Living in the seventies: Fondue, baby!

November 29, 2009

The topic of fondue arose recently, as it does now and then among friends when drink has been taken.

Everyone in the room recalled their parents’ fondue set and its occasional outings along with the funky pantsuits and false eyelashes of yore. But there was general disagreement about what fondue actually involved – some purists insisted that only cheese and bread was called for, while others of us recalled boiling oil and lumps of meat.

Serendipitously, the day after this conversation my beloved spied this book at a market and swooped. I suspect we will never actually use it, but it does make an entertaining conversation starter if you leave it on the coffee table. Published 1971, and in mint condition, Fondue and Table Top Cookery by Marion Howells runs the gamut of things-cooked-at-table, from your trad cheese fondues to your Oriental Fondue (meat in stock) to some rather desperate inclusions such as omelettes and dubious-sounding desserts (Apricots Jubilee, anyone?).

On fondue, Marion tells us that:

This popular dish originated in Switzerland. Many stories are told of the villagers being isolated in the long winter months, and supplies of food becoming short, they were forced to rely on local produce like cheese, wine and home made bread. As the cheese became dry they melted it in their wine.

So there we have it – a yicky gloopy mix borne of near-starvation becomes a classic fad for ‘entertaining of the more intimate type’, and into the bargain produces perhaps the earliest example of Fusion Food. As evidence, I leave you with the list of ingredients for my favourite recipe in this collection.

Fondue Bengali

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1.5 cups dry white wine
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 cups grated Gruyere cheese
  • 2 cups grated Emmenthal cheese
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 3 tablespoons Kirsch
  • white pepper, cayenne pepper
  • mango chutney
  • French bread


  1. the cheese one and the oil one are both authentic….a bourgignon fondue is hot oil with fine slices of fillet steak dipped, with lots of crunchy salad on the side and several sauces pre-prepared. much better for you than the cheese one, the oil just slides off and you get tender filet slices and salad…yum….

    we have friends here who run a fondue restaurant…it’s pretty mainstream…i adore cheese fondues but always end up regretting it later…

  2. “parents’ fondue”? Being precocious/ancient I had my own. Delicious in small doses when well made and small chunks of bread – despite memories of trying not to gag on a mouthful of expanding cheese. Raclette’s more approachable and horizontal?

    I graduated to the steamboat- one you cook in, not a paddle steamer)- which had an eastern charm and burnt a ring in my table. Only one guest refused to partake, fearing communal germs. No doubt they had a point (in fact they had two – the end of my chopsticks, right where it hurt) but surely boiling broth sterilised the prawns? As far as i know, no guest ever required hospitalisation.

  3. Well well, whodathunk we had fondue aficionados right here in our own ranks. I can see the appeal of a bit of melted cheese on bread (cheese on toast, what’s not to love?) – but it’s the kirsch and curry that gets me … urrrgh. Tender filet though … hymmm.

    And of course the ‘Oriental’ version is just your yummy steamboat / hotpot of every Asian persuasion, specially if in stock or broth as per your boat Jules. As to the chap with the germ phobia, woebetide if he ever set foot in my kitchen, specially now it’s an open affair.

    (hastens to add that her kitchen is really quite sanitary in case dinner guests watching ..)

  4. I love cheese fondue (I just love cheese), and am periodically seized – SEIZED, I tell you – by the need to make and eat it. Over the culinary years, I have owned several fondue sets I’ve bought with my very own money – no parental influences here. Currently I have a white ceramic number that seems to be calling to me from the back of the cupboard as I type… I got rid of the last cast iron jobby because it kept flaking bits of black tar into my bubbly cheesy wine-y peppercorn-y perfection, and we can’t have that.

  5. I’ve never added curry powder, though. That’s not turned up in any of my fondue recipes, and I can’t say I am sorry for the omission. Keens Curry Powder. Now that drags me back someplace I don’t want to go.

  6. Charlotte,

    Long time lurker, first time poster. Loving the blog, although somehwat disturbed re the piece on fondue.

    I commend Senor’s efforts in extracting said rare volume from jumble sale although expect that he was more interested in yet another excuse to don the hotpants rather than melt some cheese in the Sydney summer.

    Here in cold and snowy Zurich, I have had occasion to fire up the Caquelon, load it with a proprietary mix of Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois (well actually one from the local Co-Op), squirt in a lot of the local Chasselas wine and Kirsch, and serve it up to the extended family, including Maureen who hosted many a Wollongong dinner party (of the pre random breath testing progressive sort I believe)with a loud and proud orange fondue set.

    So to you dear Charlotte, I say get over the early 70’s recurring Cooma food nightmares and see if you can seriously scald a number of guests with a fondue. I’m off to Davos next week with family and friends and the first items in the bag, will be the fondue set, two cases of Chasselas, half a case of kirsch, and 20 kilos of special gruyere/fribourgeouse cheese mix from the Co-Op.


    Crown Prince Harold von Thalwil

    PS some HOT fondue photos to follow by personal email (this is a family site I understand)
    PSS Happy Xmas to all

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