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1940s Archive

Yogurt and the Bulgarian Colonel

Originally Published June 1947

To tell you frankly, yogurt is one of the few milk products that speak with unbounded eloquence to me.

The modern slogan, "Eat it—it's good for you," seems more of a stigma than an inducement. I personally scorn anything that is labeled as being beneficial for my tummy, my blood pressure, or my future arthritis. The probability of an unlonged-for bite aiding my health to some microscopic degree does not interest me in the least; all the assurance in the world that I would live an hour longer if I took a forkful of "medicinal" spinach certainly wouldn't influence me one bit. But, if the spinach were cooked in a gourmet-like fashion, that is quite another matter. …

I hope I've made it quite plain that you couldn't persuade me—free, white, and over twenty-one—to eat yogurt unless I liked its taste. And I feel sorry for fanatics who are always ready to swallow some unflavorable dish because they are convinced—or are hoping—that it is good for them.

One doesn't have to try to persuade European gourmets to eat their yogurt—it has been their darling for many years. Particularly in Paris, where people lived to eat and not vice versa, it was regularly used as a dessert, being preferred to heavier ones after a copious meal. Yogurt first appeared in small Latin Quarter restaurants, in the Oriental bistros, in out-of-the-way streets, like Rue Monsieur le Prince and Rue des Ecoles Médecine. But fine edibles have their passports extended in no time, and soon you could say a merry hello to jars of yogurt sitting on the plates of lovely sophisticates and serious epicures in the two charming gardens of the Ritz. Swiftly yogurt claimed its place on the menus of other famous restaurants, like Prosper Montagné's, Larue's, Chez Maxim, or Prunier's.

I too have eaten it in Paris, in the little bistros and in the much-revered establishments, but I first learned to eat it in Bulgaria, its native habitat. It was a girl, of course, who initiated me into the mysteries of unmysterious, simple yogurt. Clarissa, the Bulgarian beauty, would launch into long dissertations on how she could thank a steady (and oh, so easy!) diet of yogurt for her beautiful skin, and en passant mentioned that one has to be just as beautiful inside as out.

Not that I didn't also see her devote herself on occasion to a grilled breast of baby lamb, cut into tiny sections, salted and peppered, and served on a wooden plank with halved tomatoes around it. Or to a grilled whole goose liver, which is of tremendous proportion and delightful flavor in Bulgaria. Ladies with a hearty appetite always appeal to me. Love of good food is a hopeful augury.

Naturally, I should like to go on talking about Clarissa; but I feel that, since you are more interested in eatables than in my amorous adventures, I had better tell you all about yogurt. I'll resent it, however, if you think that Clarissa wasn't adorable enough to eat, and I shall return to her later. But first, yogurt:

To make you utterly at home with the famous Bulgarian milk product, I shall begin with the very elementary. Yogurt comes in a wide-mouthed glass jar, even in Bulgaria—unless you are living in a remote county among the peasants, where it might be put up in any sort of container at all. When it is good and cold, the consistency is like that of a fine custard. A thin yellowish film forms on the surface of yogurt, but the moment you break this with your spoon the rest of the stuff is snow-white. If you stir the yogurt even a little, it changes its consistency almost at once, and becomes a smooth, satiny cream which is very agreeable to the touch of spoon and lips, as well as pleasing to the eye.

The taste is piquant and very refreshing, especially on a hot day. That piquant flavor—too odd for some palates—is completely changed by adding a spoonful or two of granulated sugar, or honey, or any kind of jam. Yogurt is best with apricot jam, but some people like it with strawberry or plum or even orange marmalade. Fresh fruit, particularly berries, with yogurt and sugar is positively gorgeous. The thing grows on you, and it soon becomes a habit for all your life; or rather, all your long life, since yogurt (to me this is quite incidental) is alleged to be one of the factors in promoting longevity.

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