Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Girolles and chanterelles

Recently in the Financial Times:
I first came across girolles and chanterelles in a French context as, it seems, have most British cooks working today. In French, the distinction seems simple. A girolle is an apricot-coloured mushroom with an unmistakable vaulted cap, whose gills run down to a thick stem below. It has a rich and meaty flavour and a good texture. A chanterelle in Europe is generally either a chanterelle grise or a chanterelle jaune, indicating whether its stalk is indeed grey or yellow. The stalk is thin and hollow and the cap is usually brown and quite delicate. Chanterelles tend to collapse easily when cooking and have a delicate, much less robust flavour than a girolle.
This broad distinction between the two types persists now on British menus and the French girolle has infiltrated the language and become accepted use, usurping the previous English habit of calling a girolle a chanterelle... It looks like we will just have to let the rather less euphonious girolle enter the language – as though one had a choice ...
So it seems there is still a field of human endeavour - and not the least - where French still dictates to English rather than vice versa.

The French are of course renowned for their culinary skills and the English-speaking peoples - to use the Churchillian phrase - renowned for their lack of them.

But not even the most entrenched of prejudices can resist the power of the anglophone media and publishing industries. In a Vienna bookshop recently I noticed that a large majority of the cookery books and wine guides on display were translations of British writers.

That translations from English should hog foreign bookshelves in particular subjects may be ascribed to the fact that English-speakers lead the way in those domains. But the equal dominance of translations from English in a field where the opposite has generally been the case makes you wonder to what extent the pre-eminence of English-speakers in various other walks of life may be due to the English language itself and the power and influence of its media rather than to the talents of those concerned (earlier post).

Seeing the prominent coverage being given in France, Italy and Spain to the case of the British child who went missing in Portugal, it's hard to imagine a missing French, Italian or Spanish child getting anything like the same media attention in any country other than their own.

Not only is what English-speakers do more noteworthy than what others do, so too is what is done to them.

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