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Friday, July 4, 2008

Jarlsberg French Bisto Sandwich...for American Independence

As this Fourth of July loomed, I found myself increasingly taken with the idea of doing something French to celebrate American Independence Day. Why? Do I have some perverse desire to infuriate legions of freedom-friers? On the contrary, I think it is because most Americans have either forgotten, or were never aware, of the debt we owe the French for our success in the Independence struggle. Without the French, it is very likely we would all still be saluting the Queen. Moreover, France gave us one of the most enduringly iconic representations of the American independence spirit. And they also make darn fine sandwiches. So this Fourth of July, as you head out to the parks to celebrate the weather, take a little gustatory moment to thank the French.

France and American Independence

The most iconic image of the defiantly independent spirit of the American people is our famed Statue of Liberty. What many Americans don't know is that the statue is actually called "Liberty Enlightening the World" or La liberté éclairant le monde. The engineer of the statue's interior structure was the same man who designed the also-iconic Eiffle Tower. Which makes sense, because America's famed statue was a gift to the people of America from France. I discovered this, to my surprise, while on a boat tour down Paris' scenic Seine River. I gasped to see that familiar face of the Statue of Liberty serenely keeping watch over the Parisian cityscape. Paris has a replica of America's iconic harbor-based Statue of Liberty, a reminder on both sides of the Atlantic of the friendship between our countries.

Because, as buddies, America and France go way back. We were both countries born, or forged, in twin revolutions.

At the time of the American revolution, England was a world power, and particularly an unparalleled naval power. The French monarchy had, for decades, spent itself into an increasingly dire financial situation trying to stave off English power while vying for its own continental domination. England had advanced agriculture that had enabled a larger middle class, which in turn contributed to its early success with industrialization. All that meant that England had a much more reliable tax base to finance its expansionist ambitions. By contrast, French agriculture was less specialized, with about one third of all farm land owned by small-holding peasants, and technologically "backwards." All of this was a disaster for the French tax state, so the French were forced to finance their increasingly expensive wars through high interest rate loans. They had leveraged themselves to the hilt (really, they would have made modern Americans look comparatively debt-free) when the American revolution took off. Seeing a chance to thwart their long-time rivals, the English, the French monarchy committed vast resources to an extensive naval offensive that kept off the English navy and thereby reduced reinforcements that could have overwhelmed the American colonial troops. So while the French participation wasn't altruistic by any stretch, the resources they committed to hold off the English navy strained the royal treasury beyond recovery, and ultimately lead to the fall of the French monarchy and the French revolution. (For more on this, see Theda Skocpol's masterful work "States and Social Revolutions).

Jarlsberg French Bistro Sandwich

By the Skinny Gourmet, inspired by the beloved French Bistro "Al's Deli" in Evanston, IL.

1-2 ounces thinly sliced, good quality Jarlsberg cheese
1 teaspoon mayo
1-2 teaspoons grainy French mustard
French baguette or light rye

This sandwich is killer on baguette, but those looking to save a few calories will find it also delightful on light rye bread, as pictured here. Assemble ingredients, bite, chew, enjoy.

Serve with pickles, fresh fruit, or a cup of potato leek soup.

Bon Appetit and Happy American Independence Day!


Pirouette said...

This looks super tasty. Thanks for the French lesson. :)

Astra Libris said...

Excellent point about the history behind July 4th celebrations. I hope more Americans will take your words and history reminder to heart - especially if it means more gorgeous sandwiches like this one! Bravo!

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