The Cook and the Gardener

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Cook and the Gardener is another cookbook that provides a romantic appreciation of the geographical context and cultural meaning of food. This time, the recipes are from the French countryside of Burgundy, where Amanda Hesser, a New York Times “Dining in/Dining out” reporter, had the unique experience of cooking for a year in a seventeenth century chateau. The book is full of wonderful recipes reflecting the changes in cuisine that accompany the changing seasons and French passion for fresh produce. The narrative details Hesser’s curiosity about the gruff old estate gardener M. Milbert—she needs to know what is going on in the garden to understand the ingredients in the kitchen—and her “journey of discovery” as their friendship grows.

The book is dedicated to M. Milbert and his wife, and is divided into four major parts, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Each part contains a “basics” chapter and recipes for each month of that season, depending on what the garden produces. Recipes are mouth-watering and herbs take on a life of their own. A sampling of spring offerings include such dishes as spring lamb, onion soup, asparagus salad, and rhubarb-and-strawberry confit. Autumn recipes include roast duck, red beets with shallots and sage, and caramelized apple tartelettes. Although there are many practical tips (how to break bones with a cleaver, and how to truss a chicken, etc.), this is not a book for the casual or hurried cook. Despite the warm and tender prose, Hesser is a serious cook. Some recipes require hours of preparation and hard-to-find ingredients. However, many recipes are within reach of the average American cook. It is a fun read for everyone.