Monday, March 2, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

When I was a young girl, before cancer stole my mother away from me, she’d send Marcella home early on nights when my father was out of town and we’d make dinner for just the two of us. Marcella was Esperanza’s mother and an exceptional cook, but this was when I was quite young - many years before Esperanza was born, and before Marcella was even married.

My mother wasn’t terribly adept in the kitchen. I didn’t know it then, but she was a much better hostess and philanthropist than chef. She wasn’t a chef at all, actually. I didn’t realize until much later she could barely make toast without burning it.

Once we made Crepes Suzette, only because I had heard them mentioned in a book and I liked the name. We picked the oranges for the sauce from our own tree in our backyard.

Did you know the first Crepes Suzette were the result of a mistake made by a fourteen year-old assistant waiter 1895 at the Maitre at the Monte Carlo's Café de Paris? He was making a dessert for the Prince of Wales when the cordial on the crepes caught fire. The flames crisped the sauce but the Prince was waiting, so the waiter, whose name was Henri Carpentier, served them anyway. It is said the Prince like the crepes so much when he was done eating them with his fork, he used his spoon to get to the last of the sauce.

They were named at that moment after one of the ladies sitting at the Prince’s table, Suzette. Henri is quoted as saying that the dish could turn a cannibal into a civilized gentleman, it is that exquisite.

And all from a little mistake caused by a novice in a kitchen.

My mother thought that was such a fun story. Our Crepes Suzette were dreadful, gargoyle-looking things. Crepes are difficult to make beautiful, especially for someone as unskilled and unlucky in the kitchen as my mother was. But I didn’t care. They tasted like a mistake somehow made beautiful.

To this day, I can’t eat them without thinking of my mother. And the mess we made in the kitchen that night. And how dilapidated they looked.

And how enchanting they tasted.

I shall have to tell Esperanza it’s time to have them again. I think my girls would like them . . .

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