Mimi Thorisson and her husband were house-hunting without much success until their realtor took them to a house that was nothing like what they thought they wanted. So of course, because this is how life goes, it was perfect. Perfectly run-down and in disrepair, but perfect in so many other ways, too. A big, sprawling house for her and her big, sprawling family. Its slightly and delightfully semi-scandalous origins and its history as a B&B just added luster. Of course, they opened a restaurant.
While the first recipe is a gorgeous apple pie, the first chapter of recipes is full of cakes! In celebration of l’heure du goûter when folks enjoy their cake and eat it too, a special time of day, usually after school for a tasty reward for the day’s work. Thorisson is not hiding dessert at the end, but front and center.
Thorisson is not doctrinaire about the lines on the map of French cuisine and includes recipes from other cuisines. The emphasis is on fresh, seasonal ingredients and on accenting the natural flavors with spices and herbs that enhance the natural flavors, rather than transform the flavors. She points out you can make steak and potatoes anywhere, but it was invented in France and no one does it better.
Mimi Thorisson is the sort of person who might inspire envy. She is extraordinarily beautiful with a clutch of seven children, an amazing home, a successful restaurant and a life of travel and adventure. Worse, she makes it seem easy, but you can read between her lighthearted descriptions of cleaning up and repairing their home and the haps and mishaps of opening their restaurant and recognize that her success and happiness come from the family working hard together to succeed. There is not one gram of smug self-congratulation in this warm-hearted book that celebrates the history of her home, but also her neighbors and friends. Recipes that came from neighbors are credited with little stories about them.
The photos are taken by Thorisson’s husband Oddur, an Icelandic professional photographer. They are stunning, infused with light. I think the entire family is captured working in the kitchen or restaurant and even the family pets are there. There is a lot of love in those photos. The food is delicious looking and the photos do not have that over-saturated appearance that is common in cookbooks. When the skin on a chicken is pale because it was simmered, not roasted, as in the poule-au-pot, it stays pale. The picture of the Country Terrine is downright frightening though, that hornet is huge! The fashion of strewn tabletops continues, but with a welcome restraint. I did not once think with pity of the poor person who had to clean up after the photos.
All in all, this is a lovely book that is mostly about the delicious, rustic foods of rural France, but it also about a lovely family who are living their dream with joy, gratitude, and love. It is a book about a style of living. So there are lots of photos of the countryside, the raw ingredients, the family. Fewer photos and more recipes might please some folks, but I enjoyed it just the way it is.
I received a copy of French Country Cooking from Blogging for Books.