One of the first cookbooks I bought on my own was Elizabeth David’s "French Country Cooking." I pictured David as a motherly sort, a bit plump perhaps, with an academic interest in the hearty French provincial dishes I yearned to master.
How wrong I was! David was a free spirit, a young woman of means who, after a short stint as an actress, ran off with a married lover. Her marriage to another man was one of convenience. (Like MFK Fisher, she was far ahead of her time in many ways). A cerebral hemmorrhage destroyed her sense of taste at middle age — what a tragedy!
Along with Julia Child, David and Fisher are a triumverate of “French” cooks whose books are now joined by Patricia Wells, Susan Herrmann Loomis and Georgeanne Brennan on my kitchen bookshelf.
Last night, I pulled Elizabeth from the shelf, thumbed through the now-yellowed pages and adapted this easy dessert, which she described as "a country sweet from the Berry district of France."
Gouère aux Pommes
one pound apples, sliced and chopped
two tablespoons brandy
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
squeeze of lemon
1 ½ cups of plus two tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
one teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cup milk
Wash, peel and chop apples. Place in bowl and cover with brandy, lemon, cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.
In separate bowl, blend flour, sugar and salt. Add eggs, milk and vanilla to create a batter.
Blend the apples with the batter and pour into a square pan. Bake at 350 until top is brown and center of cake is firm, about 45 minutes.
• I used Pink Lady apples, and made cinnamon applesauce from the scraps that were left over, in a nod to my frugal French heritage.
• As always, I used fructose instead of sugar. Any sugar substitute, as long as it can be used in baking, will do. Next time I will use brown sugar for the apples, but not the batter.
• Even with the addition of cinnamon, the dessert is a bit bland for contemporary tastes, which is why I served it with a vanilla sauce made from American Spoon Foods' Vanilla Curd.
Cinnamon, lemon and brandy sauces would work as well. Perhaps a dollop of cream?
If you are lucky enough to watch the BBC, you can see "A Life in Recipes," a program about David, on Oct. 30. More recipes are included in the BBC link.
Finally, I was curious what the word "gouère" meant as it was one I had not seen before. Since I could not find a translation, even in my Harrap's dictionary, a hefty tome I've been dragging around since French 204, I can only guess it is a regional word. I found a reference to apple gouère in a magazine story about the Berry.