Old French Recipes – Pigs’ Ears

Menu of Kings

Take some pig ears and cut them by halves; next, cut them into very fine fillets, put them on a plate; cut some onions into slices and next, cut them in fillets like the ears; take a dish and put a bit of butter into it and put in your onions and pass them through it a few times; next powder them with a pinch of flour and wet them with gravy and let them simmer; when ready to serve, put in a little puree and mustard; check that they taste right and set them out on the plate and serve warm as a sweet course.

Recipe from La Chapelle’s ‘Le Cuisinier Moderne’ (1736)


April – 16,901 words

It is the last day of the autumn school holidays here. During the holidays, there is very little time for writing between visits to the skate park, farm outings and my second job as Negotiator for the Two Small Countries that live in this house. In fact, I think the net total word count in my manuscript has gone down over the last fortnight due to the swathes of rubbish I have edited out.

We also have a new family member who is a great distraction and a lot of work. But also pretty cute (luckily!)

When I tell people I am writing a book, the first question I get is what am I writing. My current work in progress is a novel of historical fiction set three hundred years ago in France. It is the first serious thing I have written. Along with that comes learning how to move the action along, how to stay motivated (ie not play on the internet) and how to edit. It is challenging in a few other ways too. Basically, I have jumped in the pool and am hoping I can stay afloat.

The novel is set in France so it can make researching difficult. I have a good working knowledge of English history but not necessarily French history. Most of the books, articles and primary sources for the period are in French. I can read the written language but it does make skim reading difficult and the whole process is a lot slower than usual. The French Revolution, with its associated reams of information, happened about seventy years after the period I am writing about. There might be one useful book in the library next to fifteen tomes about the revolution. I am really enjoying learning about French history and society aside from “let them eat cake” and guillotines though. I will start posting interesting facts from my research on this blog.

My novel is set in a time when the last major bubonic plague to hit Europe swept through the south of France. I love apocalypse stories as much as the next person (maybe a lot more) but I cannot get past the fact that the bubonic plague is gross. I am finding it difficult to read about the symptoms, let alone describe them in gruesome (flesh-blackening, pus-disgorging) detail. A lot of the remedies employed at the time did not help much and probably even hastened death, like bloodletting.

On a side-note, watching The Walking Dead helps a lot with envisioning the bodies (got to be counted under research, right?).

However, I think a novel is most poignant if it focuses on the characters, their interactions and their reactions to trauma. So I should be able to keep the gruesome to a minimum.

It can be a solitary existence writing. It is different from other jobs, in that there is no ‘team’ to share the latest gossip or meme with, no ‘water cooler chat’, no meetings nor even any feedback on work done until the manuscript is finished. It is normally just me versus the computer. So feel free to comment or ask me any questions.


Books about 18th century France

I am currently writing a novel set in the early 1700’s in France. I am researching Marseille, Provencal culture and the events of the time to gain a thorough understanding of the life of the people I am writing about.

Find out more about my writing here.

It is especially difficult finding research material in English. The primary sources are obviously in French. Although there has been a lot of research done about the causes of the French Revolution, there are fewer specific sources about other facets of life at the time of the ancien regime.

This page is intended to help others in their research of the 18th century in the South of France and will be a work in progress, updated when I find worthwhile sources. Most of these are also inexpensive and available as ebooks.




The Smile Revolution, by Colin Jones ****

This book focuses on how the act of smiling was perceived in France and how this changed over the course of the 18th century. Makes reference to pieces of art as well as other primary sources.

The Great Cat Massacre, by Robert Darnton *****

This is a fascinating read and provides some good insights into the values and attitudes of the masses in France with examples from folklore and personal correspondence of the time.

Women of the French Salons, by Amelia Ruth Gere Mason


The Huguenots in France, by Samuel Smiles


The Old Regime Police Blotter 1: Bloodshed, Sex & Violence, by Jim Chevallier *****

A look at the law in Old Regime France, with translated accounts of trials and punishments and comments from the author about the relevant law.


Beer, Cider and Spirits in Old Regime France, by Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy (Translated by Jim Chevallier) ****

An excerpt of the work by Le Grand d’Aussy on alcoholic drinks as viewed in France in his time (late 18th century)

The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France, by Sean Takats ****

A thorough look at the demographics, industry and job descriptions of cooks at the dawning of nouvelle cuisine. An enlightening read.

The Man with two Heads and His Friends from the Fair, by Jim Chevallier ***

Monologues inspired by true characters of the 18th century French fairs. A short read.

Primary Sources

Available for free in the public domain

Works of Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans

A collection of excerpts about life at court, taken from the four hundred letters sent by the mother of the Regent to friends and family in Europe. Full of court gossip but also some great insights into the prevailing behaviours and attitudes.

Memoirs of Jacque Casanova – Volume 21: South of France

This an entertaining account of the infamous lover’s time spent in the South of France . Bear in mind, it is one unique character’s view of the time and place (c. 1760’s – 70’s).

Le Cuisinier Moderne, by Vincent La Chappelle (French)

Available as a free ebook, this guide for cooks was written in 1736 and was one of the first recipe books in France.

I have translated recipes such as the one for Pigs Ears here.


The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

*** Asterisks are my (subjective) rating of the usefulness of the book as a research tool.


Review: On Writing by Stephen King

In the name of research, I read Stephen King’s “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft” this week. No, I should properly say I devoured it. It is written in the style of a friend spinning a few yarns over a couple of beers. Having never read any books on how to write fiction before, I expected it to be pretentious and full of snobbery. However,that is just not King’s style. He follows one of his main principles, “write honestly“, discussing his addictions and also his estimation of his own skill and development.

The first part is random memories of growing up in humble beginnings. His childhood was spent with his solo mother and older brother and an innate love of words. He wrote satire about the teachers  and sold them to the other children at school. He went on to teach English at high school level for many years. He married a woman who was also a writer and a constant source of support for him.

He advises writers to “read a lot, write a lot”. He cites past students who apparently have no time for reading. His advice would be to read everything; that you learn more from bad books than good.

Then he moves on to practical advice on writing and grammar. There is a whole section on grammar with some basics like minimising adverbs and keeping the action moving by using active verbs instead of passive. He advocates leaving some time between writing and editing so you can approach it with fresh eyes. He was told early on to cut the word count back by 10% when editing and still follows that advice. “To write is human, to edit divine”. He argues that character-driven books are much more interesting than plot-driven books.

The last part is about his near-death experience in 1999. This section was a real page-turner as he writes with a detached inevitability of what is going to happen. The reader is stuck reading on in horror. I will leave you to find out for yourself what happens.

I realize Stephen King is not everyone’s favourite writer. He must be doing something right though, to have sold around 350 million books. I have read quite a few of his books, mostly as a teenager. One of my favourite books ever is “The Long Walk” which is one of the stories he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Whether approaching this book as a King fan or an aspiring writer, there are some great points to take away from it. Apart from anything else, On Writing is simply a great read.

“What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like in favour of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues.”