Late summer tart from a misunderstood master in French cooking

One day in March of 1968, cooking teacher Madeleine Kaman was walking around the times When I found a recipe I considered it rubbish. It was for what the newspaper’s food editor at the time, Craig Claiborne, referred to as “snail-mounted on toast,” or snails cooked lightly in a brew of tomatoes, garlic, shallots, butter, salt, and pepper and spooned over the bread. Kaman thought this nonsense. She began her politely harsh letter to Claiborne: “Mercy, for the snail advocate.” “I’ve only been an American for eight years and I still vividly and fondly remember the little sessions in my French house. We prepared them in the thousands, from scratch, and afterwards there was a feast with Chapley.” Kaman, who moved to a suburb of Philadelphia from her native France eight years ago, critiqued Claiborne’s recipe, and recommended an excellent preparation, from the French province of Languedoc – a snail in a lettuce puree stewed with hollandaise sauce and served on a loaf of ficelle.

Claiborne was so shocked by Kaman’s touching message that he decided to visit her at her home, where the kitchen walls were lined with copper utensils made by her grandfather. He wrote a story about her, which she ran into times In May of that year, titled “Snail Addict Enthusiasm Helps Turn Meal Into Feast,” he set the stage for Kaman’s remarkable career. Her first cookbook, Making a Cook, was published three years later. An energetic, blue-eyed woman with a thick French accent, she went on to run cooking schools and restaurants, and starred in the TV show, “Madeleine Cooks,” which aired on public television from 1986 to 1991.

But Kaman remained a cult figure until her death in 2018 at the age of 87. The attention she received was often less focused on her cooking than on her habit of criticizing the darlings of the dining establishment. In France, Kaman studied at Le Cordon Bleu and at L’École des Trois Gourmandes, the school co-founded by Julia Child, and she and the child were socialites. But in the classes that Kaman taught in the US, she allegedly banned students from watching the child show “The French Chef” and ordered them to destroy their copies of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Among its targets was Lyonnais chef Paul Bocuse. “Women lack the instinct for great cooking,” Bocuse said in 1975. In response, Kaman flipped a framed photo of Bocuse in her restaurant upside down. The press often focused on these disputes. The caman was called “abrasive,” “arrogant,” “hard,” and many other designations we now know as sexist dog whistles. But it is Kaman’s career, more than any of her other “feisty” commentary, that offers the most severe rebuke to Bocuse’s rotten assertion.

Born in 1930 outside Paris, Madeleine Marguerite was the only child of a working-class couple. She spent much of her youth watching the women in her family cook, including her aunt Claire Robert, who owned a two-Michelin-star restaurant in the province of Touraine. She moved to Paris after the war, where she studied languages ​​at the Sorbonne before taking a culinary education. But in 1960 she married the American Alan Kaman, a civil engineer, and moved to the United States, first to Pennsylvania, Alan’s home state, and later to the Boston area. To stave off loneliness in her adoptive home, she cooked — and treated home cooking as an art form, even if the society around her didn’t respect it as such. Over time, her cooking has adapted to her American surroundings. She could eat blueberries, a fruit that seemed to be ubiquitous in America, and her skin in the shape of Bavarian cream Which reminded her of her French home. She can look at a dish like succotash, with corn and beans, and give it a French cream by adding chicken broth, a dash of sugar, and heavy cream.

Kaman’s book, When French Women Cook, was published in 1976. The book, a mixture of memoir and recipe writing, was “in its own way a feminist statement,” she wrote. Not only was Kaman asking Americans to respect French cooking, others, including Julia Child, had already accomplished that. She was asking Americans to respect the cooking of French women, a much more complicated battle. She dedicated the book “to the millions of women who have spent thousands of years in kitchens creating unrecognized masterpieces.” (In a characteristically crafty gesture, she specifically mentioned Bocuse’s grandmother and her mother.) In the book, Kaman identifies eight women who influenced her work in the kitchen, among them her great-grandmother, Mary Charlotte, who she traveled with. markets on weekends; her aunt Claire, the restaurateur; and Loetitia, a talented home chef from Brittany. Life has delivered both of these women hardships. They lost their children in wars, were widowed, and endured grief. These struggles shaped their creative output. Kaman saw these women’s recipes as proof of their strength and skill: the lemon tart from Mary Charlotte, the eel claire, and the fig tart from Loetitia.

Kaman classifies its recipes according to the level of difficulty – “easy”, “medium difficulty” and “hard”. The fig tart falls into the first category. Kaman says the tart, combined in about two hours, is perfect for the last months of summer and early fall. They cut the stems of twenty fresh, light-skinned figs, then hatch their bottoms so that their seeds appear. Then bake it in a drink of apple juice and honey until tender. The fruit sits in a pastry crust on a thick layer of heavy cream, whipped with sugar and a dollop of dark rum. Candy is something of a laid-back elegance, a salve for sticky summer afternoons. Kaman does not comment any illustrative footnotes to this preparation, nor an illuminating anecdote explaining the importance of the tart to readers. Like many other dishes in the book, this dish speaks for itself, as a little gateway to a woman’s creative soul.

Kaman writes in her opening pages that many of the book’s recipes have never been written down before. In this sense, “When French Women Cook” was also one of the works of recovery. “Where are you, France, where women cook, where the stars in cooking went not to men who yearn for publicity, but to women with worn hands stained with peeled vegetables, thirsty for work in the house, garden, or fields, wrinkled by age and experience” Kaman wrote. “Where are you?” She did everything in her power to restore this place on her own terms.

Fresh fig tart (fig tart)

Adapted with permission from When French Women Cook, Copyright © 1976 by Madeleine M. Kamman. Export Copyright © 2002 by Shirley Corriher. Posted by Ten Speed ​​Press, imprint of Random House.

Servings: 6

Cost: expensive

Implementation: easy

Total prep time: 2 hours

Best season: August to October


  • 24 pieces of fresh figs of the light-skinned variety
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • Plain short dough (next recipe)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. dark wine
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar


1. Remove the stems of the figs and cut a small cross at the root end. Grease a fireproof baking dish with butter. Put the figs in the baking dish. Combine apple juice and honey and pour into a dish. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until the fruit is soft (varies with different strain). Soak with cooking juices once or twice while baking. Fabulous.

2. Roll out the dough into an inch thick sheet. Fit into a pastry ring that is 8 to 9 inches in diameter. Cut and shape the tip properly, fit it with tin foil, and fill it with dried beans. Bake in advance for 12 to 15 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven. Take out the beans, turn off the oven and let the pastries dry. Remove from the oven after 5 minutes and cool on a rack.

3. Beat cream, black rum and sugar (you can use more sugar if you allow) until stiff. Fill the pastry crust with cream.

4. Arrange the figs on the cream and brush with any remaining glaze in the baking dish. Serve it at room temperature.

regular short dough

Adapted with permission from When French Women Cook, Copyright © 1976 by Madeleine M. Kamman. Export Copyright © 2002 by Shirley Corriher. Posted by Ten Speed ​​Press, imprint of Random House.


  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons. chilled water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 9 tbsp. chilled butter


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