Like most people, I love the Impressionists and I started my lessons in Art with Claude Monet’s beautiful works. Sue Roe’s “The Private Lives of the Impressionists” waits patiently on my bedside table to be finished, giving way to a more recent purchase, “Monet’s Cookery Notebooks.”
Acquired at the first edition of the books by the kilo sale, this coffee table book by Claire Joyes is a perfect addition to my library and proved to be a wonderful companion on a lazy Sunday afternoon. My only regret? I wish I had the original book in French for the English Translation by Josephine Bacon of Pholiota Translations, London, is quite strange at times. I had to translate it back into French in order to understand some of the sentences.
Claire Joyes, along with her husband Jean-Marie Toulgouat (guardian of Monet’s legacy and grandson of Theodore Butler who married one of Monet’s stepdaughter) has provided a delightfully detailed picture of Monet’s life in Giverny with a focus on the kitchen and the culinary habits of the Monet family.
Monet, a moody and normally reserved person who preferred spending most of his day painting “en plein air,” entertained a lot and many artists and literary figures are known to have paid visit to his lovely home in Giverny. Replete with delightful details about life in Giverny with his first wife Camille Doncieux (whom we know from “Poppy Field in Argenteuil”) and his companion after her death, Alice Hoschedé, the book is a perfect introduction to Monet’s personal life. A stickler of routine, Monet hated it when people arrived late and went to great lengths to ensure that his guests were picked up, lest they got late. Marguerite, the cook, reveals that one day she thought he would sit down at table without his guests, so annoyed was he at having his routine disrupted!
One reads about his famous flower gardens as well as the kitchen garden, a work of art in itself. “In his (Monet’s) mind, the vegetable garden was inseparable from the other things that…were a part of the good life – his flower garden, the farmyards, a well-aged wine bottled by Sylvain, a well-cut suit, Marguerite’s excellent cooking and a good read in the studio drawing room.”
“Everything that was banned from the flower-garden was strongly advocated in the kitchen-garden. There was a strict geometrical plan and paths were laid out in straight lines, to enable the work to be carried out logically, rapidly and with minimum effort.”
The Monet family only ate the freshest of ingredients and even the herbs came from their own garden, ensuring that their food was always perfectly seasoned.
Every page is filled with discoveries about life in Giverny, Monet’s routine, his preferences, the way the house was run by Alice, the menus for daily meals, picnics and for special meals such as Christmas when the table was resplendently laid out with sweets, cakes and other gastronomic delights all accompanied by large quantities of Veuve Clicquot champagne.
The book is beautifully packaged with Jean-Bernard Naudin’s beautiful photographic recreations of the meals at Giverny and over 150 recipes from Monet’s cookery notebooks, which include Cezanne’s bouillabaisse and the original Tarte Tatin which he got from none other than the Tatin sisters – Stéphanie and Caroline. I can’t wait to try out the recipes – a visit to the market seems to be coming up ! 🙂Recently published book reviews :