Conte de Noël
Once upon a time, in a vegetable garden far, far away in the land of Scotland, there was a young prince who was famous for his sensitive taste buds. Legend has it that he was born in a cabbage, but the truth is very different: the prince was born in a fat pea pod hanging from its stem by a tiny stalk, and deftly picked by his parents when ripe.
The prince’s veggie origins gave him an extremely well-developed taste for what is commonly known as “gourmet cuisine.” He would only eat things like delicate soups, fragrant spicy broths, herby vegetable terrines and smooth, fluffy soufflés. These very particular tastes of his suffered not the slightest culinary lapse. The head cook at the prince’s castle would stroke his chin every day, racking his brains to come up with a dish that the princely palate would savor without a word of complaint. But if truth be told, what the prince liked best were the delicious little meals that the king and the queen, his parents, would cook up for him themselvesfor they would add a pinch of something that wasn’t to be found anywhere else, namely love.
The prince flourished and grew like a beanstalk. But he felt lonely at heart, and sometimes he could be seen pining like a garden in winter. So when he was ripe for marriage, the whole kingdom set about finding the most impossible kind of princess. She had to be a real gem; a princess who would share meals with the prince with just as much gusto, and who would cook, too, when he tired of tinkering in the kitchen.
But one summer evening, the prince had an amazing encounter. The rain was pouring down, and there was a knock on the castle door. There, on the threshold, stood a girl dressed in all her finery. Water was running down her gown, but you could tell by her microscopic slippers, lace-edged petticoats and ribbons still dangling in her tousled hair that this girl could only be from an aristocratic family.
“I am the Princess of Potatoes-in-the-Fields,” she announced rather bossily to the guard who was barring the way. “Let me come in, please. I have lost my way, and I am soaked to the skin!”
The guard was discombobulated, so he rushed downstairs to tell the king and queen, who were finishing their supper. “She is an exceedingly beautiful princess,” he announced, his eye on the foodie prince. But the queen wondered about the visitor’s royal lineage.
“How on earth can a princess get lost around here? If this princess is who she says she is, she must have a fine palate. Let us take a closer look!”
The queen gave the guard permission to open the heavy castle doors, and the princess, who was drenched, came inside. The hallway still smelled of the cooking. There was a whiff of roast beef in a pepper crust, and fricassee of melt-in-the-mouth girolle mushrooms, and a hint of cocoa wafting from a warm chocolate cake. Back home in her own castle, the princess was more accustomed to eating popcorn, crisps and fries in front of the TV. Her parents lavished her with the most gorgeous dresses to wear, embroidered with Swiss dots or polka dots, but nobody in her house knew how to make an omelet. All these refined aromas made her feel rather sick. But she put a brave face on it, because it was raining cats and dogs outside, and she hadn’t a clue how to find her way home.
With knitted brow, the queen had a bed made up in the royal drawing room. The princess mentioned she had a bad back, but they couldn’t do anything about that, because the king and the queen had been sleeping on futons ever since their trip to Japan. So they piled on mattress upon mattress that they dug up all over the castle, hoping that it would make the young lady a little more comfortable, and threw over a silk coverlet. Then the valet turned out the light. The smell from the kitchens was quite unbearable. Lying on such a primitive, uncomfortable bed, the princess couldn’t get to sleep. She fantasized about fish fingers dipped in prawn cocktail sauce; a lovely, greasy fried chicken leg; doughnuts dusted with mass-produced confectioners’ sugar. And she also dreamed of changing her clothes, patting her face dry with a towel made of soft snakeskin, slipping on a pretty satin bathrobe and drying her curly hair in the mountain breeze where she lived. She thought these people were country bumpkins, although the young prince did seem rather handsome.
When dawn came, the princess still hadn’t slept a wink and was crying in her bed. So by the time the queen came into the royal drawing room to wake her, she was feeling very tired. The queen supposed that the young woman must be hungry, with all the mouthwatering smells that were wafting from the kitchens, and that must explain why her face looked as thin as her tummy.
In fact, the princess had quite lost her appetite. But she longed for some home comfort, and breakfast time made her feel so lovely and warm that she ate up all of the food the prince and his parents prepared for her. Homemade granola: incredible! Freshly squeezed orange juice: like a gentle caress! A bowl of hot cinnamon chocolate: a divine embrace! Garden-picked fruit salad: a declaration of love that sent an arrow right to her heart.
The prince watched her devour her meal. He was practically hopping up and down with delight. A princess who truly appreciated good food: he was smitten. With all the food gone, the little bit of ice that was left between the princess and prince was broken. The pair started chatting together happily. The princess wound up staying at the castle for a few days, because nobody really knew where she lived exactly. And so she discovered that steamed cod wrapped in artichoke leaves could be as delightful as a hamburger with mayonnaise, and began to seriously enjoy her food. Soon the prince declared his love for her, and the princess for him.
One day the young couple even went down to the kitchens to prepare a special meal of their own. Capon stuffed with wild chestnuts, carrot peelings grilled over hay, slivers of Wagyu beef confit and slices of roast pineapple with Bourbon vanilla to top it all off. The princess wasn’t particularly good at cooking, but she put her heart and soul into it. Her dishes weren’t much to look at, but she sprinkled her own pinches of love over them, which made them all the more delicious. She fondly watched how her scruffily dressed prince arranged the food on the plates like works of art.
When it was time to return to her castle of Potatoes-in-the-Fields, she asked him to come with her. The prince made her promise always to use vegetables from his garden in her cooking. The princess agreed, and the lovebirds set off to explore new lands.