JULY 25, 2018

Cookbook Review: My French Kitchen

We’re probably not supposed to fall in love with a cookbook because of its ambient photography, but My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris (Morrow 2006), could entice us to do so. She artfully matches pictures of French cottages, farms, street corners, seaside beaches, bistro signs, and children on pastel tricycles with what we might call deep-home French cuisine.

Luckily for readers, Harris, author of novels like Chocolat (made into the popular food film with Juliette Binoche), serves us more than capable prose to entice us back onto the written recipes.

Harris makes it very clear in the introduction that she is not an advocate of hyper-sophisticated recipes, but instead those she remembers making with her family, who happens to be half French and half English, “Many of my earliest memories are about food. I remember making pancakes with Memee, my great grandmother, in her house in Vitre when I was three years old…I remember my Yorkshire grandmother’s rhubarb and apple pie, and my French grandmother’s green fig jam…holidays on the island of Noirmoutier, going around the markets in the early morning or cooking sardines on a charcoal brazier on the sand…”

Authentic French memories develop into a crisply interpreted and common sense approach to family recipes accompanied by snapshots that capture the modern scene as well as it does impressions of memory.

‘Jean Sorin’s Fisherman Stew,’ inspired by Harris’s great-uncle Jean, includes s photoset showing a bright bowl of the stew, as well as an out of focus impression of a blue seaside cove, and a wonderful little introduction by Harris, “Soupe du Pecheur is an extrovert, a sociable dish impossible to eat without a certain amount of mess.” 

‘Lamb Chops Vert Pre’ is accompanied by a farm scene in Mont Saint-Michel, and a photo of  “lambs grazing on the very green marshland by the water’s edge, or even on the seaweed growing on the rocks.” ‘Seafood Platter,’ although maybe out of reach for many Midwestern cooks, is introduced, “If I were to plan my last meal, ‘Fruits de Mer’ would be the main course. To me it evokes everything good about food.”

By the time we reach the final section of My French Kitchen, aptly “Chocolate,” we come to realize that what we are reading certainly is not merely a commercial enterprise but a personalized interpretation of 120 such treasures.