If ever there was a book that should serve as an example of why cookery books should never become obsolete, it is Memories of Gascony by Pierre Koffmann. The original version of this book was published in 1990 and went out of print. The new version, published by the Octopus Publishing Group, has been re-designed as well as re-photographed and is really quite special. The paper is parchment-like and the accompanying recipes are simple, rustic and very enchanting.
By all accounts, Pierre Koffmann is an unassuming gentleman. He arrived in London in the 1970’s to work for the Roux family at Le Gavroche. He later became the head chef at The Waterside Inn, before opening his own restaurant, La Tante Claire, where he gained three Michelin stars. He has trained some of our very finest chefs, who now have over twenty Michelin stars between them. And yet the food that inspires Pierre Koffmann the most, which he has returned to now, is the classic, peasant cooking of his youth.
In his prologue, Koffmann says that Memories of Gascony is a book about his childhood, filled with memories of his grandparents and all the eccentric characters around their farm in the small village of Saint Puy in Gascony. In an area of southwest France, close to the Pyrenees mountains, his grandmother’s food was typical peasant cooking, with the food of the land taking centre stage.
Chicken and duck were served most with fresh vegetables. Classic confits, preserved meats and vegetables, and Armagnac brandy characterise the cooking, too. Pierre shares his recipes for Crème brûlée à la Gasconne, flavoured with lemon verbena, vanilla or cinnamon, Soufflé aux pistaches, which he is quite famous for, economical dishes such as Gâteau de Choux; cabbage stuffed with hock and belly of pork, and really hearty dishes, such as Estouffade de Sanglier; a casserole of wild boar.
I learnt much about French regional cooking during my trip to the more northern Cognac region of France last year, and it was there that I was first introduced to the term cuisine du terroir, which is the central premise of Memories of Gascony. Cusine de Terroir is typical French country cooking, quite different to ‘court cooking’ or the grande cuisine of larger towns. Country cooking is about exploring the food of small villages, provincial towns and local produce. In place of travelling, Memories of Gascony is a wonderful place to start, filled with ideas for keeping food simple and frugal, but with a little touch of Pierre Koffmann’s subtle French charm.
There is so much to explore here, from Pain Gascon or Gascon Bread to Confiture, Cassoulet, Fricassée, Soupe, Gratin and Tartes; this is seasonal French cooking at its simplest and at its best.
Pierre Koffmann has an army fans and Memories of Gascony has an array of endorsements, from Heston Blumenthal to Michel Roux Snr, who says: “The original edition is always close at hand and amongst my favourite books. It is about the words, the stories and the recipes. Pierre is a genius, an authentic and pure Gascon.”
You can taste a little of Pierre’s wonderful cooking again now at Koffmann’s at The Berkeley.
Memories of Gascony is published by the Octopus Publishing Group, RRP £30. Many thanks for my review copy.
I have one copy of this beautiful cookery book to giveaway, I hope it inspires you to try your hand at some of the classical French recipes on offer.