Madame Guinaudeau, a French woman who was married to a doctor practising in Fez, wrote “Traditional Moroccan Cooking” over a period of three decades. The book was finally published in 1958 as “Fès Vu par sa Cuisine” and is recognised as the first collection of Moroccan recipes and cooking since the appearance in Spain, in the 12th century, of an anonymous compilation in Arabic. I have grown a deep affection for this book, even though I rarely cook the authentic recipes within, partly because I don’t have a store cupboard that boasts many of the ingredients, especially Cantharides or Hashish, and partly because only one of the two of us in the house would eat many of them. Her emotionally charged and colourfully descriptive writing, however, gives me inspiration when I come to cook a dish that has a Middle Eastern flavour. Claudia Roden has the same effect on me, as does Anna del Conté when Italian food is on my mind.
The point of this post is twofold. One is to supply you with Mme. Guinaudeau’s simple recipe for preserved lemons and the other is to share with you her mesmerising description of a Moroccan cook which appears in her book.
Her recipe for preserved lemons illustrates the sort of quantities that are present in most of the recipes in the book, which are clearly for large households. I think one has to adjust them to one’s own needs, intuitively, so I am leaving out the quantities.
Utensils: an absolutely clean jar and a stone.
Put the lemons to soak in water, which must be changed each morning, for five days. At the end of this time take the lemons and divide each one in four, lengthways, being mindful to leave the quarters attached at one end: so they open like a flower. Put a pinch of salt in the middle of each lemon, then close and reshape the lemon. Fill the jar with lemons and put a clean stone on top to weigh them down. A month later they will be ready. At the end of a few days a juice as thick as honey, but salty, will ooze out and the lemons can be preserved in this indefinitely if kept in a dry place.
Preserved lemons can also be made quite successfully by quartering the lemons and leaving the hinge at the bottom. Put a pinch of salt in the open lemons and a pinch of paprika, if liked. Fit all the lemons as tightly as possible into a clean preserving jar. Cover the lemons with water and seal. In about a month you’ll have good preserved lemons. Not as authentic, but good. Remember to only use the skin in recipes. Scoop out the flesh and chop the preserved skin as you fancy.
No chairs, an old carpet folded and placed on the zellijes serves as a seat for the exuberant black woman, come, according to tradition since the Algerian exodus, from Tetuan, from whence emerge the most highly esteemed cooks. The young servants, babbling little parakeets, bare feet in wooden sandals, bright coloured dresses whirling around as they bustle about, ready to obey at the slightest gesture from the dada, queen and priestess of the kitchen. She is dressed in long multi-coloured robes tucked up in front, draped and knotted at the back, with wide sleeves held in place by a twisted silken cord; a heavy flowered bulk with a face of ebony or bronze beneath the fringed turban. Her arms and ankles are encircled by silver bracelets which tinkle at every gesture. She is complete mistress and queen in her own domain.