What to Eat in France: The History of Sauce

Published by Friday, November 13, 2015 Permalink 0

by Jonell Galloway

Sauces were once the domain of French haute cuisine, aristocratic food. This started changing after the Revolution, first in the bourgeoisie, who copied the ways of the former royalty, and eventually in restaurants.

In France, there have always been sauces. Even the Franks and the Gauls moistened their food with a “flavored liquid.”

French cuisine, influenced by Roman cuisine, saw the first sauce recipes using meat jus in the fifth and sixth centuries, and were then called saulce. To the jus was added vinegar, wine, acidic fruits and spices. The Romans had already used ginger and cloves, but in the eleventh century, the Crusaders brought back others from the Levant, including cinnamon, the most commonly used, galangal (or ginger), coriander seeds, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, saffron, grains of paradise and pepper. The acidic quality was often given to sauces through the addition of verjus, made from green grapes, which are not yet sweet in flavor and remain acidic, or with other acidic fruit such as apple, lemon or plums. Verjus is still used in French sauces.

Guillaume Tirel, known as Taillevent (after whom a Paris palace of gastronomy is named), wrote the first known cookbook, Le Viandier, around 1375. Stews and other slow-cooked dishes didn’t yet exist; most meat was boiled or cooked over a spit, i.e. quite plain, so sauces were a way to liven them up. About thirty sauces have been recorded during the medieval period. They of course featured in the cuisine of the well-to-do; most common people were still eating gruel, as they always had.

During the Renaissance, spices dropped out of French cuisine. It was the halcyon days for sauces, which proliferated. Slow-cooked sauces were invented using fonds, mirepoix, butter and flour for thickening. Simple jus and coulis became common. Recipes for green sauces from Italy using new ingredients and herbs were also popular and easy to make since herbs were plentiful and grew wild in even the coldest parts of France.

It was La Varenne in the seveneenth century who started precisely defining sauces and how they’re made and documented roux, which then consisted of a paste of flour and lard for thickening:

Thickening of flowre
Melt some lard, take out the mammocks; put your flowre into your melted lard, seeth it well, but have a care it stick not to the pan, mix some onion with it proportionably. When it is enough, put all with good broth, mushrums and a drop of vinegar. Then after it hath boiled with its seasoning, pass all through the strainer and put it in a pot. When you will use it, you shall set it upon warm embers for to thicken or allay your sauces.—
The French Cook, Francois Pierre La Varenne

To the “low-fat” sauces of the Middle Ages were added bread, eggs and cream, making them much heavier, and herbs replaced spices from the Orient. Roux was the thickener of choice. Beurre blanc and hollandaise sauce accompanied pike, a popular dish.

In the eighteenth century, Carême perfected the art of sauce making and was the first to classify the mother sauces: béchamel, espagnole, velouté, and allemande. Auguste Escoffier later refined this list to the contemporary five mother sauces by dropping allemande as a daughter sauce of velouté, adding hollandaise and sauce tomate, in his classic Le Guide Culinaire, published in 1903.

Today, French people of all social and economic classes eat sauce. It is not restricted to the wealthy or the aristocrats. Just about anyone can whip up mayonnaise without a recipe.


Jonell Galloway grew up on Wendell Berry and food straight from a backyard Kentucky garden. She is a freelance writer. She attended Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools in Paris and the Académie du Vin, worked for the GaultMillau restaurant guide and CityGuides in France and Paris and for Gannett Company in the U.S., and collaborated on Le tour du monde en 80 pains / Around the World with 80 Breads with Jean-Philippe de Tonnac in France; André Raboud, Sculptures 2002-2009 in Switzerland; Ma Cuisine Méditerranéenne with Christophe Certain in France, At the Table: Food and Family around the World with Ken Albala, and a biography of French chef Pierre Gagnaire. She ran a cooking school in France, and owned a farm-to-table restaurant, The Three Sisters’ Café, with her two sisters in the U.S. She organizes the Taste Unlocked bespoke food and wine tasting awareness workshops with James Flewellen, is an active member of Slow Food, and runs the food writing website The Rambling Epicure. Her work has been published in numerous international publications and she has been interviewed on international public radio in France, Switzerland, and the U.S. She has just signed on at In Search of Taste, a British print publication, and is now working on two books, The French and What They Eat and What to Eat in Venice.

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What to do with the last apricots of the season: jam, coulis, baked, purée

Published by Friday, August 9, 2013 Permalink 0

Jonell Galloway, Spontaneous Cuisine, Mindful Eating, Slow Food, Editor of The Rambling EpicureWhat to do with the last apricots of the season: jam, coulis, baked, purée

by Jonell Galloway

From the archives

How to Choose Apricots


Photo courtesy of Ellen Wallace.


The first and most important thing is to buy tree-ripened apricots. By definition, this means local ones, since ripe apricots are soft to the touch and do not travel well.

If you plan to eat them fresh, they should be soft, but not blemished or bruised. The riper they are, the more flavorful they are.

If you are using them for cooking, the riper the better, and you can even get by with blemishes as long as they are not rotten-looking. As a general rule, the softer the sweeter.

You will often see crates of extra-ripe apricots discounted in farmers markets. Look them over, and if there are not too many black or rotting ones, they are actually the best for cooking purposes, especially for jams, cakes and sauces.

Recipe Ideas for Apricots

Note: With all apricot recipes, the amount of sugar used depends on the acidity of the apricots. The acidity depends on the ripeness, origin and variety. With so many factors coming into play, taste tests are indispensable and the quantity of sugar should be determined by taste, using the quantities given here as a guideline.

Apricot Jam Recipe

The basic formula is 900 grams/2 lbs of sugar for every 2 kilograms/4 1/2 lbs of fruit used. This holds true for apricots, apples, cherries, nectarines and plums. If you like your jam really sweet, you can put equal weights of fruit and sugar.

Use cane sugar for more taste. I often halve the quantity of sugar in dessert recipes, but with jams this can be tricky, since sugar is what makes the jam set. It also serves as a preservative. If your fruit is extra-sweet, you might try cutting the quantity of sugar a tad.

Photo courtesy of Ellen Wallace.


Wash and rub apricots until perfectly clean. Remove any rotten spots with a paring knife. Dry well. Cut in half and remove stones. Save about half of the stones for later use.

Place apricots in a copper confiturier or a large stock pot. Add sugar. Let it sit overnight.

If the apricots are not ripe enough, they will not render any natural juices. If there are no juices, add 500 ml/1 pint of water to the pan.

Slowly bring to a boil on low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. This can take anywhere from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the water content of the apricots and the type of pan and stove or cooker you are using. Scrape the sides of the pan from time to time so that the mixture doesn’t crystallize.

The jam is set when you can dip a wooden spoon in it and it completely coats the spoon. Let jam settle for about 15 minutes before putting it into jars.

Pour jam into sterilized glass jars. Leave to cool. If you see the jam hasn’t set properly, you can put it back into the pan and boil it again, adding a little lemon juice.

Add two stones to each jar. Cool. Seal jars.

Apricot Purée or Coulis

Once again, the amount of sugar you use depends on whether you want it to have a tart flavor or a sweet flavor. If you’re going to pour it onto a very sweet cake or pie, opt for a more acidic taste. If you’re eating with something that is itself a little acidic, you might want to make your sauce sweeter. And once again, the sweetness will always depend on the ripeness of your apricots, so you’ll have to do a taste test in any case.

Wash apricots. Remove stones.

Put 300 grams/10 ounces of cane sugar (labeled sucre de canne roux or cassonade in Swiss and French supermarkets) and a vanilla bean (cut open in the lengthwise direction) into a saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat until it begins to thicken and sugar has completely dissolved, i.e. until it forms a syrup.

Put 500 grams/18 ounces of apricots into a food processor, or run them through a food mill or chinois. Add apricots to the liquid sugar mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Heat mixture until it is thick enough to completely coat a wooden spoon.

This apricot sauce can be eaten warm or cold, depending on what you are using it with. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

Apricot coulis is a perfect accompaniment to a dark chocolate cake, but can be used to make ice cream sundaes or parfaits just as easily.

It can also be used in savory dishes, for example with cold chicken breasts or cold pork roast. In this case, you would of course considerably reduce the amount of sugar.

Roasted Apricots

Preheat oven to 250° C or French mark 8. Wash apricots. Cut in half. Remove stone.

Lay apricot halves out on a roasting tin or broiler pan, or in a large casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with brown cane sugar and just a tad of butter, distributed evenly in small bits, so that it will form a natural sauce.  (This can also be done on a barbecue grill, but you’d lose the juices.) Put in oven, and immediately turn temperature down to 220° C or French mark 7. Turn when top side is browned. If butter starts to burn, add a few drops of water.

When soft and slightly browned and caramelized, remove from oven or grill.

Distribute on individual plates. Serve with a scoop of salt caramel, coffee or walnut ice cream. Lightly sprinkle with vanilla powder (labeled poudre vanille or vanille en poudre in supermarket; easy to find in France, but difficult to find in Switzerland), cinnamon and a high-quality chocolate or cocoa powder. Drizzle a little maple syrup over it. It is now ready to serve.

Sugar-free Apricot Purée or Coulis

The great French chef Michel Guérard, who started the Cuisine Minceur movement in 1974, has a recipe for a sugar-free version of a coulis. This is adapted from the 1976 edition of Michel Guérard’s Cuisine Minceur, now out of print:

Wash, halve and pit 12 ripe fresh apricots. In a saucepan, add apricots, 1/2 cup of water, 1 vanilla bean (cut open in the lengthwise direction, down the middle) and artificial sweetener to taste, the equivalent of about 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, until mixture is reduced by about one third.

Remove vanilla bean. Put mixture in a food processor to make a purée.

This sugar-free sauce can be served in the same manner as the traditional apricot purée or coulis recipe above.


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This article was originally published on GenevaLunch.

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