Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes by Collette Rossant copyright 1999

(Published previously as Memories of a Lost Egypt.)
The author was a nominee in 2000 for the award for Literary Food Writing from the International Society of Cookbook Professionals.

Collette Rossant, born in 1932, describes in loving detail the daily life of a large, affluent Sephardic Jewish family living comfortably in Cairo, Egypt during the late 1930’s through WWII. The author, whose father died when he was young and whose mother more or less absented herself, was raised both by her maternal grandparents in Paris and by her paternal grandparents in Cairo. Most of this memoir is about family life in Cairo – what it was like to live with a large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins and a staff of servants. A good part of the story is taken up with food preparation – the meals prepared at her grandparents’ house in Egypt. It is clear from the writing that the child Collette found much solace and pleasure spending time with the cook and other servants as they prepared meals for the family and for guests.

The memoir also includes some chapters that take place in Collette Rossant's adult life. It opens with a scene in the hospital room of her elderly and ill mother that reveals the difficult relationship the author had with her mother, and toward the end of the memoir, she describes a trip she took as an adult to her old Cairo neighborhood and to the house where she was raised by her grandparents.

Collette Rossant has made a professional life writing about food, having published a number of cookbooks. In this memoir you'll find a number of Middle Eastern recipes that have become part of the author’s repertoire.

Author’s father’s family name: Palacci – Rossant states that her paternal grandparents living in Cairo were both from families who after the expulsion from Spain settled in Istanbul and then migrated to Cairo. There is a wonderful early but undated photo of the Palacci clan spread over two pages in the beginning of the memoir. No one in the photo is identified. There are other family photos included.

The Palacci family who appear in this memoir:
 Vita Palacci and his wife Marguerite - the author’s grandfather and his wife. Her grandfather, who owned a department store in Cairo, was one of ten children. The only one of Vita’s siblings mentioned is his brother Albert who had a son Vita. That son immigrated to England where he practiced gynecology.

The author’s grandparents, Vita and Marguerite, had nine children including the author’s father who was a buyer employed by his father. The author does not give us her father’s his first name. However, several of his siblings are mentioned by name: her father’s brother Clement, and sisters Fortune, Lydia, Marise, and Monique. Fortune had three children; one named is Alice. Lydia is the mother of Meg (who married her tutor Pierre) and Renee. Other cousins, Zaki and Henri are mentioned, but who their parents are isn’t clear. In 1952 many of her father’s side of the family moved to Paris from Egypt.

Author’s mother’s side of the family
The author was born in Paris to Marcelline, daughter of James and Rose Bemant, but Bemant was not her grandfather’s original name. No information about the original name is provided.  The non-Jewish-sounding Bemant name proved advantageous during WWII; while the author was in Cairo living with her paternal grandparents, her maternal grandparents and her brother Eduard with much difficulty managed to remain in Paris and avoid deportation. 

The author married an American, James Rossant, and moved to NY in 1965. They have four children: Marianne, Tom, Cecile, and Juliette. Her grandchildren are Matthew, Julien, Celine, Luca and Oliver.

Places: Paternal grandparents’ address: 22 Ismael Pacha St, Garden City section of Cairo. Description of the Khan-al-Khalili market.

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