March 11, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Fairy Tale Food, Sleeping Beauty & Sauce Robert, By A.M. Offenwanger

Editor's Note: What does Sleeping Beauty have in common with Sauce Robert? A. M. Offenwanger shares a fairy tale and combines it with a recipe in this Fairy Tale Food article from 2018.
Sauce Robert, Julia Child says in Mastering the Art of French Cooking
, is a brown mustard sauce with lots of onions and white wine, and is served with roast or braised pork, boiled beef, broiled chicken, hot meat leftovers or hamburgers. Obviously, Julia Child hadn’t read “Sleeping Beauty”, or she would have added “roast or broiled baby” to that list of acceptable meats. Well, at least the ogress thinks that Sauce Robert would go well with cooked toddler; her chef disagrees.

What? You didn’t know about the ogress and the broiled baby? What version of Sleeping Beauty” were you looking at? Oh, probably the same one I’m familiar with—lovely, tender Grimms’. That’s right, when it comes to “Sleeping Beauty”, the Grimms were the sweet, child-friendly storytellers; Charles Perrault’s version is a whole lot more grim. If you think that “Sleeping Beauty” is the story of a princess who pokes her hand with a spindle, falls asleep for a hundred years in a rosebush-covered castle, is kissed awake by the prince, and lives happily-ever-after-the-end, you only know half the tale—the half the Germans decided to write down as “Dornröschen”.

The French, on the other hand, went a little further than that—PG13, at least. Oh yes. Sex, teen pregnancy, family violence, attempted cannibalism, poisonous creepy-crawlies, this one has it all.

Up to the point where the prince finds the beautiful princess on her beautiful bed, the Perrault version is pretty much the same as the Grimms’, but then it goes off the rails.

The prince, after a lovely wedding night with Beauty (who, from what I can gather, is around fifteen or sixteen at this point), goes home and lies to his parents about where he’s been—in the cottage of a charcoal burner, he says (uh-huh, yeah, sure you were!). His dad, being “a good man”, believes him; the queen, his mother, for whose benefit the lie was concocted in the first place, does not. The mother, you see, is an ogress who likes to snack on children. The prince keeps inventing excuses for “having to go hunting”, so he can go back to Beauty’s castle. What they’re doing there you can deduce from the subsequent births of their daughter, Morning, and a year later their son, Day.

Once the prince’s good-but-gullible father dies, the young man announces his marriage and brings his wife and children home to Mama Ogress. Bad choice. The newly-minted king goes off to war with his next-door neighbour, and—what do you know?—almost as soon as he’s gone the dowager queen gets a little peckish. She packs her daughter-in-law, the young queen, off to a country house in the woods, and orders cook to roast up her granddaughter, little Morning, with—you guessed it—Sauce Robert. No, really, Perrault specifically says so. The cook tricks the ogress by giving her roast lamb instead; the following week, when she thinks she’s eating little Day, it’s a kid (i.e. baby goat, not baby human), and finally venison in place of Queen à la Sauce Robert.

The ogress quite enjoys the meals, until she finds out the queen and her children are still alive, whereupon she loses her ogreish temper and commands them all, cook included, to be executed by immersion in a tub full of poisonous toads, vipers and snakes. Fortunately, at the last minute, the young king comes back from war (I guess he got off work early), and the ogress-queen-mother is so peeved she commits suicide by jumping into the viper tub. The king, being of a somewhat sentimental disposition, “could not but be very sorry, for she was his mother”, but consoles himself with his wife and children, and they do, presumably, live happily ever after.

And you thought the Grimms were grim…

But at least Perrault didn’t go as far as the even older Italian version, Giambattista Basile’s “Sole, Luna e Talia” (“Sun, Moon and Talia”). It follows roughly the same outline as Perrault’s story, except that in this version, the ogress isn’t the young king’s mother, but his wife. That’s right, the guy is already married when he finds the sleeping Talia—who, incidentally, is doomed to sleep as long as a sliver of poisoned flax is still stuck in her finger. So this king doesn’t even bother waking the girl up; he feels “his blood course hotly through his veins”, “gather[s] the first fruits of love” (which are a little more than a kiss), and leaves again.

Talia, still soundly asleep, gives birth to twins (Sun and Moon). One of them, in search of a nipple, sucks the splinter of flax out of her finger, and she wakes up. After that, the story pretty much goes back to the Perrault plot, with fewer vipers and a better reason for the first queen to resent Talia, but at the end the wicked queen is dead, the king finally makes an honest man out of himself and marries Talia, and they live happily ever after. So here we have adultery and rape added to the mix of motifs, but hey, the story’s got a moral: “Those whom fortune favours / Find good luck even in their sleep.”

Do you still wonder why we stick with telling the Grimms’ version of the story? Pass the Sauce Robert, please.

I’ve never tasted, let alone cooked, Sauce Robert myself—it seems a fairly involved process that calls for veal stock, which is very hard to come by around here. I found a likely recipe here, if you want to give it a try.

An easier sauce that I make a lot, though, is
It’s very versatile. Check out the recipe below!

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 c. milk or other liquid (see below)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat.
  • With a wire whisk, stir in the flour. Cook for a little while with the butter. You can even let it roast to a nice, nutty brown for more of a Sauce Robert effect.
  • Pour in a 1/4 cup of the liquid.
  • Whisk smooth, bring back to a bubbling. Keep adding 1/4 c. at a time, whisking smooth and letting it come back to a boil after each time.
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • If it's too thick for your liking, add more liquid. If you like it thicker to work as a gravy, whisk some more flour into a bit of cold liquid. Add it to the sauce and bring to a boil until it thickens.
As is, this is rather bland. However, it works as a wonderful base for all kinds of other recipes. You can even use it in place of the ubiquitous can of mushroom soup in casseroles.

  • Sauté 1/2 finely chopped onion or a crushed clove of garlic in the butter before adding the flour.
  • Add powdered onion, garlic, herbs, a spoonful of mustard etc. by way of flavor.
  • Add 1/2 c of grated parmesan or sharp cheddar to make a cheese sauce.
  • To make cream soup, e.g. Cream of Mushroom: chop the vegetables, sauté with the butter, and proceed as before, using half stock, half milk or cream.
A mushroom cream sauce is fantastic on top of a schnitzel, preferably one made of served to in-laws. It’s known as a Hunter Schnitzel in Germany—maybe because the prince kept pretending he was going hunting when he was off to visit Beauty in the woods?

Bon Appétit,
and watch out for old ladies with spindles!
Let us know if you try this recipe!
We'd love to hear from you.
A.M. Offenwanger is a writer, reader, blogger, and editor.
Follow her blog Amo Vitam
and on Twitter @amoffenwanger
and Facebook here

Cover Rose Photo by A.M. Offenwanger
Sleeping Beauty Cover illustration by Henry Meynell Rheam
Cover Layout by Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
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Kelly Jarvis said...

I have always loved the little details of Fairy Tales like the Sauce Robert requested by the Ogress Mother-in-Law! Fabulous article, and I can't wait to try the recipe! Thank you so much!

Angelika said...

I hope the recipe works for you. It's extremely versatile.
And yes, the fun is in the details. In the Grimm's "Sleeping Beauty", I've always loved the flies asleep on the palace wall under the spell, and the cook falling asleep in the middle of slapping the kitchen boy.

Lynden Wade said...

Yes, little details like the sauce seem to tell us not to take the story too seriously! As I recall, there's a fun little aside too about Sleeping Beauty's dress being very out of date when she'd slept for so long!

Angelika said...

Yes, there is! The prince is surprised at all the old-fashioned outfits of everyone, but he thinks the princess is still cute, even though she wears a funny dress.