My wonderful French mother, a cook of cooks, has been slowing down for the last four years. Her balance is gone, her speech is disintegrating, and her memory is weakening. During the past four years, I’ve been bringing her to my house so she can speak with her granddaughters and have dinner with the family. To her annoyance, she can no longer follow a recipe, and her glorious Charlotte Russe is now a soggy mess of ladyfingers and coffee pudding.
My mother didn’t start as a great cook. She started out as a competent secretary for a furrier in Paris. After WWII, her mother, three other sisters, and a brother moved from Tarascon to the bright lights. I only assume that her mother cooked while the girls went off to work. Mom didn’t inherit any great cooking skills from her mother, and any ancestral knowledge disappeared in Auschwitz.
However, life changed and she married an American, who brought her to the United States in the early ’50’s. Once people found out that she was French, their replay was “You must be a terrific cook”. And so the legend was created. Mom studied cookbooks, learned techniques, tested and retested recipes, and became a great cook before Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was in print.
Now, in my mother’s head were thousands of recipes, and techniques. As she got into her ’80’s this knowledge is disappearing. It’s a good thing that I have been able to learn from her as my daughters are learning from me. Suzanne is a fabulous baker, and Christie now can make spaghetti and meatballs. So find those old wonderful recipes, and learn from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles their secrets. Oh yes, and now you can make the glorious Charlotte Russe à la Mina (in honor of my mother). And it is easy!
Glorious Charlotte Russe a la Mina
This is a two-step recipe; first you make the coffee cognac gelatin, then once it is cool, you mix it in a bowl of freshly-whipped heavy cream and pour it into a spring pan lined with lady fingers and chill until serving time.
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