Literary Notes #8

As you all know by now I’m a complete bibliophile – bordering on biblio-addict – and not headed to rehab any time soon.  In fact the event of the year (in terms of feeding my addiction) occurred a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been relishing my new found treasures.  The Annual Christian Aid Book Sale began the first weekend in May.  Along with friends and fellow New College students Scotty and I lined up an hour before opening in order to get the first picks of this great sale.  It’s a bit of a gamble because you never know what you’re going to find and sometimes it can be disappointing.  This year Scotty found a few books but didn’t make out like he has in years past.  I found some real treasure though!

My treasure trove

My books include: The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt, French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David, Paris: Biography of a City by Colin Jones, A Table in Provence, Classic Recipes from the South of France by Leslie Forbes, A Tale of 12 Kitchens, Family Cooking in Four Countries by Jake Tilson, Gidleigh Park Cookery Book by Shaun Hills, Graham Green Country by Paul Hogarth, David Gentleman’s London, and The Food of India by Priya Wickramasinghe and Carol Selva Rajah.  Of these the following are my favorites and I thought I’d share a few pages from them.

French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David

This book is a second edition paperback of David’s classic.

Front plate from French Country Cooking

I love David’s writing style.  Here’s an excerpt I found amusing and informative:

“It is for such people that I have collected the recipes in this book, most of which derive from French regional and peasant cookery, which, at its best, is the most delicious in the world; cookery which uses raw materials to the greatest advantage without going to the absurd lengths of the complicated and so-called Haute Cuisine, the pompeuses bagatelles de la cuisine masquee, considered the height of good taste and refined living during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Nor is the Technicolor cooking which has partially taken its place in any way an improvement.  Good cooking is honest, sincere and simple, and by this I do not mean to imply that you will find in this, or indeed any other book, the secret of turning out first-class food in a few minutes with no trouble.  Good food is always a trouble and its preparation should be regarded as a labour of love, and this book is intended for those who actually and positively enjoy the labour involved in entertaining their friends and providing their families with first-class food.  Even more than long hours in the kitchen, fine meals require ingenious organization and experience which is a pleasure to acquire.  A highly developed shopping sense is important, so is some knowledge of the construction of a menu with a view to the food in season, the manner of cooking, the texture and colour of the dishes to be served in relation to each other…The respective merits of Haute Cuisine, Cuisine Bourgeoise, regional and peasant and good plain, Italian and German, Scandinavian, Greek, Arab or Chinese food are less important than the spirit in which cooking is approached; a devoted, a determined, spirit, but not, it is to be hoped, one of martyrdom.”

This intro to the cook book was originally written in 1951 and I love the no-nonsense approach David conveys.  England had just come through years of rationing and social structures were changing resulting in the dismissal of servants, and your average woman was having to learn how to cook.  Instead of promising “quick, easy, 30-minute meals” David’s recipes respect the intelligence of the cook and the integrity of the ingredients.  Some parts of the book remind me of the food trends occurring today – trends I hope continue and become traditions with their emphasis on local, fresh, sustainable and organic.  David’s book sounds very relevant to this time and place despite its being nearly 60 years old.

A Table in Provence by Leslie Forbes

This one caught my eye due to the illustrations and the recipes clinched the sale.  Both aesthetically beautiful and appealing to the culinary imagination, this book features colorful illustrations of classic Provencial scenes.  Even the chapter headings are pastoral!

Table of Contents

This page reminds me of the market in Sarlot.


And who wouldn't want to whip up a batch of homemade Aïoli after seeing this page?

As Scotty and I won’t be spending July in Paris this will be the book I grab when I feel like torturing myself with reminders of everything I am missing!

Graham Greene Country by Paul Hogarth

I was thrilled to find this book as it combined the work of one of my favorite authors with one of my favorite artists.  Since moving here I’ve taken to Graham Greene’s stories – I love them.  And then I discovered Paul Hogarth at a antique book sale where I purchased a copy of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence with illustrations by Hogarth.  Hogarth’s watercolors are vibrant, picturesque, romantic, detailed and impressionistic and they make me happy.  When I found this book I was thrilled.  Hogarth decided to travel to the settings of some of Greene’s best-loved stories and paint the scenes he came across.  What a cool idea, huh?

Table of Contents

Scene from Stamboul Train

Scene from The Quiet American

Each story is briefly summarized and Hogarth adds notes of his thoughts upon visiting and painting the places he’d imagined in the stories.

David Gentleman's London

This hardback caught my eye in the Arts section and I fell for it instantly.  Not only did it feature one of my absolute favorite cities, it was gorgeously illustrated in a style similar to Peter Hogarth’s!!!   Gentleman and Hogarth do have very distinctive and individual approaches but I think its the whimsy of their styles that gets me.

London Opera House and Street Theater

Detail of the street figures Gentleman captures.

Horse Guards Palace

The History of the Terrace

South Kensington

Trafalgar Square

This book features place well-known and obscure with historical notes on the architecture, people, governments and neighborhoods of London.  I’ve found it fascinating and it makes me want to return to this vibrant city – one where I know I’ll always discover something new no matter how many times I return.

Hope you enjoyed this little trip through my book discoveries. What books have you recently discovered?

About Rebecca

Hi! After five years in Europe, I'm adjusting to life back in the US. I use this blog to record my adventures, post photos, organize recipes, and post about things that interest me.
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5 Responses to Literary Notes #8

  1. realoves says:

    Oh Bec–you’re killing me! This post of these books has me drooling! I want to curl up with a cup of tea, multiple free hours, and pour over these delicious titles. The illustrations are so captivating as well as the topics! I’ve a million things to do today since I’m leaving soon, but couldn’t tear myself away from these wonderful books! Thanks for starting my day so delightfully!

  2. audrey says:

    Love the books you found! What a great treasure trove. Thanks for sharing the illustrations…I can feel the love! Congrats!

  3. POP says:

    When’s dinner?
    I’ll be right over.

    You are a bookseller….par excellence!
    When can you begin entering on our BFB facebook with similiar, fantastic descriptions and enthusiasm???

  4. Solomon says:

    What an incredible post Becca, you really have a gift and should consider being a professional writter or blogger. I really like your book lists and suggestions and it just feeds my addiction to books also, an addiction that seems to run in our family. Miss you and Scott a lot and wish we could all be together more!

  5. Melanie says:

    Hi Becca..
    Really love flicking through your blog, and just discovered the recipe section.. very disciplined!

    Your new follower

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