The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David
Elizabeth David was no ordinary person. She developed her taste for food while studying French history at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris. She became obsessed with French food and developed a desire to learn how to cook it well.
She was a leader in the publication of modern food books with her first offering being in 1950!
But our favourite book was published ten years later in 1960 after stints in Italy, Egypt and India. She was a difficult person. Many writers talk about her imperious nature and capricious desires. However, all of the negatives pale into insignificance once you start reading her alluring prose.
More than most she can transport you to the south of France and lead you to the smell of lavender and honey, to the taste of daube and tapenade and the sensual pleasure of the crisp, white wines and roses of Provence.
In her introductory chapter on "French Cooking in England" she starts with a premise that warms our hearts:
"The feeling of our time is for simpler food, simply presented… it is the kind of cooking which was meant by Curnonsky when he repeated over and over again, that good cooking was achieved when 'ingredients taste of what they are'".
And being aficionados of the Vaucluse region we can delight in the description of the food of the region:
"In the season, in the villages of the Vaucluse, asparagus or wonderful broad beans will be a few francs a kilo, a basket of cherries or strawberries the same. Perhaps you may arrange for the bus driver to bring you some brandade of salt cod out from Cavaillon or Apt for Friday lunch."
And so to the recipes! The first recipe chapter is devoted to sauces. And there are many recipes and all of them are interesting. Her sorrel sauce to accompany fish is based on cream that must first be boiled to ensure that the acid in the sorrel does not curdle the cream. She then describes a great sauce of walnut and horseradish to accompany cold salmon.
Her Nicoise salad follows the exhortations of Nice's former and disgraced mayor Jacques Medecin by only including hard-boiled eggs, anchovy fillets, black olives and tomatoes along with some lettuce leaves - although she does not follow his entreaties to salt the tomatoes three times! She also includes a version from Escudier, the author of La Veritable Cuisine Provencale et Nicoise, who includes sweet green pepper but eschews the lettuce!
The recipes continue through soups, meat dishes and onto sweet dishes that includes the wonderful sweet omelette dessert that has now almost disappeared from the restaurant repertoire.
This is not just a good cookbook - it is a great cookbook. It is an essential inclusion in all food lover's cookbook libraries.