Ninette Lyon was a prolific French culinary author and journalist. She wrote many conventional cookery 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 luminaries she was a path-breaker for historical food studies, today an academic pursuit, in no small part due to their efforts.
Her inventaire of French regional products and dishes, published in 1985 (Marabout) and discussed in my previous post, is a milestone in French culinary literature, IMO, and deserves to be better known. A translation into English would be of great benefit to European food history studies.
You can buy it on ebay, see here, for a small sum. Essentially an enumeration of products and dishes – some 350 pages long – it is not bereft of her dry humour. She states of coq à la bière (chicken cooked in beer) that it should be made with a coq de combat, 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 coq de combat, and it will be enough that they send you a rooster, not a chicken.
Below is an extract from the Isle de France-Paris chapter, on charcuterie. (The list of cheeses is partial as it carries onto the next page, and brie is an important part). You can see modern images of brie de Melun and brie de Coulommiers in my previous post – satisfying links to the past.
I once corresponded with Mme Lyon ca.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 it has relevance, if only to seek out rare but surviving specialties. And some things are quite contemporary, as when she notes the infatuation of Paris for green beans. The item formed part of three dishes I consumed in Paris restaurants on my recent visit.
I raise a glass to her memory.