The unique, award-winning cookbook―a collection of seasonal recipes from a traditional French garden.
Winner of the Best Book on France by a Non-French Writer Award at the Versailles Cookbook Fair; finalist for the Julia Child Award, the Gourmet Magazine Award, and “Best Cookbook of the Year” sponsored by IACP; and nominated in the international category of the KitchenAid Book Awards of the James Beard Foundation Awards.
A unique blend of stylish cookbook and earthy garden story, here is a collection of 250 recipes derived from a centuries-old French kitchen garden. The stunning debut of a lively new culinary voice, The Cook and the Gardener chronicles a year in the life of the walled kitchen garden at Chateau du Fey and its taciturn, resourceful, charmingly sly peasant caretaker. Using the fruits and vegetables harvested from Monsieur Milbert’s garden, Amanda Hesser creates four seasons of recipes tied ineluctably to the land and the all-but-forgotten practices upheld by Milbert. Hesser’s sublimely simple recipes―each with accessible ingredients and clear notes and instructions―also tell a story. They are a month-by-month record of the ingredients available to her, so that this cookbook also serves as an almanac for cooks. Special “Basics” sections at the opening of each season lay the culinary groundwork for the recipes that follow. Tips on how to buy, store, and prepare particular vegetables, fruits, and herbs are presented in margin notes to recipes. By bringing the kitchen closer to the garden, The Cook and the Gardener gives home cooks a new understanding of the produce they have on hand, whether from the supermarket, the farmer’s market, or their own gardens. At the same time, it captures the quirky customs and wily wisdom of a vanishing way of life in provincial France.The Cook and the Gardener is Amanda Hesser’s first book. From the opening lines of its introduction, her literary gifts are as evident as her passion for good food. Since this work combines recipes with her essays about Monsieur Milbert (the gardener at the Chateau du Fey in Burgundy, where Hesser worked as the cook), readers get to enjoy both of her talents.
Hesser worked hard to get M. Milbert to talk with her. She shares the careful, deliberate way she wooed him, sometimes by bringing freshly baked bread to his less mobile wife, sometimes by holding back questions she wanted to ask, just to win his tolerance of her presence. Crusty, surly, and tradition-bound, he is the quintessential French peasant. Fortunately, Hesser–who is respectful and patient even when M. Milbert’s stubborn ways exasperated her–knows he is an almost-vanished breed. None of his children, or anyone else, is likely to work as he has, continuing to live mainly off the land for nearly 60 years.
Each chapter covers a month, starting with March, when the nearly 400-year-old walled garden comes to life. Hesser talks about the garden, how she used the bounty gathered by M. Milbert, and muses on life in and around Burgundy. In September, “the rains seemed to clean off and illuminate the plants’ colors … everything seemed to wake up, as after a hot, cranky nap.” The final tomatoes are harvested, as are the green and butter beans, with Milbert sneakily keeping the best for himself. Hesser visits a neighbor’s Portuguese-style garden, as exuberant and vivid as Milbert’s is restrained and disciplined. She cooks sautéed red snapper with tomatoes, fennel, and vermouth; makes a profound Tomato Consommé; and slow roasts tomatoes into meltingly tender mounds.
Sepia drawings by Kate Gridley add to the low-key charm of this information-packed work. (It even includes a history of purslane going back to the Middle Ages.)
The knowledge and maturity of this work belie Hesser’s youth. Not yet 30 at the time of writing, she’s a wise cook worth following. –Dana Jacobi
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