Friday, August 01, 2008

Old is New, Again.

I have in my possession a most useful book called The Woman’s Book, written in 1911. It is as useful as it is possible to be, for a book, because it ‘contains everything a woman ought to know’ – on topics such as household management, cookery, rearing of children, home doctoring, business, dress, etiquette, and even legal and career issues. Methinks this ignorant world of ours is in need of a definitive (but this time, gender-neutral) update.

The book recently taught me something I definitely needed to know. How to cook crosnes. Actually, to be perfectly honest, the book taught me of the very existence of crosnes.

‘Crosnes’ is pronounced ‘crones’ – the ‘s’ being silent, the clue for which is in the ‘correct’ (i.e alternative French) spelling of its name crônes, the little accent mark above the ‘o’ indicating a missing ‘s’. I tell you this so that if you ever come across it in the market, you will impress the grower greatly with your correct pronunciation, as I now will.

Once upon a time, probably since who knows when, the ugly little root known to botanists as Stachys affinis was grown in Japan and had an inscrutable Japanese name which I don’t know and would not dare to try to pronounce even if I did.

In the 1880’s a horticultural enthusiast (or entrepreneur?) in the French town of Crosnes took an interest in it, and for a few decades around the turn of the century, it was popular and fashionable in England and Europe. Then, for some inscrutable reason it fell so far out of favour or production, that for my lifetime at any rate, it seemed to disappear. I believe it is back in up-market markets and trendy restaurants in lucky places.

Apart from the tricky pronunciation of its ‘official name’, the little tuber also goes disguised as Japanese (or Chinese) artichokes, chorogi, knotroot, and no doubt other things too. In case you do happen to find and decipher a supply, here is the recipe from the Woman’s Book.

Japanese Crones.
(Fr. Crônes Japonaises)

½ lb Crones.
1 oz. butter
1 tablespoonful Cream
salt and pepper.

Method: this is a vegetable which has not yet become very popular, but it is very light and well worth eating. Crônes have a slight resemblance to Jerusalem artichokes, only they are much smaller. Trim the ends of the crones, and wash and brush them well in cold water. Warm the butter in an earthenware saucepan, put in the crones, and cook them in the oven from twenty to thirty minutes, shaking them from time to time. Add the cream and seasoning a few minutes before serving.
Note: they must not be overcooked or the flavour will be spoilt.
A good white sauce with cream may be added at the last, or the crones may be seved in small scallop shells with the sauce over and a little grated Parmesan on the top.

Quotation for the Day …

While it is undeniably true that people love a surprise, it is equally true that they are seldom pleased to suddenly and without warning happen upon a series of prunes in what they took to be a normal loin of pork. Fran Lebowitz.


Liz + Louka said...

I learned of the existence of these vegetables from Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book. Interesting that you describe it as an "ugly little root" whereas she talks of its "beauty of form and pearly translucency". And she gives five recipes, as well as instructions for their preparation. I'd love to find some one day!

The Old Foodie said...

I guess I shouldnt have judged the poor thing without meeting it in person. The pictures immediately made me think of WItchetty grubs.

Anonymous said...

i have this same book at home that my dad found at a garage sale. i was reading this recipe and also wondered what it was so i decided to google "crones" to stumble upon your post! its nice to know there is other prints of this book around still

Oldskool said...

Only other time I ever heard of these was in an older Sunset Annual, and they only listed them as "Chinese Artichoke", but the alternate names, and more extensive information you've shared, means I am that much more likely going to be able to someday find and try these! Thanks, as always!