by Gordon Nary
St. Menehould (Manachildes) was a sixth century saint who, with her six sisters,* is venerated as virgin-saints in France's Champagne region The number seven has medieval mystical significance in families as is evidenced by the numerous fairy tales about various groups of seven sisters, seven princesses, seven dwarfs, etc. Because of the medieval popularity of the legend of the seven virgin-sisters, there is a theory that many of . these fairy tales were based on the life of St. Menehould and her six sisters.
As with many early saints, very little is known about St. Menehould's life. She was known to be particularly devoted to the poor and sick and was reported to have spent many years in the medieval city of Chateau-sur-Aisne tending to the sick. She was credited with the creation of a miraculous spring on the Cote-a-Vignes to help quench the thirst of the thousands of people who came to meet her after stories of her miraculous powers spread throughout France. As a tribute to her, the city of Chateau-sur-Aisne was renamed Sainte-Menehould.
Sainte-Menehould later became famous for its distinctive local custom of cooking fish with less popular cuts of meat, such as pigs' feet and ox tails, by slow boiling them, coating then in a bread mixture, and crisping then in an oven. Whenever the term Sainte-Menehould is used in French culinary terminology, it refers to this distinctive method of preparation; ie, Pied de Porc Sainte-Menehould (breaded pigs' feet), Queue de bouf grillee Sainte-Menehould (breaded ox tails), Poulet la Sainte-Menehould (breaded capon), etc.
* The sisters' names were Lintrudiss, Amee, Pusinna, Francuma, Holdis, and Libergis, none of which, fortunately, appear in the popular publication featured at most supermarket checkout counters, What to Name Your Baby
** The original recipe far this classic dish is credited to the mysterious L.S.R., the unknown author of L'Art de bien traiter (The Art of Good Catering) published in 1674
Pied de Pork Sainte-Menehould (Breaded Pigs' Feet)
4 large pigs' feet with knuckles 3 carrots 3 celery stalks 3 anions 1/4 tsp salt water
1-1/2 cup breadcrumbs 1/4 cup melted butter 1/4 cup Dijon mustard 1/4 cup minced parsley salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Scrub pigs' feet. Wrap each pig foot in cheesecloth and tie securely.*
Place pigs' feet, carrots, celery, onions, and 1/4 tsp salt in a large saucepan or heat-proof casserole. Cover with water. Place over medium heat until mixture canes to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours. **
Remove pigs' feet from broth and allow to cool. Remove cheesecloth.
Preheat oven to 425º F
Mix melted butter, mustard, parsley, salt, and pepper. Coat pigs' feet in mixture.
Roll feet in breadcrumbs until well covered and place in a baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes.
Turn pigs' feet over and bake for another 10 minutes. Pigs' feet should be crisp all over.
Remove from oven. Serve with mashed potatoes.
* Use a 2" wide strip of washed cheesecloth. This step is not necessary, but it prevents the pigs' feet from curling. Who wants curly pigs' feet?
** There is a wonderful anecdote in Millicent Dillen's exceptional biography of Jane Bowles' Little Original Sin, "There was meat-rationing on at the time. We used to go to the meat market in Montpelier and one day we saw that pigs' feet weren't rationed. Jane and Helvetia asked me if I know how to cook than. I'd eaten than in Paris and I said, 'Well, I think I do.' So we bought than and we rolled than in breadcrumbs and dipped than in egg and put than in the oven. I didn't know that they had to be boiled for hours. When they cane out, I looked at than and said, 'We can't eat these.' Jane said, 'Yes we can.' No one else would eat them, but she ate three of them. In the middle of the night she got acute indigestion and Helvetia took her to the hospital in town."
© 2009 by Gordon Nary