12 Apr
Fondue, Fun, and Friendship

 

When our good friends, Tony and Tracy, told us they’d like to have us to their house for fondue, my mind travelled back to our 1970 wedding and the three lovely fondue pots we received that year. I remember how we dressed at fondue parties, wearing our maxi-vests over our multi-striped, tight-fitting turtlenecks and bell-bottomed pants. Even my husband, The Boy, from the Get a Bigger Wagon stories, often sported a turtleneck and was teased for looking like one of the Osmond Brothers. I loved putting together fondue parties, and I used the pots, frequently, until one day I stopped. Maybe it was more difficult to fondue with children under foot. Maybe some new entertaining fascination swept over me. Anyway, the pots sat empty, on a ledge in the garage, until, eventually, they were hauled off to a second-hand store.

1978, second baby on the way.

My good friend Marion did better by her pots. She has kept a Christmas Eve fondue tradition alive for over four decades, managing to change the menu based on her guests’ ever evolving eating habits. She has managed to please the vegetarian, the gluten-free guest, and the sweet tooth in the group. One year, a spilled fondue pot caused a dining area fire, but that didn’t stop Marion. She has since embraced at least one electric fondue pot, which has no open flame, and I am sure she uses that one for the hot oil fondue. It also has a perfect temperature regulator for the tempura-dipped vegetables, now featured on the Christmas Eve menu.  

The word fondue comes from the French verb fondre, meaning to melt. As near as I can tell, the fondue tradition could date back to around 800 BC. Apparently, Homer described it as a mixture of goat cheese, wine, and flour. I believe fondue originated in Switzerland, as a way of using up old cheese and dry bread. I remember a scene from the movie Heidi, where dry bread was toasted on a stick in the fireplace and then dipped into a melted cheese mixture. It seemed to me, that during the cold season, Heidi and her grandfather ate toast and melted cheese at almost every meal. I was very young when I watched the movie, but the memory of that lovely dipping ritual has stayed with me. I think maybe that is why I enjoy fondue; the ritual slows us down.

These days, another plus for serving fondue is that it busies our hands, so we can’t use our phones. We actually talk to each other, during the lulls between bites, while we select, cook, and dip morsels of food. 

During the 90s, I tasted genuine cheese fondue, served by a Swiss colleague, and he cautioned his guests to never drink water while eating a cheese fondue, as it would hinder digestion in a most unpleasant way. Instead, he served some very strong liquor, to sip between bites of fondue. According to my research, warm tea works too.

Here the cheese needs to be warmer. 

In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union made fondue a national dish in Switzerland. They hoped to elevate the idea of fondue from a peasant’s way of using up cheese ends and old bread, to a social dinner party concept. Their wider goal would be to increase cheese consumption. Old cookbooks indicate that fondue became a favourite dish for dinner parties in American households in the 50s, and its popularity continued through the 60s and 70s. The fondue experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 90s. Already, in 2016, we have enjoyed a fondue with our friends, so I think it is an idea we should have at the ready.

Perfect temperature

I will concede that the cheese fondue, with its combinations of cheese and spirits, is likely the authentic way to fondue. While browsing used-book stores, I found a 1990s recipe for fondue to be made in a crockpot. I also found recipes for microwave oven cheese fondue. So, as authentic as it might be, we will always find ways to make it easier to prepare. My friend Tracy discovered something even simpler. She served President’s Choice packaged cheese fondue. It was so good that I will serve it the next time I fondue. The ingredients are true to tradition. It comes in a foil envelope, ready to squeeze out and warm. Tony and Tracy are already thinking of ways to heat this handy packaged cheese fondue over the fire, for their scout troop. There would be great comfort in warming your insides with cheese fondue, when you are outside during winter.   

Fondue can also be romantic. I love an idea I found in a crock-pot cookbook written by Jean Paré. She suggests putting a cheese fondue mixture into a crock-pot and taking it on a road trip. Pack a baguette and a bottle of wine and simply plug the pot in, as soon as you arrive at your hotel or cabin. By the time you are settled, your lovely late-night meal will be ready. If you are at home enjoying your crock-pot fondue, Jean suggests dipping some broccoli and cauliflower as well. I like to half-cook the vegetables for this idea.

Heating oil to a high enough temperature to cook bits of meat is another way to use your fondue pot. Having a range of dipping sauces provides something for everyone; try grainy mustard, hot sauce, Greek yogurt with spices, honey mustard, or make some of the sauce recipes in old cookbooks. Rather than using oil, our friends took a healthier route and filled a fondue pot with steaming hot broth to cook the meat. This was delightful and saved a lot of calories, which I made up for by having too much bread and cheese fondue.

To further the calorie problem, I offered to bring a raspberry dessert fondue, which I often served in the 1970s. Our friend, Tony, is gluten intolerant and since my Raspberry Brandy Fondue recipe is gluten free, all I had to do was provide gluten free dippers. Dessert fondues can consist of anything that melts. Let your imagination be your guide. Chocolate, marshmallow, or caramels melt well. In my recipe, you will find strained raspberries, cream cheese, and brandy. We dipped gluten free white cake, brownies, banana slices, pineapple chunks, and strawberries. Click here for the recipes.

To make your fondue party more memorable, create some funny fondue frivolity. For example, if someone loses a piece of bread or meat in the pot, there could be a silly consequence, such as having to kiss the host, drink a shot, tell a secret, pay a quarter, or do a dance.

Fondue etiquette does include a no-double-dipping or licking-of-forks rule. Apparently, the fondue fork should be used only to cook and transport the food. Guests should put the food on their plate and eat it with another fork, for many reasons. Sanitation is one issue, but, also, hot forks can burn you. I have to admit that I love popping the food right into my mouth. I don’t think my lips ever dragged along a fork. I have been thinking more about this lately, though. Perhaps it depends on how well you know your fondue pals.     

At the bottom of the pot of a cheese fondue, there remains a special treat; it is a crust of fried cheese. This is the best part. Purists call it the religieuse, and it is a heavenly treat. Some say the monks used to save that bit for the nuns. People often refer to the crust as the nun. Tracy and I had both read about this before the party. I begged for a photo of the crust, because we left before clean up. I am pleased to share Tony and Tracy’s photo of their nun.

Tony’s son had turned sixteen on the day of our party. He seemed to enjoy the food as much as anyone, proving that fondue is fun for many ages. Here’s to sharing fondue with friends and family, and then to working it off in the great outdoors! 

 

 

Comments (2)

  • Gord The Boy
    April 12, 2016 at 04:25 pm

    Yummy for your tummy plus it took us two hours to have supper. A fun night filled with food, friends and most importantly.....fun!

  • Rauncie Kinnaird
    April 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Fondue is absolutely for all ages. My children love chocolate fondue! They request if for almost every party. It is a very fun way to try new fruit!

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