Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside

Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside

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by Amanda Hesser, Kate Gridley

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The unique, award-winning cookbook—a collection of seasonal recipes from a traditional French garden.  See more details below


The unique, award-winning cookbook—a collection of seasonal recipes from a traditional French garden.

Editorial Reviews

“This is most assuredly a cookbook, with a collection of 250 seasonal recipes. But Hesser devotes the majority of her exceptional prose to the yearlong blossoming of her friendship with (and informal apprenticeship to) Monsieur Milbert, the august 79-year-old tender of the chateau's two-acre vegetable garden.”
Fine Cooking Editors
“In courting the wisdom of M. Milbert, Hesser gained the kind of old-fashioned seasonable sensibility that many of us have lost today—and her delightful recipes reflect this.”
Cooking Light
“The Cook and the Gardener is more than an excellent cookbook. Hesser's knowledgeable, graceful, and opinionated prose calls to mind the great food writers M. F. K. Fisher and Elizabeth David.”
Austin Chronicle
“A seasonal tribute to the symbiotic relationship between a chef and her provider of ingredients.”
New York Times Book Review
“Both Hesser's taste and voice are gentle and sure.”
What could be more tempting than the bounty of the garden prepared with skill and style....Amanda Hesser's been there, done that. This is her story.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers who have been pining for a new literary cookbook need look no further. The cook of the title is the author, a staff reporter for the "Dining In/Dining Out" section of the New York Times. The gardener is a crusty, irascible French country gardener of considerable age and vast experience. Hesser met M. Milbert when she began cooking for Anne Willan, founder of the cooking school La Varenne, at Willan's estate in Burgundy, France, where Milbert and his wife were caretakers, a job they took on after selling their small farm. With respect and grace, Hesser describes her encounters with Milbert in his domain, the estate's one-acre garden, tracing four seasons' worth of interwoven gardening and cooking. Beginning in spring, Hesser makes use of what's freshest in such recipes as Early Carrots with Tarragon Beurre Blanc, Warm Roasted Shallots with Balsamic Vinegar and Braised Lamb with Garlic, Asparagus and Peas. Summer recipes range from Sauteed Duck with Artichokes to Zucchini-Lemon Soup, Striped Bass and Fennel and Seared Tomatoes with Olive Oil and Sage. In similar fashion, recipes for the fall and winter months make use of the seasons' offerings: Red Beets with Shallots and Sage, Pear-and-Almond Tart and White Sausages with Turnips and Butternut Squash. Like Milbert's approach to growing herbs, fruits and vegetables, Hesser's recipes follow the traditional French country techniques and are neither fussy nor marked by shortcuts. Seamlessly including basics--e.g., pastry doughs, stocks (one for each season), preserves and mayonnaises--in the introductions to the seasons, Hesser delivers a solid grounding for beginning cooks as well; or at least for those whose interest is in preparing food with fresh ingredients (and who don't need to learn how to cook broccoli, which apparently Milbert didn't grow). Hesser's voice, as she carefully earns Milbert's trust, becoming finally in his words, la petite jardiniere, is as sure and convincing as is her hand in the kitchen. Cooks who pick from Hesser's 200 month-by-month recipes will easily imagine themselves at least momentarily transported to the French countryside. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Hesser, now a reporter for the New York Times food section, was for two years the chef at a chateau in Burgundy, and she has written a month-by-month account with recipes of her experience there. She spent a fair amount of time trying to befriend the crusty gardener, with eventual success, and learned a great deal from him. Her book follows the seasons, each section opening with basic recipes (e.g., canning tomatoes, peaches, and plums for summer); recipes for each month are introduced by an essay touching on the progress of the kitchen garden, Monsieur Milbert's plans and travails during those weeks, and other aspects of life in Burgundy. Hesser relied on the garden for her inspiration as she cooked, only rarely visiting the market in the adjoining town to find fruits and vegetables for her recipes: Early Carrots with Tarragon Beurre Blanc, Baby Potatoes in Hazelnut Oil, Lamb Roasted with a Family of Onions. Both gardeners and cooks will enjoy this; recommended for most cookery collections.
NY Times Book Review
Hesser...understands and values the bred-in-the-bone wisdom of people who have grown up on the land...

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Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 7.52(h) x 1.42(d)

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Chapter One

Spring Basics

Spring Stock

Basics on Onions, Shallots, and Garlic

The Leek' Unsung Cousin

The Bouquet Garni

Trimming, Washing, and Storing

Leafy Greens

Rhubarb-Ginger Preserves

Simple Bread Starter

White Dough

Whole Wheat Dough

Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Pie Pastry)

Pâte Brisée (Butter Pastry)

Spring Stock

Believe it or not, butchers do still have bones for sale. They usually keep them in the back and are sure to give you a funny look when you request them, but they'll get used to you. Supermarkets have them too. I think of stock as a seasoning, something I have on hand to enrich sauces or to smooth out any rough edges of a stew, soup, or braised dish. It is easy to make and then yours to play with. This stock is light but zingy, thanks to the lemon peel. It harmonizes with any of the spring dishes, but don't feel guilty if you don't have time to make it; store-bought veal or chicken stock works just fine.

MAKES 1 1/2 - 2 Q U A R T S S T O C K

3 pounds veal or beef bones
Water to cover bones plus 4 quarts water, divided
1 bay leaf
3 branches rosemary
2 strips lemon peel (about 2 incheslong), made with a vegetable peeler
1 leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, and washed
1 onion (unpeeled), cut in half through the root
4 cloves garlic
5 black peppercorns

1. If the butcher hasn't already done so, break up the bones with a cleaver, cutting open the joints so they will release their gelatinous marrow while cooking. Place the bones in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. As the water comes to a boil, you will see why I've added this extra step; to bring to the surface the green-gray scum released when the bones are exposed to heat. When the water is almost to a boil, drain the water and rinse out the pot, then add the bones back to the clean pot.

2. Add the bay leaf, rosemary, and lemon peel to the pot with the leek, onion, garlic, and peppercorns. Cover with 4 quarts of water and heat, uncovered, until bubbles begin finding their way to the surface—this usually begins on the edges. Never let your stock come to a full boil or it will be irreversibly cloudy. For a crystal-clear stock, turn down the heat once the stock begins to percolate, and simmer extremely gently for about 4 hours, or until reduced by half. Do not stir. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl and let cool before refrigerating. Skim off any fat before using. If you find there is a lot of gelatinous substance with the fat, great! It means you've boiled the stock long enough for the bones to release their gelatin—do not skim it off. The gelatin will give body to your dishes.

3. Before being used in any of the recipes, it is a good idea to heat the stock to the boiling point and then simply keep it warm until needed. You'll find this speeds recipes like soups because it is less of a temperature shock to the base ingredients you cooked before adding the stock and will take less time to come back to a boil.

Storing stock This stock can be stored in a covered container for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. With this much stock, however, it's unlikely that you'll use it all in one week. It's better to freeze it in useful amounts, such as quarts. This can be done in plastic freezer containers or zip-lock freezer bags, which should all be labeled and dated. Stock will keep for up to 6 months in the freezer.

To defrost stock, set the container or the bag (in a bowl in case of leakage) in the refrigerator overnight.

Basics on Onions, Shallots, and Garlic

It was very nice of the Liliaceae family, to which onions, shallots, leeks, chives, and garlic all belong, to provide us with such variety. The members of this family range from strong and pungent to sweet and mellow and come in corresponding sizes—the pungent ones small, the sweet ones generally large. There are very few savory Western dishes I can think of that don't contain at least one of the three bulbous alliums: onions, shallots, or garlic.

All alliums are slow-growing. For this reason, Monsieur Milbert sets his onions, shallots, and garlic in drills against the south-facing wall so they get plenty of warmth from the sun. This helps them mature as quickly as possible. The onions and shallots are ready for harvesting in the summer, the garlic the following spring. There is a saying that shallots are to be planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest.

Because you cannot see whether the bulbs are fully developed or not, Monsieur Milbert waits until the green shoots aboveground wither and fall over. This means the bulb is finished growing. (French gardeners used to place a stone on top of the green shoot, thinking that it would help fatten the roots.)

Then he does what gardeners have been doing for centuries. Versailles gardener Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie offered instructions that mirror Monsieur Milbert's procedures:

Take your Onions out of the Ground as soon as their Stems begin to dry, and let them lie ten or twelve days a drying in the Air, before you lay them up in your Granary, or some other dry place, or else bind them up in Ropes, because otherwise they would ferment and rot, if they were laid up before they were dry.

Once they are harvested, the flavor of onions, shallots, and garlic intensifies with age.

This is especially important to take into consideration when cooking with the members of this family. If I call for two onions but you can hardly keep your eyes open while you're peeling them, it might be a good idea to cut down on the amount, or you may soak onion slices in cold water for a few minutes to leach out some of the strong odor. The root's flavor should never overwhelm.


Nicholas Culpeper, a seventeenth-century herbalist, claimed, "It hath been held by divers country people a great preservative against infection, to eat Onions fasting with bread and salt." He also wrote that onions increase appetite and thirst and "help the biting of a mad dog, and other venomous creatures." These may be absurd claims by today's standards, but the idea that foods can be used as curatives and preventatives is far from dead—as the Portuguese housekeeper at the château, Madame Maria proved to me. She is a Latin woman full of elevated emotions—and her tastes are equally hearty. When the onions are fresh, she eats a raw one for lunch. Holding it in her hand, she cuts it into quarters, not all the way through, but so it opens like a flower. She sprinkles the cut sides with salt, then closes it up and squeezes it in her thick hands so the salt is absorbed. Then she eats it plain. She says it's good for the heart. I say she must have a loving husband.

Monsieur Milbert plants his onions in February, so, by the time summer rolls around and the days are sunny and long, they are developed enough for the bulbs to begin bulging. They never bulge too much, which could be due, in part, to the resistant, rock-infested soil in the garden. His onions are small and yellow. I buy others from the market, where there are crates of baby onions, both red and yellow varieties, at most times of the year.

In most of the recipes I call for yellow onions, among the most pungent of all. It is almost always eaten cooked, as is the boiling onion, whereas its sweeter, soft-scented cousins like the red onion, Walla Walla, and Vidalia, are often eaten raw.

Buying onions Most people shop for onions as they do for milk or eggs: without much notice. But a bad or strong onion can easily wreck a dish. So look for yellow onions with a variegated copper polish to their skin, and feel them (each and every one, if they are in a netted sack) to check their firmness. Soft spots indicate internal rotting, which may be due to age, transport, or worse, bugs. An onion that's soft all around will be pithy like an old orange and won't get satiny when simmered slowly in butter. Often these onions pale in flavor, which pretty much defeats the purpose of using an onion. As with all produce, it is preferable to buy onions by the piece rather than in sacks.

Storing Take care when storing onions. Humidity will encourage rotting, and warmth will cause the onions to sprout. Onions like to be kept in the same atmosphere they grew in: dark and dry. Storing them in a wooden crate (e.g., a wine crate) in a cool basement is usually easiest. Yellow onions stored like this should keep for 6 to 8 months. Other varieties, such as white or red onions, dry out more quickly and should be used sooner. If any of them begin to sprout, use them up. Cut the onion in half and remove the green sprout before slicing or dicing the onion.

Preparing onions

Peeling The most difficult part of dealing with onions is peeling them. It's important to use a good sharp knife made of stainless steel. Carbon knives react with onions, and the cut surfaces will turn gray. To peel an onion, you should first trim the hairy root end, slicing off the wiry tuft to reveal the flat white disk where the layers began bulging beneath the ground. Do not cut off too much or you will expose the layers of the onion, making it more difficult to slice later, as the layers will have a tendency to separate and slide over one another. Then slice off the stem end just where the onion's flesh comes to a point. To remove the skin, make a shallow incision from the root to the stem end, pry up the skin on one side of the incision and pull, turning the onion so the skin comes off in one piece. This may take a few tries to perfect.

As for the crying issue, the method I find most effective is to breathe through the mouth. When cutting, it is natural to tilt the head down and concentrate, breathing through the nose, which is linked directly to your tear ducts. Breathing through the mouth leads the onion vapors down into your lungs and away from your eyes. If an onion is really pungent and you wish to use it in a salad, you can either slice it smaller so no one gets a mouthful of onion, soak the sliced/chopped/diced onion for 10 to 15 minutes in a bowl of cold water, or rub the pieces with a little salt, let sit for 10 minutes and then squeeze out any excess juices to diffuse the onion's bite. Drain. Rinse the onion and spin in a salad spinner (if the pieces are large enough) to drain off any excess water.

Slicing Cut the onion in half lengthwise (for a shallot, simply separate the lobes). To slice, lay each half (or lobe), flat side down, on a cutting board and use a large chef's knife to slice from stem to root as thinly as possible.

Dicing or chopping. First, trim the stem and root ends, making sure you don't cut off the root completely or the layers will fall apart as you're dicing. Second comes the most important thing you need to do when cutting an unwieldy round shape:Tame it by cutting it in half through the root so you can lay it fiat on the cut side. With an onion, this is very straightforward. But with a shallot, you have two lobes that together form one oval shallot. Separate the lobes. They should join at a fiat surface. If it is not completely flat, cut it fiat.

To dice a half, lay it on its flat side with the root end opposite your cutting arm. Use your best small sharp knife and start to slice vertically near the root end without slicing through it. Make thin, even slices down and through to the stem end. The root end holds the onion or shallot half together, so even with lots of slices, it will not fall apart. Press down on the top of the sliced bulb half, and cut horizontal slices into it parallel to the board, this time cutting from the stem end back toward, but not through, the root end. Two slices are usually all you need for a medium-size dice, but you can cut more for a smaller dice. Be sure to cut these slices the same thickness as the vertical slices so the finished pieces will all be square.

Now, turn the half 90 degrees and hold it together as you slice it crosswise, parallel to the stem and root ends. Make the slices the same width as the vertical and horizontal slices and work from the stem to the root end. When you get to the root end, slice as closely as possible to it without making it dangerous for your fingers holding onto it. Save the root and any scraps to flavor stocks or sauces, where they will get strained out. Repeat this process with each bulb half.

Use the same method for mincing, only cut each slice thinner.


~ If recipe instructions call for 1/4-inch dice, make all your slices 1/4 inch thick. For 1/2-inch dice, make the slices 1/2 inch thick, and so on. If instructions call for "roughly chopped" onion, that means about 1/2-inch dice, but it does not need to be perfect and neat. "Minced" refers to dice that are made as small as possible (slices less than 1/4 inch thick).

~ Never use a food processor to chop or slice an onion or it will turn bitter.

~ When you're all done slicing, dicing, and chopping, you will probably want to remove the onion odor from your hands. Rinse your hands with cold water and rub them with a lemon half to neutralize the odor. Or, if you have a stainless-steel sink, rub your hands on the metal to neutralize the odor.


Shallots grow in pairs. Two lobes, shaped like oversized garlic cloves with flat sides that fit together, grow attached at the root. Then a skin forms from this root and covers both lobes, holding them together snugly. So when a recipe calls for one shallot, does it mean the whole shallot with both lobes or just one of the lobes? I don't have an answer, but for the recipes in this book, I have clarified this matter by calling for shallot lobes and giving the number of lobes desired.

There are three main shallot varieties on the market. One is very large, about the size of a chicken drumstick, as reflected in its French name, cuisse de poulet. Another is medium sized, about the size of a small lemon. The smallest one is more the size of a lime. My recipes were tested with shallots the size of limes. I like them better; they are more solid, they are easier to slice and chop, and their flavor is less bitter.

Shopping for shallots If you cannot get shallots, you can substitute onions. One quarter of a small yellow onion is about equal to one shallot lobe.

Shop for shallots carefully. Look for those sold loose. They are likely to be cheaper and you will be less subject to getting rotten ones concealed by a plastic sack. Shallots tend to get dry and pithy with storage, so feel them to see that they are good and firm. Store shallots exactly as you would onions: in a cool, dark, and dry place.


The warning signs have long been there. Eleanour Sinclaire Rohde, an early twentieth century garden writer who was an enthusiast about most vegetables, wasn't so sure about garlic: "... it is doubtful whether it will ever become popular amongst the northern races on account of its appalling odour."

Pliny told us to plant garlic when the moon was below the horizon and gather it when it was in conjunction in order to reduce its odor. Regardless of the moon, a wet climate will make garlic strong. Pliny also taught us how the Greeks ate beets after garlic to get rid of the objectionable smell. Early French gardeners planted garlic with olive pits to soften its odor and sometimes with cloves in the belief that the head of garlic would smell of cloves. The great English gardener, John Evelyn, advised us how to avoid garlic's "intolerable rankness." He wrote, "To be sure, 'tis not for Ladies Palats, nor those who court them, farther than to permit a light touch on the Dish, with a Clove thereof, much better supply'd by the gentler Roccombo."

But today we eat it like it's going out of style. And maybe it will, but it doesn't seem likely for the moment.

Heads and cloves Garlic grows in heads, and each head is made up of many plump, curved cloves, which cling together at the root and then spread out, tapering in at the top to form a spade-shaped bulb. The cloves mesh together tightly, like artichoke petals, and can be peeled off in much the same manner. (Another method for separating garlic cloves is to place the head stem-side down on a cutting board and press down on the head with your palm.) Holding together this network of cloves are several layers of skin, like that of an onion, only much more papery when dry. Some recipes call for a head of garlic, but most call for cloves.

Garlic is harvested in springtime, and if you can buy it fresh, it will be firm and moist, with almost spongy skin. Garlic is at its best when fresh.

There are two basic garlic varieties available to us. Heads of garlic with a pure white skin tend to be the most pungent. Others have larger heads with white-and-violet variegated skin. These are usually milder, but they don't keep as well. For the recipes in this book, I used the milder, variegated variety.

[Shopping for garlic Shopping for garlic entails the same standards for both the white- and purple-skinned varieties. Always buy heads of garlic; never buy loose or peeled cloves—they will likely be dry and bitter. Feel the heads; they should be firm and heavy for their size. Garlic with papery skin is fine, but keep an eye out for black spots, which could mean it is moldy. Garlic is tough to store. It needs a cool, dry environment and plenty of air. Garlic pots with holes in them are good for home storage. Garlic will keep for several months; you should know, however, that it will become more and more sulfurous with age. If it begins to sprout, get rid of it or plant the cloves.

Peeling garlic Lay the flat side of a chef's knife on top of a clove of garlic and bang firmly down on it with the side of your fist. This cracks the skin and makes it easy to remove with a small paring knife.

Using garlic Garlic's contributions permutate depending on how you cut the clove. As with shallots and onions, always use a stainless-steel knife.

Crushing garlic extracts all its vital juices and spreads its flavor in a dish without it being visible. The best way to crush garlic to a fine paste is to peel and halve the clove, then lay the flat side of a chef's knife on top of one clove half and pound down on the knife with your fist to crush it. You may sprinkle a little fine salt over the partly crushed clove, then use the cutting edge of the knife to crush the bits of clove fine by pressing down and dragging them in small movements across the cutting board. The salt works like sandpaper, helping to break the clove down into a pulp. You can also do this without the salt. It will crush fine—the salt is just a little trick. Garlic crushed like this can be added to salad dressing, mayonnaise, and vegetable sautés (at the end), or you can mix it with herbs to rub on meats for roasting and grilling.

To slice a clove, use a small, sharp knife to thinly slice each clove lengthwise from end to end. Usually, sliced garlic is added to the oil or butter as it's heating for a sauté and then is removed. Otherwise the garlic will burn before the dish is finished. And burned garlic is bitter. Or sliced garlic may be added to a sauté at the end, when there is still plenty of time to spread its scent. If you are simmering something, heating the garlic with butter or oil is fine because of the low temperature.

Mincing garlic cloves takes some skill. You have to hold onto the clove while you cut it, which is much more difficult than you might imagine. See Onions for dicing instructions—mincing is the same thing but with much tinier pieces. If you have trouble, just crush the clove following the instructions above.

Cloves can be used whole as well. Add peeled cloves to stews to mellow and diffuse the potent aroma in the cooking liquid. Rub whole cloves in salad bowls, gratin dishes, or sauté pans to scent them with garlic, a practice noted in. France as far back as the sixteenth century. Rub the cloves on the inside of a dish as you would butter a baking pan. Whole cloves can also be roasted or fried with their skins on or off. When roasting meats like lamb or beef, stud the meat with garlic: Cut the cloves lengthwise in two or three slivers, then cut small slits in the meat and press the slivers into the meat. When making stock, I often cut a head of garlic in half across the cloves and add the two halves to flavor the stock.

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What People are saying about this

Susan Herrmann Loomis
The Cook and the Gardener offers a bright, charming approach which uplifts the French tradition of the potager above its usual realm. Ms. Hesser definitely sees the best in situations as she explores the crops, the seasons, the recipes and the gardener who ties them all together.
&151; (Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of The French Farmhouse Cookbook)
Nancy Harmon Jenkins

It's an all too facile observation to say that Amanda Hesser writes beautifully and from the heart. I think I love her writing more for what she doesn't say than for what she does. She has a rare gift, a sense of tact and restraint, that simultaneously pulls us into the story and sets boundaries beyond which we dare not tread. Thus, Monsieur Milbert, her crotchety old gardener, is a real person, a three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood portrait, not a colorful postcard-size caricature.

I am fully persuaded that...if there's anyone writing about food in America today who might someday inherit M.F.K. Fisher's status, it's Amanda Hesser.
&151; (Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and The Flavors of Puglia)

Patricia Wells
With her warm, engaging style, Amanda Hesser guides us through the seasons of a French garden, cultivating our own enthusiasm and respect for the farmer's labors, the cook's complicity.
&151; (Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris)

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Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was VERY disappointing! It's terrible!!! I LOVED Cooking for Mr. Latte-it's my favorite cookbook! I was anxious to read Ms. Hesser's first book, based on her experiences cooking in a French villa. How delicious does that sound? Well, I have no desire to try any of her recipes (they aren't as glamorous as those in Mr. Latte) and who the heck cares about her relationship with some old gardener? Please don't waste your money on this book. Check it out from your library if you have insomnia. I couldn't get past the third chapter in this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the way she wrote this. The stories are sweet and the recipes are wonderful!