By the 1940s, subterranean Paris was producing more than 2,000 tons of mushroom a year and in 1950, there were approximately a hundred Parisian mushroom farmers operating inside the catacombs.
Established during the seventeenth century, in a prominent neighbourhood of the eastern edge of Paris known as Montreuil, a 300 hectare maze walls and agricultural plots provided a unique and unlikely microclimate for the fruit, normally suited for cultivation in warmer areas such as France’s Mediterranean coast.
I read about these simple French sugar cookies in an article about Poilane bakery, in Paris. The focus of the piece was the baker, and the bread, but the mention of a small basket of these treats by the register -offered to every patron- haunted me for all of two days, until I found the recipe and made them my own.
The French grew it so commonly, that a Frenchman, Monsieur Loisel of Paris, had devised a system of growing it whereby soil was earthed up some five feet across in each direction, and two feet high.
The King let him plant 100 useless acres outside Paris, France in potatoes with troops keeping the field heavily guarded. This aroused public curiosity and the people decided that anything so carefully guarded must be valuable. One night Parmentier allowed the guards to go off duty, and the local farmers, as he had hoped, went into the field, confiscated the potatoes and planted them on their own farms.
(The Chinese artichoke) was introduced in France in 1882 by a retired French industry businessman called Auguste Pailleux, who had a passion for gardening and unusual plants which could be used for food. He planted them in his garden in the Essone near Paris and had his neighbours taste them. Their taste halfway between salsify and artichoke became an instant success!
Sahlab is the name of a popular drink in Lebanon. It was introduced here by the Ottomans who ruled the region for four centuries. That is why one can find it served at cafés in Istanbul as well as in Beirut.
“Za’tar is an important regional identity,” says Carol Cherfane. “It is the Middle East Arab crop. Just look at these things I got at the Beirut airport yesterday.” She offers a tin of crunchy little tidbits—a new za’tar creation. One way or the other, za’tar always seems to find its way to the airport, and beyond.
Beirut is pretty big on cocktails, and these herby drinks are now popping up all over. To understand why they’re a hit, perhaps it helps to know many Lebanese people are extremely proud of their cuisine, and their local fruit, vegetables and herbs.
In Lebanon, samneh is made from butter that has been boiled until the fat in the pan is as transparent as a tear (dam’at el-eyn). It is then taken off the heat and left to settle before being carefully strained through a fine sieve into sealed containers where it will keep for a year or more.
Although in Britain kebbeh is mostly served as torpedo-shaped meatballs, there are lots of variations to the recipe across the region, some with fish or vegetables, some raw and some tray-baked.
The cuisine of Lebanon is connected to the earth. Fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, legumes, nuts, cereals and olive oil take centre stage and are used in dishes that are both simple to prepare and full of flavor.