Archive for November 22nd, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! Celebrate with a bag of marrons glacés.

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012
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As soon as I read this passage in Marcel Proust‘s Swann’s Way, I knew I must have one:

Being the only rather vulgar person in our family, she took care to point out to strangers, when they were talking about Swann, that, had he wanted to, he could have lived on the boulevard Haussmann or the avenue de l’Opéra, that he was the son of M. Swann, who must have left four or five million, but that this was his whim.  One that she felt moreover must be so amusing to others that in Paris, when M. Swann came on New Year’s Day to bring her her bag of marrons glacés, she never failed, if there was company, to say to him: “Well, Monsieur Swann! Do you still live next door to the wine warehouse, so as to be sure of not missing the train when you go to Lyon?”  And she would look out of the corner of her eye, over her lorgnon, at the other visitors.

These candied chestnuts migrated to northern Italy and southern France after the Crusades.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them:

“The earliest known record of a recipe for marrons glacés was written by the French at the end of 17th century in Louis XIV‘s Versailles court.  In 1667, François Pierre La Varenne, ten years’ chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, Marquis of Uxelles (near Lyon and a chestnut-producing area), and foremost figure of the nouvelle cuisine movement of the time, published his best-selling book Le parfaict confiturier. In it he describes ‘la façon de faire marron pour tirer au sec’ (‘the way to make (a) chestnut (so as) to “pull it dry”‘); this may well be the first record of the recipe for marrons glacés. ‘Tirer au sec’ means, in a confectionery context, ‘to remove (what’s being candied) from the syrup’. La Varenne’s book was edited 30 times in 75 years.”

Good enough for him.

So that’s how I celebrated my Thanksgiving.  Returning home from the Sorbonne, I stopped in a boulangerie on the Rue de Richelieu for a baguette, and saw a enormous pile of marrons glacés.  I had my doubts.  The little suckers were going for 1.80 euros apiece.  I’ve never been able to quite make friends with the humble chestnut – you know, the “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” and so on every Christmas – and that, despite making a reasonably good chestnut soufflé in the wintertime.  But the marron glacé?  Un vrai délice!

Have a happy Thanksgiving.  And don’t pass them up, if you get the chance.

(Or try the recipe here.)