MARCH 5, 2018

Cookbook Reviews: Cooking with the Seasons

The great British food writer Elizabeth David, in her authoritative French Provincial Cooking (1960), began her section on Brittany and the Loire by saying that “the traveler in search of good food will find some of the most lovely and typical dishes in all French provincial cookery. Not extraordinary or spectacular dishes, perhaps, but, based as they are on raw materials of very fine quality and cooked in quite simple traditional ways, they make a strong appeal to English tastes.”

This culinary connection between Provincial tradition adjusted for English taste set out by David couldn’t be more on display than in Cooking with the Seasons:A Year in My Kitchen (Henry Holt 1997), an under-the-radar masterpiece of seasonal, farm-to-table cooking by French American cook and educator Monique Jamet Hooker.

Cookbook shelves today are stocked with wonderful compilations celebrating ideas of natural ingredients, fresh farm markets, foraging, and simply put, slow food, but it is very compelling to read that some of their historical roots come from the likes of Hooker who grew up on a seventeenth century chateau-farm in Brittany France.

She says in her introduction “The Philosophy of Seasonal Cooking” that “Our daily life and many celebrations may seem to speak with the voice of another era, but it is only the echo of joy I continue to find a` table with my family and friends…By inviting the seasons into the kitchen, I know you will soon find your own joy a` table.” Monique’s masterpiece becomes a poetic testament to Provincial, familial and farm fresh recipes. “They are inspired by the dishes and techniques I grew up with in Europe, but they are uniquely American because I’ve adapted the recipes to the range and ingredients available to us here.” As the cookbook moves through the seasons, month-by-month, each includes a sort of nostalgic homage to her homeland. Black and white family pictures going back as far as her father’s father, Louise, highlight this sort of personal album as cookbook.

But it is the great matriarch of the French family, admiringly ‘Maman,’ who the book is really dedicated to. Hers was a life spent cultivating the daily ritual and joy of the French countryside farm table. For a November recipe of Chicken and Sage Soup, Hooker prefaces, “Making a soup from the broth a hen cooked in was one way Maman turned today’s fare into tomorrow’s supper. Meat from the hen was served with a cream sauce for lunch, then the next day the extra meat was shaped into little meatballs and served with the broth as a soup for supper.” The recipe is ended by a ‘sidenote’: “Medieval tradition claims that a strong woman rules the household of a garden where sage is grown.”

As of 2016, Hooker works with “Moses” on the annual Organic Conference, overseeing all aspects of the food service for the conference and is a board member of the “Healthy Kids Task Force” and “Farm to School” for the Vernon County, Wisconsin area school district.