A couple of decades ago, back when I was pure'eing vegetables in my portable plastic baby-food grinder, we didn't know about salt. At least, didn't know about salt as a worry. And in those baby-rearing days we considered fat a compliment -- on a baby, anyway.
In the '60s my pediatrician, who was head of the nursery at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, told me that as long as my toddler ate a hot dog a day, I need not be concerned, because he would be getting his protein, and that was the important thing.
Those of us who were nursing our babies -- a group who were at the time considered offbeat if not downright weird -- also tended to make our own baby foods. They were simple things, just a mash of banana or carrot, perhaps some scraped beef or liver. We were monumentally concerned about allergies and about sufficient protein and about avoiding sweets. We could feel plenty guilty about feeding too often or too seldom, too much or too little, too hot or too cold. We could feel anxious about both insufficient cuddling and not encouraging independence. We could lose sleep over whether our babies satisfied their sucking reflex and their crawling stage. In fact, we thought we could manage to feel guilty about anything.
But we missed feeling guilty about denying our toddlers langoustine with avocado and fresh mint, or banana mousse with coconut milk.
Leave that concern to the mothers of the 80's. Yuppie babies hadn't been born yet when I first became a classic Jewish Mother.
And the three-star baby food book hadn't yet been written.
It wasn't until this decade that mothers felt the need to raise tiny gourmets. When we of earlier generations became adults, we went to restaurants as grand as we could afford, without ever a thought to whether our palates had been educated early enough; and we just assumed that our peanut-butter-and-jelly children would also learn to love magret de canard when the time came.
True to expectations, when the rare opportunity arrived to take my children to Alain Senderens' three-star L'Archestrate in Paris, they loved it. Well, the younger ones sneered at the foie gras, but their older brother had matured enough to covet their portions. And if they didn't think much of the steamed cabbage in which it was wrapped, oh well, truth be told, I didn't either.
Alain Senderens' wife, Eventhia, has upset such complacency. She has written a book of recipes for babies and toddlers, "Recettes Originales pour Tout-Petits" ("Original Recipes for the Youngest"), (published by Robert Laffont, S.A., 1983) and all I can say is thank goodness it is not available in English. I shudder to imagine the guilt of a mother who can't abide cooking lamb brains or rabbit for the baby, or whose toddler won't eat her pure'e of fennel with olives.
This book is part of a series of cookbooks that includes works of Michel Gue'rard, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Roger Verge', Alain Chapel and Fredy Girardet. The editor of the series, Claude Lebey, places Eventhia Senderens' book alongside the works of those great chefs in its prospect of becoming a classic and claims, furthermore, that it is aiding the formation of a new generation of gourmets.
In the preface, Dr. Julien Cohen-Salal announces that he was stupefied by the recipe for egg cooked in a plate of water in the style of Gue'rard (see recipe that follows), and that Senderens has proved that gastonomy begins in the cradle.
Applesauce, we thus learn, is no mere bodily nourishment. Senderens points out that taste precedes hearing and seeing, and therefore is the first of the series of emotions and pleasures in the esthetic order. Developing agreeable responses to food, she says, facilitates nothing less than the baby's entire comprehension of the external world.
Now that's a big responsibility.
Getting down to particulars, Senderens warns against absolutely all fried foods, charcuterie, cream sauces or cooked butter sauces, pastries, candies, ice creams, carbonated drinks and alcohol. She recommends adding little to the milk diet for the first few months, and then starting only fruit juices, oatmeal, vegetable bouillons and very light vegetable pure'es.
At four to five months, though, the gastronomic diversity begins, after being introduced with a tiny bit of fresh butter, with yogurt and bananas and applesauce. Being a grown-up gourmet, Senderens of course insists on freshness, ripeness and seasonality in all ingredients. But as the bouillons are consumed for their liquids rather than their solids, she recommends long cooking to extract all the nutrients, which is quite a leap from the barely cooked crunchiness of L'Archestrate's vegetables and those of her Parisian catering service.
As for the foods she recommends, garlic is high on the list, though she cautions to mash it with sea salt to aid its digestion. She plies babies with artichokes and avocados, with mushrooms and cabbage, with fennel and salsify, which many adult Americans have never tasted, much less their babies. Senderens would have us tempt our offspring with fresh herbs -- sage and mint and thyme -- as well as with the most elegant of shellfish -- langoustine, scallops -- and salmon both fresh and smoked.
What could one expect of a baby raised on pure'ed pistou made with the garden's freshest basil and tomatoes? Having tasted at half a year the white meat of chicken pure'ed with lemon, banana and fresh parsley, what would a child demand from the school cafeteria at six years? And would burgers-and-fries ever do for the person who had cut his teeth on fillet of trout with artichoke and fresh tarragon, baked in parchment? Couscous for babies, basil in the carrot pure'e, exotic coriander leaves with mashed calves' liver. Leek flan, red bell pepper flan, salmon with asparagus tips and mint. Chinese noodles with snow peas and mushrooms. Wild rice in a little ramekin.
They sound like something for my birthday dinner, not Tuesday supper for baby. Yet the only dish in the entire book that Senderens recommends "for the whole family" is a homely little molded custard of oatmeal and honey. I suppose she assumes the rest of us have been raised on jars of pure'ed macaroni and cheese, and wouldn't appreciate the tranche de veau aux petits le'gumes.
Senderens insists that while feeding oneself is an instinct, eating well is the result of education, and that "food constitutes a possibility of education as important as school." Not the stuff to encourage complacency in popping open a jar of junior dinner after a hard day at the office. Particularly when Senderens concludes that feeding has consequences not only on children's health and the development of good taste but in "the evolution of their character."
Thus, in case your repertoire of pure'es and finger foods seems too narrow for the sophisticated future of your infant, here are some of Eventhia Senderens' recipes to commence that education. BOUILLON DE CAROTTES ET LAITUE (Carrot and Lettuce Bouillon) (For babies from 2 to 3 months) (Makes about 3 cups) 1/2 pound carrots 1/2 lemon 1/2 head lettuce 3 sprigs parsley 1 quart water
Wash carrots and cut into thin rounds. Squeeze lemon into a large bowl of water and carefully wash each leaf of lettuce and the parsley in it.
Put a quart of fresh water in a saucepan and add the vegetables and parsley. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook very slowly for 2 hours.
Strain into baby bottles to feed instead of water. POTAGE DE COURGETTE, FENOUIL ET CAROTTE (Zucchini, Fennel and Carrot Soup) (For babies from 4 to 5 months) (Makes 1 1/2 cups) 1 carrot 1/2 bulb fennel 1/2 zucchini 2 sprigs chervil Juice of half a lemon 1/2 teaspoon butter
Peel carrot and fennel. Wash all the vegetables and chervil in a bowl of water with the juice of the lemon.
Chop vegetables and chervil coarsely. Simmer in 2 cups fresh water for 25 minutes. Pure'e in a fine sieve. Add butter and serve. SOUPE DE PRINTEMPS (Springtime Soup) (For babies from 5 to 6 months) (Makes 2 1/2 cups) 1/4 pound fresh peas, shelled 1 medium onion 1/2 head lettuce 1 1/2 ounces purslane 3 leaves sorrel 2 sprigs chervil 1 sprig parsley Juice of half a lemon 1/2 teaspoon butter
Shell peas. Peel onion. Wash remaining vegetables and herbs in a large bowl of water with the lemon juice and drain.
In a saucepan bring 2 cups fresh water to a boil, add vegetables and herbs and simmer 20 minutes. Pure'e. Add butter and serve. PUREE DE BETTERAVE, MACHE ET CAROTTE (Puree of Beets, Ma che and Carrots) (For babies from 5 to 6 months) (1 serving) 1 medium carrot 1 ounce beets 1/2 ounce ma che 1/2 teaspoon minced chives 1 teaspoon yogurt 1/2 teaspoon butter
Peel carrot and beet. Wash carrot, ma che and chives. Cook carrot and beet in a covered pot for 20 minutes in just enough water keep bottom of pot covered. Add ma che and boil until tender. Pure'e all. Add chives, yogurt and butter. COQUILLE SAINT-JACQUES AU CERFEUIL (Scallop with Chervil) (For babies from 5 to 6 months) (Makes 1 serving) 1 scallop 6 sprigs chervil, minced 1/2 teaspoon butter
Wash scallop and chervil. Halve scallop crosswise. Poach scallop halves in 3 tablespoons water for 1 minute on each side. Remove scallop and over high heat reduce cooking liquid by half. Add the chervil and beat in butter bit by bit.
Pure'e sauce and scallops and serve with carrot pure'e. MORUE FRAICHE A LA COURGETTE (Fresh Cod with Zucchini) (For babies from 6 to 8 months) (Makes 1 serving) 1/2 zucchini 1 1/2 ounces fresh cod (about 1/4 cup) 1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried 1 teaspoon olive oil Lemon juice
Cut zucchini into thin sticks. In a square of parchment put the cod, the zucchini and crumbled thyme. Sprinkle oil and a few drops of lemon juice over the fish and zucchini.
Seal the parchment and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.
Open parchment and mash fish and zucchini with a fork. Serve. SAUMON AUX POINTES D'ASPERGES (Salmon with Asparagus Tips) (For babies from 10 to 12 months) (Makes 1 1 1/2 tablespoon serving) 1 ounce asparagus tips (2 1/2 spears) 1 sprig fresh mint 1 ounce fresh salmon 1 pinch salt 1/2 teaspoon butter
Wash asparagus and cut off tips. Reserve the rest for another use. Wash mint.
Steam asparagus tips 5 minutes if they are small, 7 minutes if large. Steam salmon 2 minutes. Mash salmon and asparagus together with a fork. Add salt and butter. Snip mint finely and sprinkle on the salmon. GATEAU D'OEUF AU RIZ SAUVAGE (Wild Rice Cake) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (Makes 1 cup) 1 tablespoon wild rice Pinch salt 3/4 cup spinach 1/4 cups ma che 1 egg 1/2 teaspoon butter plus extra for dish
Cook the rice in 1 cup boiling salted water for 40 minutes. Drain. Pick over and wash carefully the spinach and ma che. Chop finely. Combine with wild rice. Add egg and pinch of salt. Put in a small buttered custard dish and bake in a bain marie at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve with a pat of butter on top. 2 SAUMONS AU YAOURT VERT (Two Salmons with Green Yogurt) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (Makes 1 serving) 3/4 ounce fresh salmon 1/2 ounce smoked salmon 5 leaves lettuce 1-inch piece scallion 4 teaspoons yogurt
Steam fresh salmon. Coarsely chop with smoked salmon, lettuce and scallion. Mix with yogurt and serve cold. BLANC DE LAPIN AU CONCOMBRE ET A LA MENTHE (Rabbit with Cucumber and Mint) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (Makes 3/4 cup) 1 1/2 ounces cooked rabbit 1/8 cucumber (1 tablespoon) 2 leaves mint 1 small tomato 1 tablespoon yogurt 1 pinch salt
Cut off 1 1/2 ounces from rabbit cooked for the family. Chop finely. Peel cucumber and remove seeds. Grate cucumber. Wash mint. Peel and seed tomato. Pure'e tomato with mint, yogurt and salt. Serve rabbit and cucumber with the tomato yogurt sauce. Editor's note: Another cooked meat or chicken can be substituted. CERVELLE A LA MOUSSE DE POIREAU (Lamb Brain with Leek Mousse) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (1 serving) Juice of half a lemon 1/2 lamb brain 1 medium leek Salt 1 sprig parsley 1/2 teaspoon butter
Squeeze lemon into a bowl of water and soak brain in it for half hour. Carefully remove membrane from the brain. Thoroughly wash leek. Slice the white and cook 25 minutes in salted water to cover. Cook brain for 20 minutes in water to cover with a few squeezes of lemon juice in it. Wash parsley and mince finely. Drain leek and put through a sieve to remove fibers. Add brain and pure'e. Add butter and parsley. Serve. PISTOU DE BEBE (Babies' Pistou) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (Makes about 2 cups) 1 tomato 1 potato 2 1/2 ounces string beans 1/2 zucchini 1/8 clove garlic 1 pinch salt 7 leaves basil, finely minced 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil 1/2 ounce grated parmesan
Peel and seed tomato. Peel potato and wash along with green beans. Wash zucchini and dry thoroughly. Coarsely chop vegetables and garlic. Add to 1 1/4 cups lightly salted water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add basil and olive oil. Let simmer another 5 minutes. Stir in parmesan and serve immediately. L'OEUF AU PLAT A L'EAU DE MICHEL GUERARD (Poached Egg Michel Gue'rard) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (Makes 1 serving) Salt 2 tablespoons water 1 fresh egg
In a small deep heatproof plate heat 2 tablespoons salted water to boiling. Remove from stove and break 1 egg into water. Cover and cook in 400-degree oven about 3 minutes, until white is uniformly firm. Serve immediately. CREME RENVERSEE AUX FLOCONS D'AVOINE AU MIEL (Molded Custard with Oatmeal and Honey) (For babies from 12 to 24 months) (Makes 8-10 servings)
Unexpectedly, this is the only recipe in Senderens' cookbook that is specified for the whole family as well as for the baby.
5 eggs 6 tablespoons honey 1 quart milk 6 tablespoons oatmeal flakes 2 vanilla beans Butter for pan
Beat eggs with the honey, add milk and beat until frothy. Add the oatmeal and mix well. Scrape seeds from the vanilla beans and add to the mixture. Pour into a lightly buttered 6-cup custard pan and bake in a bain marie at 300 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Let cool and unmold for serving.