In Tremblay’s œuvre, milk is a habit, the occasional source of comfort and an accompaniment to sweet things: « un petit morceau de gâteau pour finir le petit verre de lait . . . Un petit verre de lait pour finir le petit morceau de gâteau » (La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte).
In Tremblay’s La Duchesse et le roturier, Marcel drinks his milk with molasses cookies, his grandmother’s recipe. Such an ordinary snack accompanied by such an extraordinary conversation between this boy and the ghost/muse/fate, Florence, as to whether she can bring his departed grandmother Victoire back to him. The milk, the cookie, Florence. As far as Marcel is concerned, each is as real the other.
The recipe I have used comes from the 1926 or second edition of the Manuel de cuisine raisonnée. Originally produced in 1919 for the students of the École normale classico-ménagère de Saint-Pascal, this cookbook has known widespread use in both schools and homes in Québec and remained in print until the 1980s. There is even a 2003 edition.*
This pairing of cookbook and novel is not, I hasten to add, my own. It is Anne Fortin who painstakingly identified all references to food and drink in Tremblay’s novel cycles, La Diaspora des Desrosiers and Les Chroniques du Plateau. Fortin whittled the 400 references down to a more manageable 150 and then settled down to the work of naming and contextualizing the dishes, providing recipes from a variety of sources, not to mention visuals in the form of period photographs and advertisements. Ainsi Cuisinaient les Belles Soeurs dans l’oeuvre de Michel Tremblay: Une traversée de notre patrimoine culinaire 1913-1963 is the resulting literary cookbook / culinary history of Québec.
milk and cookies
Translated and adapted from Manuel de cuisine raisonnée, 1926.
1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter or lard
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 cups flour
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 ⁰F
In a bowl, cream the butter with the brown sugar. Add molasses. Add the egg and stir to combine.
In a second bowl combine the flour, baking powder and ground ginger.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, alternating with the milk until combined.
Spoon batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack.
*see Elizabeth Driver’s seminal Culinary Landmarks for a more comprehensive summary.
Driver, Elizabeth. Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.
Fortin, Anne. Ainsi Cuisinaient Les Belles-Sœurs Dans L’œuvre De Michel Tremblay: Une Traversée De Notre Patrimoine Culinaire, 1913-1963. , 2014. Print.
Tremblay, Michel. La Grosse Femme D’à Côté Est Enceinte. Montréal: Leméac, 1978. Print.
—. La Duchesse Et Le Roturier. Ottawa: Leméac, 1982. Print.
Photos and text by Alexia Moyer