This week I am

On French Cooking. While working with Philippe Mouchel on his cookbook and trialling all the recipes, I’ve been re-reading the French cookbooks in my library, looking especially at older recipes and different versions of the same dish.  I’ve come across things that have disappeared from the cooking repertoire – a salsify flower omelette, for example. Salsify, also known as oyster plant, looks like a long skinny black radish. It’s quite popular in Japanese cooking, I have learnt from Philippe, and used to be grown in Australian gardens (looking at old nursery catalogues). It must have been grown in England, too, because Marcel Boulestin gives the recipe in Simple French Cooking for English Homes (published by William Heinemann), of which I have a 1926 edition. He explains that salsify flowers are “to be found in the garden in the late spring”, and that the best variety is the Spanish one with yellow flowers.

More achievable are the recipes in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking(Hutchinson & Co, 1981). Anne Willan, who founded La Varenne cooking school in Paris in 1975 (then moved it to Burgundy), is an excellent writer. The book, which divides France into regions, provides a considered account of the cooking of each region and clearly written recipes. If you don’t know it already, track down From my Chateau Kitchen, which is about the acquisition of an old chateau in Burgundy, the cooking school, the garden, and the food.

Leave a Reply