I received the most touching gift from a fellow gardener this weekend, and it wasn’t a plant. Well, OK, it was a plant, but along with the blue-eyed grass came a huge 1958 edition of The Art of French Cooking.
Now, this is not Julia Child’s meticulous breakdown of classic French cuisine for American housewives. Oh no, my friend, Mary, gave me the real thing – recipes lifted verbatim from the masters of French cooking, with directions for squab and bombes, calves’ heads and tripe, jellied sole and saddle of veal.
Of course, she was grinning when she handed it to my husband. The book, you see, is in pristine condition, almost as perfect as when Mary’s husband handed it to his new bride years ago, expecting her to present guests with amazing feasts. However, with a brood of children and a huge yard just clamboring for thousands of hours of labor, Mary’s interests turned elsewhere.
As entertainment, this volume is priceless, especially since it has dozens of cool photos, including a roasted split squab that is decorated to look like a frog crouching on the platter. Funny stuff.
The touching thing is that Mary and her husband have wisely but reluctantly decided it’s time to down-size from their family home and garden and move to a retirement community. Every lifelong gardener has to be pried from their land, and Mary is no exception. She’s a little relieved that the housing market is so slow. It will give her time to adjust to the idea.
The silver lining is that her new home has a community garden. And even more silvery – most of the residents are more interested in bridge and field trips than toiling away in the dirt. So Mary can dig in, plan, scheme, exchange seeds and plants and bring a little of her home with her when she moves. It’s what every gardener wants.
And, I did find a simple recipe in the dessert section of Mary’s tome for almond crescents. You make your own almond paste instead of relying on the canned stuff. I think I’ll whip her up a batch as a going-away, thank-you present, and maybe I can talk her into taking some of our extra obedient plant off my hands…
Almond Crescents (Croissants aux Amandes)
(I’ve updated the directions a bit to make things easier)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
1 cup whole, raw almonds
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. apricot jam
2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup flour
2 additional egg whites, slightly beaten
1 cup slivered almonds (the flat slivers)
Put the almonds in a food processer and pulse until they form a fine paste. Scrape into the bowl of a stand mixer. On low speed, gradually add the sugar, then the apricot jam, and then the egg whites and vanilla. Divide the paste into pieces the size of a walnut and roll each one in the flour. On a sheet of waxed paper, use your palms to roll each ball into a finger-sized cylinder. Brush with the beaten egg whites and roll in the slivered almonds. Place on the baking sheet and shape into a crescent. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies just begin to brown. Remove them from the sheet immediately to a cooling rack.