French Cuisine – Its History and Origins

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French cuisine first originated during the Middle Ages, when wealthy aristocrats needed several courses to be served at once to large amounts of people during flamboyant banquets. Though French food has evolved since the beginning of the culinary style, master chefs paid the same attention to detail and the appearance of the dishes as chefs do today. Meats such as beef and venison were considered rare during the middle ages, and only the very wealthy could afford to serve them; most meals were centered around some type of poultry or fish.

For example, birds such as peacock or dove were cooked and, because of the lack of a pleasant taste, were stuffed inside a tastier bird like chicken or pigeon. The cooked meat was then placed back inside the skin of the bland tasting bird, and sewn up with the feathers still intact to create an extraordinary display. Ordinary seasoning spices and herbs such as black pepper, used in every meal today, were very rare in medieval France; instead, now infrequently used spices like long pepper and grains of paradise were incorporated into their elaborate courses.

The idea of using pastry dough to encase a pie became very popular during this era, and pies became an integral part of banquets spreads in medieval France. Fish made for the majority of the meat source during Lent for the average household, so most of these pies contained some type of marine meat; eel was a very popular choice for pies.

Guilds were the equivalent of modern grocery stores. These guilds each had strictly one food category for which they supplied products and master chefs, and the royal government forbid these chefs and suppliers from selling any food products not in their category. Each type of cook was considered an equal integral part of the culinary equation. The tradition of sticking with a culinary category has continued through the centuries, and contemporary master chefs work with either the main courses or pastries.

French chefs popularized the idea for a dessert after the main course. Fruit and seasonal vegetables were enjoyed fresh or preserved with salt or honey during the winter season. Royals and high-ranking officials enjoyed nuts and fruit pastries caramelized with sugar, and sweet cream sauces were baked to create a tasty pudding popularly known today as creme brulee; sweet fig pies were also included during harvesting months.

During the mid 19th century, souffles started making an appearance; the concept of making a pie lighter than the thick and creamy ones typically made was welcomed. The more easily available spices and herbs during this century also encouraged chefs to create lighter dishes and convert heavier recipes so that the newly available seasonings could replace thick sauces used to mask unwanted flavors.

From the 19th century on, French cuisine went through an extreme evolution; wars and new products such as corn and coffee from the newly colonized side of the world were integrated into meals. The French also borrowed many ingredients from Italian culinary style. This extreme diversity has made French food internationally admired, and without a doubt French cuisine will continue to adapt and be enjoyed all around the world!