For more than a dozen years before World War II, the Chamberlain family lived and learned to eat in the tiny cathedral town of Senlis, France. Their Burgundian cook, Clémentine, presided over their kitchen in France, and later in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The alert, good-natured cuisinère is the heroine of Clémentine in the Kitchen, first published in 1943 and happily reissued in the Modern Library Food series. The book is a gem: part gastronomic diary and part cookbook (over 170 recipes are included), it also evokes, perhaps most interestingly, Clémentine's affect on a small town in pre-"gourmet" America, and its influence on her.
From the moment of Clémentine's Senlis arrival with her eloquent notebooks (containing lists of superb everyday dishes such as omelette aux fines herbs and blanquette de veau), to her preparation of extraordinary family meals, to her struggle and then triumph with American ingredients and kitchen ways, the book details the deeply shared gastronomic life led by the tiny, resourceful cook. It's a life defined by dishes, and the book includes recipes for many of Clémentine's best, including Coquilles St. Jacques au Gratin (gratinéed scallops), Escargots de Bourgogne (snails in garlic butter), Poisson à la Niçoise (fish baked with tomatoes and olive oil), and Crème Renversée (caramel custard). The recipes have been adapted for modern use by Narcisse Chamberlain, the author's daughter. Illustrated with dry points, etchings, and drawings, readers will delight in this wry yet charming tale and enjoy poring over the authentic mid-20th-century French recipes. --Arthur Boehm