Anglo-American Eggs

Mrs Gibson's Egg Dish, one of decorating doyenne Nancy Lancaster's favourite family recipes. A baked mixture of eggs, onions, and cream, it has a casserole-like texture.

When Virginia-born tastemaker Nancy Lancaster (1897-1994) moved to England in the 1920s as wife of aspiring politician and Marshall Field department-store heir Ronald Tree, she brought in her luggage a plethora of family recipes. Whether Lancaster, owner of the august decorating firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, was entertaining at Ditchley Park, Kelmarsh Hall, or Haseley Court—to name just three of her celebrated residences—the menu frequently featured a plainly named accompaniment called Mrs Gibson’s Egg Dish, a creamy comfort food that was a specialty of her aunt Irene Langhorne Gibson, the wife of artist Charles Dana Gibson.

Irene Langhorne Gibson (1873-1956), hostess, civic leader, and artist's model. As an admirer observed, “She looked like a woman who wasn’t afraid to live and whose beauty never interfered with a lively brain.”

Mrs Gibson’s Egg Dish has few ingredients but delivers complexity in its flavour, namely a lovely smokiness from onions cooked in butter, layered with egg whites and egg yolks, and bound with cream. My husband said the casserole-like side dish reminded him of creamed eggs on toast—only less cloying, without the bread, and better tasting. He pronounced it “a great dish” and had seconds. Our daughter echoed that opinion and offered an observation particular to an eight-year-old in the midst of losing two more baby teeth: “It was very easy to chew.”

MRS GIBSON’S EGG DISH

SOURCE: Lady Maclean’s Cook Book by Valerie Maclean (Collins, 1965)

SERVES 6 PERSONS

INGREDIENTS

10 hard-boiled eggs

15 spring onions [I didn’t have any of these on hand so used one small white onion and two medium red onions]

Butter

Bread crumbs

Thin cream [I used light cream]

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a medium-size baking dish.

Finely chop the onions and then sauté them in butter until they are limp and golden.

Separate egg whites and egg yolks. [Break up the whites into pieces and gently crumble the yolks with your hands.] In the buttered baking dish, place a layer of bread crumbs, a layer of whites, a layer of yolks, a layer of onions, salt, and pepper, until dish is filled. Add enough cream to fill the dish [which means to the top of the ingredients, more or less].

Place in oven until done and browned.

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A Farmhouse Tart

Cheese-and-onion tart and green beans on a circa-1880 English china dinner plate.

Who can resist cheese (the lactose-intolerant among you excluded, of course)? Every member of our family practically drools at the mention of cheese, whether it’s an undistinguished Cheddar intended for a grilled-cheese sandwich or a particularly ripe Époisses de Bourgogne, of which I have a very fond, very pungent memory from a long-ago tour of Burgundy. That includes the elder of our two dogs, Daisy, an elderly chow chow who spends her days in a largely catatonic state until she detects the aroma of Brie, for instance, or Emmenthaler.

With this family passion in mind, my industrious spouse decided last night to make Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec’s tarte aux oignons et fromage (that’s cheese-and-onion tart, fyi). Its spiritual warmth and elemental earthiness bore witness to the basic beauties of farmhouse cuisine, the luxury of sautéed onions suspended in a creamy golden matrix of baked eggs and Gruyère cheese. A glass of white wine plus a side dish of green beans cooked in butter with a dash of sea salt made it a worthy end-of-day repast.

TARTE AUX ONIONS ET FROMAGE

SOURCE: Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Cuisine de France (Orion Press, 1961)

SERVES 6 PEOPLE

INGREDIENTS

Tart pastry (go to this post for the easy recipe)

1 pound (4-5) medium onions

3 tablespoons butter

3 eggs

4 teaspoons flour

1-1/4 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel and chop the onions very fine. Cook in boiling salted water for 15 minutes. Strain completely and sauté in the butter until golden.

Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork and add the flour and the cream, beating continuously. Beat in the grated cheese and season with pepper. Do not add salt before tasting because the cheese may be salty enough. Finally stir in the onions.

Fill the tart with the mixture and bake 30 minutes until golden. Let cool for 10 minutes then serve.

The First Breakfast of the New Year

Quiche is an extremely comforting dish. Especially on a cold winter morning following a night spent making merry with Champagne or a reasonable facsimile (Segura Viudas cava in this case). So while fat feathery snowflakes gently wafted down from a grey-white sky on this first day of the new year my husband, a bit bleary eyed, cracked open our prized copy of Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Cuisine de France: The Modern French Cookbook, which was published in 1961 in the wake of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Based on the countess’s recipes for the French fashion magazine ELLE, where she served as food editor and became a national icon, the 763-page volume wrapped in a patriotic red, white, and blue cover doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression in the United States. Even though, as the jacket flap proclaims, it was “probably the finest and most practical modern French cookbook written for Americans.” Mrs. Child presumably had that particular audience all sewn up, though certainly Mme. de Toulouse-Lautrec and other French-food experts were eager to find a foothold in the kitchens of the New World, some more successfully than others.

Cup of coffee in hand, I watched a DVD of “Little Women” with my daughter and mother-in-law as my husband set to work producing Toulouse-Lautrec’s recipe for quiche Lorraine. It is splendidly easy to make, and the pastry has won my spouse’s enthusiastic praise. “It’s foolproof,” he explained to me while he was cooking. “With other pastry recipes, I get different results every time I make them. This one, on the other hand, is consistent. And it cooks thoroughly instead of becoming soggy from the filling.”

The Toulouse-Lautrec version of quiche Lorraine is the traditional version of this classic dish, which, as Julia Child explained, “‘contains heavy cream, eggs, and bacon, no cheese.'” I’ve conferred with a few French friends, and they tell me precisely the same thing: non fromage, s’il-vous-plait. Cheese became part of the recipe most people know much later in its history; ditto nutmeg.

Mme. de Toulouse-Lautrec’s classic cheese-free quiche Lorraine comes out of the oven a savoury delight—fluffy, delectably rich, and wonderfully creamy, with just a hint of earthy saltiness. One slice made a lovely breakfast, washed down with a glass of perfectly chilled cava. Frankly this morning we adults needed the hair of the dog.

QUICHE LORRAINE

SOURCE: La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion Press/Crown Publishing, 1961)

SERVINGS: 6

INGREDIENTS

7 tablespoons softened butter

1-3/4 cups pastry flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 pound lean pork belly, trimmed of excess fat

2 cups water

4 large eggs

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Tart pan

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make a tart pastry by mixing the butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the flour, adding enough water to make a stiff dough that does not stick to your fingers. If it is too soft, add more flour. Wrap in a damp cloth and let the dough rest for several hours. (It can be made a day in advance and allowed to rest for 24 hours.) Roll it out into a circle and line the tart pan, gently pressing it into place with your fingers; trim off the excess. Prick the pastry well with a fork (see above).

Cut the trimmed pork belly into small dice, as shown. (If necessary, substitute lean salt pork or bacon.) Put in a saucepan with two cups of water and parboil for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Beat the eggs until well blended. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the diced pork belly into the empty tart shell (see above).

Pour the egg mixture into the tart (see above) and bake 20 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

The completed quiche Lorraine, ready to be devoured.