For well over a year, two Ardèchois friends had spoken to me repeatedly of two preparations remembered sentimentally from childhood—vulgar, rustic, robust, savory dishes: the bombine and the pot-au-four. But neither friend had practical experience in the kitchen and their memories of these dishes were mainly those of a general experience, memories of specific details being vague and often contradictory. Furthermore, the gastronomic chroniclers had, in their repeated dragnetting of the provinces for obscure, traditional family recipes, somehow missed these two, and no recipes were to be found in any of the cookbooks known to my friends or to myself. They were insistent that I should re-create these recipes for them and, finally, managed to gather together five other friends and contemporaries originally from the Ardèche; in the course of an hour’s discussion and occasionally violent disagreement, I was able, finally, to define both dishes in a general sort of way. The bombine is a mutton and potato dish. Some, in discussing the pot-au-four, remembered the presence of olives, others of finding always a collection of osselets in the bottom of the earthenware cooking utensil (osselets are the small digital bones from calves’ or pigs’ feet, well known to French children, who play tiddly-winks type games with them), no one remembered onions but everyone was certain that garlic was present, several remembered “a lot of bay leaves,” and so forth.
With the first tryout, there were several serious faults: The potatoes were sliced much too thinly; there were far too few in relation to the quantity of tripe; the osselets were too large (I had used a calf’s foot instead of a pig’s foot); the juice was too “rich” (I had moistened the dish with a veal stock) . . . I later met the mother of one of my friends—an old lady who had learned to prepare these dishes from her mother but who, having fallen victim to the deepfreeze and other facilities, had prepared neither for some quarter of a century. Her memory, however, confirmed my final recipe with the exception that the olives should be green instead of black (I do not like green olives in cooking; if readers care to try them, they should first be parboiled for 5 or 10 minutes before being added to the preparation).
The black olives should be either of a sort prepared in herb-flavored brine or a very simple natural preparation in which the flavor is clean and almost “sweet.” Strong-flavored olives, like the Greek ones, should not be considered—better eliminate the olives altogether.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.