Vive L’Indépendance!

The Americans thanked the French for their role in establishing the US as an independent nation.  The French ribbed the Brits about being at a party honoring the loss of their colonies.  The Dutch and the Swiss were the neutral peacekeepers, and everyone agreed that traditional American barbecue food is delicious.  That was our 4th of July party in a nutshell, international and jolly. 

It’s actually one of the things that tickles me the most here, to cook for French friends.  Their expectations of an American cook are so low that it’s practically tragic.  When I serve them French food they’re generally blown away that an American can interpret their cuisine.  But this party was something different.

Take the lovely pie above, nominally a key lime pie.  Except that there are neither key limes nor key lime juice here, nor graham crackers, so it was a bit of a tweak.  It was really delicious, though, and not like anything people here recognized, with its cookie crust and condensed milk-based filling.  It was familiar, not too different from a tarte au citron, but clearly something else.  There wasn’t a crumb left.

I also made the most classic chocolate cake imagineable, a recipe from Hershey’s, only there wasn’t any Hershey’s chocolate to be found.  So although this looked just like, and had the texture of, an American cake, the flavor of the chocolate was more European than American.  And the powdered sugar doesn’t behave exactly the same way here, so the frosting had to spend a little quality time in the food processor before coming together into a shiny spreadability.  Nonetheless, it was a homey creation, utterly unlike a French cake.

Fruit salad is pretty much the same everywhere, although this one was made with the incredibly perfumed Mara des bois strawberries and so was in fact more French than American in the end.

Coleslaw, on the other hand, turned out to be a major international sensation and was the favorite dish of the day.  Sweet and sour, crisp and wilting, it’s a bite of Americana that apparently hadn’t made it here before now.

The French do make potato salad, but this one was pronounced to be totally different, depending as it did on some sweet pickle relish that friends had kindly brought me from home.

But I think it was the prospect of ribs that had really inspired people to come to the party.  Ribs have a sort of mythic reputation here, but are sadly not to be found, or not in a form that an American would claim.  The meat is beautiful, but the bottled sauces lack oomph and I don’t think rubs have made it here yet.  Of course I do have to admit that we needed the help of a French former Boy Scout to get the fire going, an eternal shame for our reputation.    And that we only have a grill the size of a large platter and so the ribs couldn’t spend a lot of time there, even once the fire had reached a respectably smoky state.  But thanks to this Mark Bittman recipe the ribs were already cooked before they hit the grill and only needed to pick up an alluring layer of smoke before being whisked onto the plate.

Here they repose with the delectable baked beans I made with my favorites from Rancho Gordo, again imported by recent visitors.  The French appreciate beans in general, and these pintos were no exception.  There’s also oven-fried chicken here, embarrassingly made with corn flakes.   I swear, I’ve never made chicken with corn flakes in my life, and I had an identity crisis just going through the checkstand.  But you know what?  It was really excellent, and I don’t know why I had such a complex about buying them.  When I asked the store owner, who was checking me out, whether lots of French people eat corn flakes, she was flabbergasted to hear that we ourselves don’t eat them.  “They’re good,” she told me, “you ought to try them with a little milk.”

All of the guests departed with leftovers for another meal, since I’d submitted to the normal American inclination to make twice as much as necessary, just in case.  That’s something that takes getting used to for a French person, here where doggie bags are unknown.  Some people left asking for classes in American cooking, which I found rather heartwarming.  And all of them left wine behind.  It’s one of the big mysteries of the day that there were 6 empty wine bottles, and 10 full ones at the end of the party.  That means that 20 people only drank 6 bottles of wine, which by American standards is shockingly little.  And it also shows that the French too are guilty of providing twice as much as necessary, just in case.

I loved it that we were of five nationalities, and that many of our guests met each other for the first time.  I loved it that even though we had two separate tables, everyone scrunched in around one, 20 people at a table for 8.  I loved seeing someone eating ribs with a knife and fork, hearing that this was another person’s first experience of American food, and the way that people purred over their plates.  But probably my favorite moment of the day was when I heard  someone say “I guess American cooking is not just McDonald’s!”

Explore posts in the same categories: At Home In France, Posts Containing Recipes

12 Comments on “Vive L’Indépendance!”

  1. Wendy Miller Says:

    sounds like a great bbq Abra, thanks for doing us proud! 🙂

  2. Edye Says:

    Seems the French are celebrating Independence Day better than we do!

  3. Ray Says:

    How was the quality of the pork?

  4. Ray Says:

    I do the Mark Bittman recipe in reverse. I start the ‘rubbed’ ribs at 500 for 15 minutes on a rack THEN lower the heat to 275 for a couple of hours. Then douse them w. heated bbq sauce.

  5. Debra Lane Says:

    Abra, it all looks fabulous as usual! I’m telling you, you have to take your blog and photos and make them into a book when you come back!

  6. Mark Says:

    Always heartwarming to see some Europeans get introduced to real ‘merican cookout food…

  7. D Says:

    Abra,

    What are the chances of receiving the recipes for the Coleslaw and the Potato Salad? They look fantastic.

    Thanx,

    D

  8. Abra Says:

    Because I was looking for the “most typically American” recipes, these are the ones I used, as opposed to my own recipes which are usually markedly influenced by other culture’s cuisines.

    The potato salad is here http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_31648,00.html and I made it almost just as Ina Garten suggested, using buttermilk as the liquid. I did add some chopped hard-cooked eggs, at my husband’s request, and it was a nice addition.

    The cole slaw is basically here http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_31299,00.html although I used red as well as green cabbage and a lot less carrot than Emeril suggests. I also couldn’t find celery seed and so used celery salt in place of the regular salt.

    They’re both really excellent basic recipes, and lend themselves easily to creative additions.

  9. Abra Says:

    Gosh, sorry about the weird formatting, it’s something I don’t know how to fix!

  10. Arne Says:

    I know it’s just killing you to be without your smoker … so I was thrilled to see you were able to have a go at ribs. I’ve taught my son how to do that same recipe when he’s at his mom’s, and regrettably, without a smoker. The results are really top notch!

    Chef Neil (Hamilton Street Grill) and I are putting in a team for the Canadian BBQ Championships in Whistler this August long weekend (1st weekend). We’ll raise a glass and smoke a brisket in your honour!

  11. Jan Lang Says:

    Beautiful spread, Abra, and bravo for showing off culinary Americana so well! I believe that you’d prove an admirable cook no matter what culture you dropped yourself down into. I’m just trying to get my head around eating ribs with knife and fork–now that’s a challenge!

  12. ludja Says:

    Hey Abra,

    Lovely meal; thanks for doing us Yanks proud.

    I really like the way you decorated the pie–it incorporats red, white and blue but in a much more tasteful way than I’ve usually seen on mag covers, etc. Coincidentally, I just made home made key lime pie about a month ago and was blown away by how much better it tasted than any restaurant version I’ve had. I will make this next fourth of July and think of you and Shel when I decorate it with raspberries and blueberries around the rim!

    Thank you for sharing!


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