Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Yola d’Avril’s French Dressing

I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay Cookbook and you are invited to come along! This time, we’ll be sampling a recipe from a star who was defined by her birthplace more than her personality.

(You can catch up on all my taste tests here.)

Yola d’Avril is a bit obscure even to silent film fans

I have not seen much of d’Avril’s work (I think most of her scenes were cut from the version of She Goes to War that I viewed) but she seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time in a French maid uniform playing characters with names like Fifi and Babette. It’s a living, I guess.

Please note the contrast between d’Avril and the American Loretta Young in both costuming and pose.

Seeing how the Frenchness of actresses like d’Avril and Renée Adorée was creepily fetishized in Hollywood, one immediately appreciates the wisdom of Claudette Colbert utterly refusing “French girl” parts.

Yuck.

(“We’ll dress you in a frilly apron and a skirt that doesn’t quite cover your sit-upon and have you repeat back everything in a thick Parisian accent with accidental double entendre!” and Claudette told them to drop dead.)

So poor Yola was typecast but can she shine with a splendid recipe? Her dish is (naturally) French dressing, so let’s see how it goes.

In the United States, “French dressing” today often refers to a mayonnaise/ketchup-based, orange-ish pink or pinkish orange salad dressing that you order once when you’re seven and curious and then make special note never to order again. However, at this point in history, it simply meant a vinaigrette (and still does in some places) and that is the approach that d’Avril takes.

This is pretty straightforward. Everything into a mason jar, shake that sucker and voila! Dressing! I did add a dash of onion powder because juicing a lemon is not my idea of a good time. I also opted for cider vinegar.

I also assembled an array of cucumbers and carrots. My carrots are purple, white and yellow because I think they’re pretty. (The story that orange carrots were cultivated as a political statement in the Netherlands is likely apocryphal. I figured it was too good to be true.) The older purple and white varieties don’t taste all that different but I like them because they’re pretty.

Score: 2 out of 5. Meh. It’s not bad dressing but it’s flat. Even the onion didn’t quite help, what this really needs is an infusion of fresh herbs. I’m thinking an absolute ton of dill but I add an absolute ton of dill to pretty much everything I eat. Tarragon would be very nice too and some scallions and maybe (horrors!) a couple of cloves of garlic. Just dry mustard and paprika are not enough for me, I’m afraid.

To be honest, simple oil and vinegar would be preferable because there’s something appealing in its honest simplicity. Jazzing it up but only going halfway is simply disappointing. Poor Yola!

By the way, I simply must put in my plug for my favorite salad dressing recipe writer, Crescent Dragonwagon. Every time I make a dressing from her Passionate Vegetarian cookbook, I end up with a stampede and never have so much as a drop left over. (The story of her unusual name can be found here.)

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4 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Yola d’Avril’s French Dressing”

  1. Very nice plating in these food photos!

    Can’t agree more that Yola D’Avril’s dressing needs dill weed and some fresh smashed garlic shaken into it. Peut-être, alors, il serait si savoureux!

    Tried to picture the fine actress Claudette Colbert in a French maid get-up, and no, just no. Of course La Colbert told them to shove it! Various versions of French maid get-ups are STILL out there aplenty as Halloween costumes. Yechhh.

  2. Hi Fritzi,
    Thank you for sharing this recipe with us, and for being a willing product-tester, even if the results are not how you’d have hoped they’d turn out!

    I also need to learn more about Yolanda D’Avril!

    Thanks!

    Amy

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