Thursday, March 28, 2013

Emile Dumont's French Recipes as Leonard Bernstein Lyrics ~ La Bonne Cuisine Française

If you need any proof that I'm a (proud) nerd, here it is...I just spent several hours researching nineteenth century French recipes from a cookbook circa 1890 by Émile Dumont which were set to music by Leonard Bernstein in 1947. I just had to know how a recipe, taken word-for-word, could make for a decent song. Although Rossini claimed he could set a laundry list to music, he never actually did it (to my knowledge).

Leonard Bernstein chose four of Dumont's recipes from La Bonne Cuisine - Manuel économique et pratique (ville et campagne), translated them to English, and set them to music. The following year, Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano was premiered in New York.

The four recipes Bernstein set to music are:
1. Plum Pudding
2. Queues de Boeuf (OxTails)
3. Tavouk Gueunksis (sometimes spelled Tavuk Guenksis)
4. Civet à Toute Vitesse (Rabbit at Top Speed)
I've translated the recipes into English and I've included photos of the original recipes in the 24th edition of Dumont's La Bonne Cuisine. Although they're certainly with more wit and lyricism than most recipes today, Bernstein's work is still astounding.
Plum Pudding
This recipe appears in the English Dishes section. Feeds 18-20 people.
  • 250g Malaga or Smyrne grapes
  • 250g Corinthe grapes
  • 250g Beef kidney fat
  • 125g Flour
  • 125g Breadcrumbs
  • 60g Powdered or brown sugar
  • 100g (all together) orange peel, candied orange, orange essence
  • A glass of milk
  • A half glass of rum or brandy (of an ordinary glass goblet)
  • 3 Eggs
  • A Lemon
  • Powdered nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, mixed (all together about half a teaspoon)
  • Half a teaspoon of finely ground salt.

Remove all the skin and fat from the meat and chop it into small pieces (the recipe actually says into a "fine dust"). Grind it with the breadcrumbs and flour; stir in the milk. Beat the three eggs well (whites and yellows) with the nutmeg, ginger, and powdered cinnamon. Grind it well with the above paste; add the orange essence, orange peel, and candied orange cut into slivers; Corinthe grapes cleaned and washed; Malaga or Smyrne grapes (if you're using Malaga grapes, you must remove the seeds); and finally the glass of rum which you have mixed with the juice of the lemon, salt, and sugar. Mix it well with a wooden utensil until it stands up in the paste. Let it rest for five to six hours or even better, make the paste the night before.

TO COOK IT -- Grease a cake pan or a large bowl; don't use a pan or bowl that's too big because you want the dough to fill it; cover it with a thick cloth soaked in boiling water, which you will attach with a string. Put leather into the boiling water...(more to follow)

Click for the original recipe in French.

Queues de Boeuf
This recipe appears in the Beef section.
Ox-tails is not a dish to be despised. First of all, with enough ox-tails, you can make a fair stew. The tails used to make the stew can be eaten breaded and broiled, and served with a spicy or tomato sauce.

Click for the original recipe in French.

Tavouk Gueunksis
This recipe appears in the Turkish Pastry and Sweets section.
Tavouk Gueunksis, breast of hen; put a hen to boil, and take the white meat and chop it into shreds. Mix it with a broth, like the one above for Mahallebi.

N.B. Mahallebi is described on the same page as a rice porridge with milk and sugar.

Click for the original recipe in French.

Civet à Toute Vitesse
This recipe appears in the Game section.
When one is in a hurry, here's a way to prepare rabbit stew that I recommend: Cut up the rabbit (hare) as for an ordinary stew: put it in a pot with its blood and liver mashed. A half pound of breast of pork, chopped; twenty or so small onions (a dash of salt and pepper); a liter and a half of red wine. Bring this quickly to boil. After about fifteen minutes, when the sauce is reduced to half of what it was, apply a fire, to set the stew aflame. When the fire goes out, add to the sauce half a pound of butter, worked with flour...and serve.

N.B. In Bernstein's piece, nutmeg and a glass of eau-de-vie (fruit brandy) are left out.

Click for the original recipe in French.

If you're looking for more information, note that while the recipes are commonly thought to originate from Dumont's La Bonne Cuisine Française, - Manuel guide de la cuisinière et de la maîtresse de maison, I searched that book and there is no recipe for tavouk in that cookbook. Exotic foreign dishes like tavouk were only added later (and the title became Fine Cooking, instead of Fine French Cooking).


  1. THANK YOU. I am performing these songs soon, and it is great to both see the original printed recipes and your translations and notes!

    1. Toi toi toi for your performance! My pleasure to help. Next step is to actually cook up one of these recipes. :)

  2. Thank you!!! I am a voice student, and I have been unable to find a direct translation of this work anywhere on the internet. And I mean anywhere. You have saved me a lot of time and a lot of effort ! Thank you!

    1. My pleasure! Finally a use for my French lessons in school. ;)



Food and Wine Mavens Design by Insight © 2009