When I come to France, it is one of my small (and great) pleasures to browse the crumbling cookbooks that have been in this house for generations. My favorite is entitled La Véritable Cuisine de Famille par Tante Marie—”the good, old French cuisine,” “1000 economical and simple recipes indicating quantities and cooking times” (as if that’s a novelty), “65 color illustrations,” “new edition” etc.
The graphic designer in me has to add that the typography and the sparse, out-dated photography only contribute to the book’s appeal. In my favorite of Julian Barnes’ books, A Pedant in the Kitchen, he argues in favor of cookbooks without slick photography, claiming that the perfection of a food stylist’s images or the even more intimidating reality of photo-journalistic shots of the chef’s hands at work only inhibit the culinary efforts of a lay-cook struggling valiantly in an unexceptionally equipped kitchen. (It’s a good read: “Picture Perfect.”)
This book does no such intimidating. Recipe follows recipe, plunk plunk plunk, interrupted only occasionally by an amateurish (by modern standards) image. One feels certain these dishes straight from the heart of France and its people are well within reach. And so they seem to be. Case in point: the clafoutis recipe on page 297.
I first tried this recipe several years ago because the house was full of those black cherries that are almost worth a trip to France in and of themselves, and which are the raison d’être of this dish. The ingredients required were basic—we had them all—and no pitting was required, as the original recipe is based on the belief that the cherrystones, during baking, lend a deep and necessary nuance to the final flavor. The resulting clafoutis was, despite my slapdash manner of throwing it together, impeccable.
The thing is this: clafoutis is another of those simple dishes in which good, pure, basic ingredients come together humbly in the service of making one of them stand out brilliantly. In this case, the fruit. Yesterday, once again, I found myself with a larder full of all the necessaries except cherries, so I set about making a raspberry version. It did not disappoint.
*NOTE: Despite all its claims of simplicity, the cookbook does not tell you at what temperature to bake the clafoutis. I believe Gas Mark 5 / 190 degrees C / 375 degrees F would be about right.