe' does indeed mean 'crab', despite that being a totally unexpected ingredient. I abandoned that recette and decided to make up my own.
Makes approx 250ml
(Four servings of 65ml to fill 4 custard cups, as pictured here, with a liquid volume of a short black coffee)
15-16 large asparagus stalks
500 ml vegetable stock
2 tsp double cream
pepper to taste
1 tsp finely diced tomato, to garnish
Cut the asparagus stalks into pieces of about 3 cm, discarding the very ends of the stalks and making sure to trim the heads off neatly (you will use some of these to garnish).
Continue simmering the asparagus in the stock until soft, approximately10 minutes. Set aside to cool for a few minutes, then put the asparagus pieces, with a small amount of the stock, through a blender or food processor until smooth.
Stir in the cream and season with pepper to taste. Serve warm or cold.
When serving, pour the soup into the serving cups or glasses and drop a single tiny dollop of cream into the centre. Swirl this with a fork (above), or garnish with a couple of the halved asparagus stalks and a teaspoon of the cubed tomato pieces.
Now, I know that this is leaving you somewhat in the lurch, but I am stopping here and will be continuing the menu at various unexpected times in the future.
Thank you for reading and please enjoy!