Hommage A Mme Ninette Lyon

Ninette Lyon was a prolific French culinary author and journalist. While writing many conventional books, some in English for Faber & Faber, she had an interest in food history. With Alan Davidson, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, and a few others she was a path-breaker to what is regarded today as a valid academic study.

Her inventory of French regional products and dishes written in 1985, mentioned in my previous post, is a landmark in food studies and deserves to be better known. You can buy it currently on Ebay here for a song. While essentially an enumeration – of some 350 pages – it is not bereft of her trademark humour, as when she says of coq à la bière, or chicken cooked in beer, in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, it should be made with a coq de combat (fighting cock), those “qui ne se sont pas montrés assez agressifs”. She adds, when you order it in a restaurant, it is far from certain you will get a former coq de combat, but it will be enough that they send you a rooster, not a chicken.

Below is a short extract of her Isle de France-Paris chapter, on charcuterie. (The cheese listing below it is only partial, it carries on on the next page but brie forms an important part. You can see images of brie de Melun and brie de Coulommiers today in my previous post mentioned, satisfying links to the past).

I had a brief correspondence with Mme Lyon c. 1990 a propos the French origins, as the case may be, of two Quebec dishes. She was extremely helpful and wrote me to boot in perfect English. I highly recommend her book to anyone interested in depth in French food. Indeed it is still relevant, if only to hunt down many rare but surviving specialties. And some things she remarks are quite contemporary, for example the infatuation of Paris with green beans. Indeed the legume formed part of three dishes on our short tourney of Paris recently.

I raise a glass to her memory.