On a recent prowl through an antique shop Michelle spied a copy of The Cooking of Provincial France, a 1968 Time-Life “Foods of the World” edition. Initially Michelle thought it would be a nostalgic and campy romp, but then she noticed that the author was M.F.K. Fisher. Fisher’s spirit hovers over all food writers (except those obsessed with airplane meals, the McRib, Peeps, etc., who are driven by much scarier spirits). Fisher’s prose is marvelous, her joy in food transparent. Even in this volume full of lamentably-lit food photography, its pages mildly smelling of mildew, Fisher’s descriptions of France and its countryside and food traditions are clear and engaging.
In Chapter III, “A Way of Their Own,” Fisher details her view of how French “ways with food and drink are not exactly the same as other people’s ways.” The chapter begins with a full-page photo of four-year-old Jean-Baptiste Goethals, a chubby-cheeked blond boy biting into a buttered, radish-topped baguette slice.
The caption cautions that the taste of this “snack with a snap to it” is “best acquired at an early age.” We implore our readers to reassure us that this is some late-Sixties-inspired hallucination on Time-Life’s part. Who among us does not love bread or butter or the crisp snap of a Spring radish? Since it seemed like a natural (yet new) idea to us, we set out to recreate this snack for ourselves.
Instead of “at an early age,” it seemed to be ages before we acquired our snack. We had to wait until a Saturday when the Foxhollow Farm Store had the first French breakfast radishes of the season. Another day to let no-knead bread dough rise and the radishes crisp in water in the refrigerator. It took a bit more time to whip up a batch of home-made butter and slice the radishes thinly. But after that, everything came together simply and wonderfully. Just slice the bread, slather on the butter, top with sliced radishes and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Somewhere, hopefully, Jean-Baptiste is enjoying a radish sandwich this Spring. We hope you’ll join him.
I thought this was RRRRRRussian! Of course I’m unclear about all the French-Russian intermingling over the centuries. I seem to remember there was some. Here in formerly veggie-averse USA, I’m staring to think radishes are bidding to be the next reclaimed new sexy vegetable. As usual, Gourmandistan is scouting ahead, pointing the way.
I reckon it’s from wherever radishes are revered. Like on a smörgåsbord with dill sprigs on top. Or, as you suggest, on Russian dark bread. Wherever, delicious!