Rediscovering Elizabeth David, the Queen of French cooking

Rediscovering Elizabeth David, the Queen of French cooking

We were taking a wander through Montpellier when we stumbled on a book market. A single stall sold English titles, and poking out of a box was a well thumbed 1986 edition of An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David the queen of French cooking. At five euros, it was a steal.

I have a copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, and I have attempted a couple of recipes, but the real joy has been her writing.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is a compilation of Elizabeth David’s writing spanning her thirty years and more career during which she wrote for titles such as Vogue, the Spectator, the London Evening Standard, Harpers Bazaar and the Sunday Times.

It is said that her time at the Sorbonne – Paris, where she studied, ‘altered her destiny‘. She also lived with a well fed Norman family; in ‘A La Marinere’ for House and Garden, January 1960, she describes tasting mussels for the first time.

In ‘Dishes for Collectors’ she tells of travelling two hundred miles across France in search of a particular dish, cooked in a particular restaurant – porc aux pruneaux at Rotisserie Tourangelle, only to find it was closed for a fortnight. This featured in Vogue, November 1958.

Elizabeth David started writing at a time when French and mediterranean cooking was considered exotic, when Britain was coming out of rationing, and when many ingredients would have been a struggle to find. Hard to imagine today when everything is a tap away and gets delivered to your door at a time of your choosing.

Even then times were chasing. In ‘Pleasing Cheeses’, Nova October 1965 she rues the lost art of home-made cheese. There are instructions for Osborne cream cheese, fresh milk cheese and cream cheese croutons. I won’t be making these.

Flicking through An Omelette and a Glass of Wine it shows how much attitudes have changed towards French and Mediterranean food.  In ‘Waiting for Lunch’, Elizabeth David describes the morning meal of Catalan peasants, fresh bread rubbed with garlic and moistened with fruity olive oil which appeared in French Country Cooking, 1951. Shortly after publication a reviewer remarked she hoped the British would not be breakfasting of such a primitive dish. Hmm, bread and olive oil, now where have I had that?

Reading her books are a great antidote to the rage of clean living. I’m going to leave that to the millennials. I have yet to be converted to smashed avocado smeared on toast (which is not cooking) and the rise of new wave health gurus such as Deliciously Ella, who mix, shred, and spiralize but don’t really cook: temper, stew, fry, roast, boil or braise.

I admit I have attempted to spriralize a courgette, have made sweet potato brownies, which turned out more like a sorry, brown sludge.  I far prefer the real thing with flour, sugar, real chocolate and nuts. And I have tried to quit sugar (really not worth doing in France).

I like to cook with butter, everything just tastes so much better with a blob of butter. I eat baguettes, freshly baked from my local boulangerie. I stand, drooling outside the window of my local patisserie, I live minutes away from master macron maker Pierre Herme.

RoastchickenbutterElizabeth David’s books are of a different age, part social history, part literature, though her recipes may appear imprecise, the ones I have tried have worked beautifully.

Poulet roti au beurre is a simple roast chicken with garlic, slathered with butter, utterly delicious. It is now a regular feature for our weekend lunches (you can find this recipe in French Provincial Cooking).

In Elizabeth David’s books (last least the ones I have) there are no gorgeous, glamorous stylised ‘food porn’ pictures, you have to sit and read the anecdotes and savour the recipes but  I guarantee you will be ravenous.

Me? I am itching to make to make Giovanna’s recipe for chicken livers, spaghetti and lemon. Ok it’s not a French recipe, ‘Giovanna was a young Tuscan girl who cooked in a country restaurant’.

If you want some great culinary reading you can do no better than to get yourself a copy of An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, best enjoyed with a glass of wine, French of course.

This post has affiliate links, which means could I receive a bit of money if you make a purchase using the above links.

I want you to know that I only affiliate link to products I use, love and adore. Any money made will probably go towards my chocolate and red wine habit! 

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  1. Pingback: 12 #FabFridayPost linky weeks = 24 #FabFridayPosts | Round Up #4
  2. September 17, 2016 / 9:35 pm

    Wow you’ve really made me want to read this now! I am not brilliant in the kitchen, but I love a cookery book! I love appreciating the skills of others and tricking myself into thinking I can do the same ? *opens microwave* xx

    • Tooting Mama
      September 18, 2016 / 9:39 am

      I do hope you do. I love her writing, she is of another age, gives you an idea of what it was like in the 60s when garlic was exotic!

  3. August 17, 2016 / 7:10 am

    Wow! This is a really interesting read. What a find! I have not heard of Elizabeth before. She sound like a real character. I would love her to be my grand. I would sit in the kitchen and help out all the time. I’d love hearing her stories of the history. It is such a unique book. Thank you so much for linking up with us on #FabFridayPost I think I will need to get this for one of my special occasions. 🙂 xx
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  4. Sarah @theparentingtrials
    August 16, 2016 / 11:41 am

    If I’m honest I’m a not a huge cook lol my partners the cook in this house.. he’d love something like this though he’s always trying on ne2 recipes. X

    • Tooting Mama
      August 16, 2016 / 5:04 pm

      Hey, not bad having someone to cook for you! Well if you do get a copy for him, I hope he loves it and you benefit from amazing French food!

    • Tooting Mama
      August 16, 2016 / 11:15 am

      It’s a real find, and I would recommend checking out her other books too. She really did bring French and Mediterranean cooking to the UK shores. Hard to imagine now!

    • Tooting Mama
      August 16, 2016 / 7:22 am

      I’m so with you on this one! My mum has some old Delia cook books which don’t have any photography just the good old recipes – it’s great to read those. I too have really happy memories of cooking with mum…ahhh those were the days!

    • Tooting Mama
      August 16, 2016 / 7:19 am

      I enjoy reading cook books too. I love Elizabeth David’s writing, she has so much experience and knowledge, it’s a real treat to find some time for a quick browse through her books. Happy reading!

  5. August 15, 2016 / 10:19 pm

    This book sounds fab. My culinary bookshelf is full to bursting. Yet I love finding and reading more. x

    • Tooting Mama
      August 16, 2016 / 7:20 am

      Hey you can never have too many cook books!

  6. August 15, 2016 / 12:45 am

    This really does sound like a great cook book. I couldn’t belive that she travels two hundred miles though all in search for a particular dish!

    Jordanne ||

    • Tooting Mama
      August 15, 2016 / 6:33 am

      I know hard to believe but French food was her passion! Must have been an amazing dish!

  7. August 14, 2016 / 8:26 pm

    I love the gems you can uncover in markets – what a find!

    • Tooting Mama
      August 14, 2016 / 9:21 pm

      Ooh thank you. It has pride of place in the kitchen now. Nothing better than rummaging in a vintage book market.

  8. August 14, 2016 / 3:25 pm

    This sounds like an incredible cookbook, my mother in law would love this I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for a copy
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    • Tooting Mama
      August 14, 2016 / 4:06 pm

      It’s a great book well worth sitting down and reading. Hope you manage to get a copy, your mother in law will be a happy lady!

    • Tooting Mama
      August 14, 2016 / 4:07 pm

      You’re a woman after my own heart! I love second hand books, will be enjoying this one for sure.

  9. Dean of Little Steps
    August 13, 2016 / 8:37 pm

    I do love the sound of that book and also love discovering new books to keep and looks like that is a keeper 😉

    • Tooting Mama
      August 14, 2016 / 4:10 pm

      It’s been a real joy to discover her writing, even if you don’t make the recipes you can learn so much from her knowledge. You’re right, it’s a keeper.

  10. August 12, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    Gah, sweet potato brownies don’t sound entirely appealing but I love the way you write – very soothing, you make me want to pootle away in the ktichen baking with you for a few hours! #brillblogposts

    • Tooting Mama
      August 13, 2016 / 7:53 am

      Thank you. The sweet potato brownies were more like sweet potato sludge!

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