I was all of seven years old. My babysitter enrolled me, my brother, and her own kids in a free summer program run by the school district to keep kids out of trouble, and us out of her hair. She was still mourning Elvis’ death, and needed time to herself.
Serendipitously, I signed up to learn French. (I also participated in the summer choir and had a solo in our rendition of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, but that is another story.) I loved learning just about anything, but French—that was mon premier amour! There was nothing I did not love about it. The sounds, les accents egu et circumflex, les Impressionnistes…
And the food, of course. We must have also made mousse au chocolat , crepes, et des autres choses de rigueur, but I remember making quiche Lorraine.
In class, we seven year olds were led slowly and safely through the steps, with simplified recipes and simple ingredients, which we were taught to measure precisely using measuring cups and wax paper, home ec style. The most difficult step for me was cracking an egg without making too much of a mess on the outside of the bowl, and without getting too much broken shell into the bowl. Grating cheese was fun, but because I was recklessly enthusiastic, I ended up grating a little bit of my finger into the bowl as well. My teacher soothed my tears by saying that my blood would just add to the flavor. (You don’t forget a gruesome comment like that, even three decades later.)
We kids were not allowed to crisp the bacon– too dangerous– so our teacher did that part. But all of us had a turn or more at stirring the custard and assembling the ingredients.
An hour later, lunch was served. To a quiche virgin, the results were absolutely transcendent. I must have been only one of many bit players in making quiche in this class, but it became a personal obsession. And this was before the ‘80s, when quiche was in. I was avant-garde!
I recreated the dish at home, and remember that even buying the ingredients in our local Pathmark was a bit of a treasure hunt for me and my Taiwanese immigrant parents. Other families may have kept heavy cream and gruyere in their larders, but these were not used in my mother’s Chinese cooking. And bacon? I think we substituted some Oscar Meyer ham from the pre-packaged deli section, because we could use the rest for our lunchbox sandwiches. Authentic? Pas vraiment. But I was hooked, and made quiche frequently.
Quiche led to further French obsession, when I had to the chance to study this beautiful language in earnest, years later. I became nearly fluent in the next several years, and immersed myself as much as possible in all things French, playing Debussy on the piano, taking the two hour journey by LIRR to the Met to lose myself in the Impressionist wing, and wearing silk scarves to school, when my classmates were clad in acid-wash jeans.
Sadly, decades later, my French is tres rusty, having been pushed out of my brain’s storage capacity by too many other things, and from neglect. But what do I serve my friends and family for brunch? Quiche, of course. Unlike that first time, I have the staples of quiche making in my pantry almost always, and Oscar Meyer ham is no longer featured. In my three decades of making quiche, I have also become much more adventurous and experimental in creating my fillings. My crowd’s favorite variations recently have included: baby spinach with garlic; white corn with white pepper and fresh minced ginger; and tomato with potato and white corn. Many people have the misconception that making quiche is complicated. To me, there is nothing simpler.
You never forget your first quiche.
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Recette: Quiche Linda
A 9 inch deep dish pie shell: your best recipe or your favorite prepared pie shell.
The custard: 1 cup whole milk or half and half and 3 eggs
Fromage: ½ cup of freshly grated gruyere, swiss, or other similar cheese
The filling: quiche Lorraine classically consists of a gruyere and crispylardon/bacon filling. You can make any combination of savory ingredients you like, including an assortment of vegetables and/or meats. Just make sure to cook and season to your taste first, and to cook or pour off any excess liquid before adding to the quiche .
1. Saute and season your filling, enough to make about 1-1/2 cups cooked, and let cool. I salt this more than if I were eating it on its own, to flavor the custard.
2. Whisk the eggs and milk until light and frothy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Place grated cheese into prepared pie shell.
4. Top with the filling.
5. Pour the frothy custard mixture over the filling and cheese.
6. Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until crust is golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
© Linda Shiue, 2010-2011