Ninette Lyon was a prolific French culinary author and journalist. She wrote many conventional food books, some in English for Faber & Faber, but also had an interest in food history. Together with Alan Davidson, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and a few other food luminaries she was a path-breaker for historical food studies, legitimated as an academic pursuit today in no small part due to their efforts.
Her inventaire of French regional products and dishes written in 1985, discussed in my previous post, is a landmark in French culinary literature and deserves to be better known. A translation into English would be a great benefit to European culinary studies, in fact.
You can buy it on Ebay, see here, for a song. While essentially an enumeration of dishes – some 350 pages long – it is not bereft of her trademark humour, as when she states of coq à la bière (chicken cooked in beer), that it should be made with a coq de combat (fighting cock), those “qui ne se sont pas montrés assez agressifs”. She adds that when you order it in a restaurant, it is far from certain you will get an ex-coq de combat, but will be enough that they send you a rooster, not a chicken!
Below is a short extract from her Isle de France-Paris chapter, on charcuterie. Note:The cheese listing below it is only partial, it carries onto the next page but brie forms an important part. You can see images of brie de Melun and brie de Coulommiers as they are today in my previous post, satisfying links to the past.
I once had a brief correspondence with Mme Lyon c.1990 a propos the possible French origins of two Quebec dishes. She was extremely helpful and to boot wrote me in perfect English.
I highly recommend her book to anyone interested in French food. Indeed the book is relevant, if only to hunt down rare but surviving specialties. And some things she states are quite contemporary, for example the infatuation of Paris with green beans. Indeed the legume formed part of three dishes on our visit to Paris recently.
I raise a glass to her memory.