By Carole Bumpus
March 14, 2020 was Pi Day or Pie Day.
This was the first day I awakened to the fact that the world in which I lived had radically changed. Freedoms I took for granted were coming to a halt or had been heavily curtailed. Planned out-of-the-country travel had been placed on temporary ‘blocks.’ Normal grocery shopping was heavily restricted and easy-to-get supplies and services were about to become non-existent. My personal needs were nowhere near an emergency, although I had long been struggling with a sinus infection which left me without the ability to taste or smell. That, on its own, would not have been a huge conundrum but with my newest book from the culinary travel series, Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table, Book Two, due to be published this August 2020, publishing was about to hit a snag. And I definitely would not be able to handle this book’s necessary recipe testing in time for publication.
I sent out an S.O.S. of sorts through my newsletter and requested help from my friends, followers, and readers. “Come join me in my Virtual Test Kitchen,” I wrote:
Now, that we are all “hunkered” down on the home front avoiding the mongering hordes, I am wondering if you might be interested in participating in my virtual test kitchen? Following, you will find the names of nineteen French recipes I would like “tested” for my upcoming book. Like to participate?
In less than an hour, I had folks answering the call. Within a week, I had sent out over ninety copies of nineteen recipes to forty-three people—to as far away as France and England, plus across the entire U.S. And, during this past six weeks, I have been able to not only have my recipes tested but have also found a great way to connect with old friends, meet new friends, and enlist new readers. I am grateful to all who joined me in my virtual test kitchen.
So, what did I request from my testers? I asked them to send me feedback on their culinary experience and possibly photos, if they felt so inclined. I wanted to know the ease or difficulty of the recipe; if gathering the ingredients became too inconvenient (as these are traditional French recipes and we are locked down during a pandemic); if the testers needed to make additions or changes; and if they had suggestions or improvements they would recommend.
Because my culinary travels took me throughout France, the recipes I collected were family favorites, which had been handed down from one generation to another. They reflected familial connections, regionality, history of place, the era of its creation (World Wars I and II), and the simplicity of traditional specialties—cuisine pauvre—peasant cooking. And, they had been carefully translated from French to English, with adjustments I had made from the metric to the standard conversions. (Yikes! Not my forte!)
But, once the virtual testing began, it was not long before I was able to publish bi-weekly newsletters featuring recipe notes, along with colorful photos of the prepared dishes. Many were pleased to see their photos displayed and to be able to help during this time of COVID-19.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to my band of virtual testers. You gave me a hand during a time when I was also house bound, with limited ingredients and the inability to fully sample the flavors and aromas I know are a part of this cuisine. I could not have done the testing without them. And who are these unsung heroes? You will find their names listed in the Acknowledgement section of my upcoming book, Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table, Book Two—the second of the Savoring the Olde Ways series. Coming soon.
Carole Bumpus began a second career as a culinary/travel writer, when she stumbled upon amazing stories of women and war in France. Her historical novel and companion cookbook, A Cup of Redemption and Recipes for Redemption were published in 2014-15. Book One, of Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table was published August 2019, her second of this same title is due out this summer. And her third book, Searching for Family and Traditions at the Italian Table is due April 2021. A retired family therapist, Bumpus lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.