66 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2004
OK I bought this book on a whim. I'm not sure why I bought it over the other dozens of books on french cooking/lifestyle that I read the reviews about. I suspect it was on someone's list and they made it sound appealing. I have read it (parts of it I have reread). I have cooked many recipes from it. The book is appealing.
First, the recipes are wonderful. The saute of wild mushrooms is the best. The browned veal stock took me alot of research on epicurious.com (reviewing other recipes) to fill in the missing steps. Once I experimented with it, I thought it was excellent. I never appreciated the importance of homemade stock until I read this book. Now I have lots of it ready for defrosting. But the book has more to offer than recipes.
This book is perhaps at its best in that it sheds light on a way of life that has passed or is passing. It provides insight into the very different regions and origins of the people of early twentieth century France. I came away with a new appreciation for the people and their cuisine. A very worthwhile investment.
54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
`When French Women Cook' by Madeleine Kamman is one of the very best in a genre which may be called culinary anthropology, a genre closely related to the memoir and the survey of local cuisines, but still a bit different. It is more than a memoir in that it provides many useful recipes serving a much greater purpose than simply illustrations of an event or a point, as you find in, for example, Ruth Reichl's excellent memoirs. They are also a bit less than a full survey of a culinary terroir, as you may find in Paula Wolfert's excellent books, in that they tend to deal with the recipes of a specific group of people. The three other leading examples of this little genre are Patience Gray's `Honey from a Stone', Richard Olney's `Lulu's Provencal Kitchen', and Amanda Hesser's `The Gardner and the Cook'.
Madeleine Kamman is an odd duck in the pantheon of English language writers on French cuisine. She is really a cookbook author of the first order, especially with her excellent text `The New Making of a Cook', but she has always been a bit in the shadow of Julia Child, Elizabeth David, and Richard Olney. According to Child's biographer, there was even a substantial amount of rancor towards Child on Kamman's part, after the success of Child's book and TV shows and before Kamman achieved recognition with her original `The Making of a Cook'.
Like the other three notable books in this genre, this is a cookbook which is meant to be read from cover to cover. It's culinary content and its anecdotal introductions to each of the chapters are all great reading. The book tells the story of eight French women cooks, all of whom Mme. Kamman, who is herself, of French birth, knew before she left France for the United States in 1960 (coincidentally about the same time as Jacques Pepin, another major French culinary import to the US). As Shirley Corriher points out in her new Foreword, by some happy chance, the eight women came from a very diverse collection of French culinary centers. And, this diversity is easily one of the most useful and enjoyable aspects of the book. One sees clearly the difference between the cuisine of Normandy, laden with its apples and butter, and the cuisine of Alsace, for example, with its sauerkraut and sausages, so similar to its German neighbor's cuisine. So, this book becomes a major dissertation on examples of terroir, the French doctrine that is conveniently paraphrased as `What grows together, goes together'.
Ms. Kamman confirms the role of this book by insisting that there are many ingredients to many of these recipes that simply cannot be had in the United States. A major issue, for example is her claim that it is senseless for us to create `crème fraiche' in our kitchens, as there is simply no way we can reproduce the flavor and result obtained from the true French product. How idiosyncratic this position is can be seen from the fact that many cookbooks I have seen which presented French cuisine gives a recipe for `crème fraiche'. Interestingly enough, however, is the fact that Julia Child, in `Mastering the Art of French Cooking' allows that American cream typically doesn't match the butterfat content of the French product, but does allow that one can approximate the product by mixing in a little buttermilk and letting the mix stand for a bit. In Ms. Kamman's favor, she simply tells us to use heavy cream when the recipe calls for `crème fraiche'.
But getting back to the recipes, I find virtually all of them delightful to read and delicious in anticipating my trying them and tasting the results. Since the book's chapters and recipes are organized by person and by region in France, the recipes are not organized for easy location for a good dish for chicken or veal or artichokes. Gratins, my favorite type of dish, for example, appear among the recipes for each of the eight chapters. This being so, it is almost a shame that Mme. Kamman took such great pains to give us a measure of the cost and the difficulty of the recipes, as one will generally not use this book to find quick or cheap recipes. For that, we go to Rachael Ray.
Nevertheless, these recipes are really top drawer in both selection and in the detail with which the author describes the procedures. One thing I really like about the text which may be a little intimidating to some readers is that while Ms. Kamman is very careful in describing things, she does expect a modicum of knowledge about French cooking. Not every French culinary term is translated and you may have to consult her textbook for her preferences on what to put in the `bouquet garni', or even to find out what a `bouquet garni' is.
One of the surest tests of whether or not I like a cookbook is whether I anticipate the recipe for a dish and actually find a recipe for that very dish in the book. This happened as I ran across a gratin recipe for mushrooms and potatoes. This seemed to be such a natural dish that I thought it was inevitable that there should be such a recipe, and there was.
This book is highly recommended for anyone who likes to read about cooking in general.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2011
This book is for anyone who has ever wished to learn how to cook at the skirts of a tiny, capable, traditional Grandmother but never got to.
The recipes are complicated, using crazy ingredients and completely not for anyone under the supervision of a cardiologist (every one consumes sticks upon sticks of butter, gobs of heavy cream and is usually wrapped in some sort of pork product.) But the memories are vivid, gorgeous and well worth the trip. I probably won't be roasting a hare anytime soon, or going on a hike to find my own mushrooms, but I love this book. It's a beautiful page from history that should be read by anyone who loves food and family and a splash or two of good French wine.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2011
This book is so beautifully and poetically written that I wanted to go inside each chapter tribute and live each story.
I made the Heavy Cream Brioche, which mixes like a cake mix and bakes in a bundt pan. It was easy and delicious with a cake-like, crispy crust and a rich, tender crumb.
Wonderful cookbook! An absolute joy!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2013
I bought this book for my husband because of our love of France and their wonderful food. But I have to laugh and say he hasn't even touched it. Well except for when he unwrapped it at Christmas. So I read the entire book in a short time and that's saying a lot because I'm not much of a reader. I loved, loved, loved, this book. I didn't know it would be so enthralling and captivating. To be honest I really didn't know what I was buying. I thought it was a cook book but it is so so much more. I got to the end of it and wished there was more to read. I even cried a couple of times while reading the memoirs. I read every recipe like part of a novel. I have fallen even more in love with the French and all its diversity. And if you aren't a fan of the French you will be if you read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2015
A nice cook book, which includes some background info. on French culinary regions and the author's experience there. I was a bit put off by the intro., which stated that it is impossible really to cook French in the US because we don't have the right cows in the necessary pastures to produce the basic dairy ingredients, nor the required veal to make the basic stock, etc., etc. But if you can get past that and are not into "quick and easy" cooking, you might find these old school recipes interesting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Madeleine Kamman was a local celebrity up where we used to live. She ran a cooking school for a while and "Madame" was said to be quite demanding--"Mean as a buzzard" said one student, who still admired her. She feuded with Julia Child, accused Paul Bocuse of stealing French grandmothers' cooking, and really, I don't think she has gotten the acclaim she deserves (mean or not) because her writing is stunning and her recipes are outstanding.
This is a person with deep memories of World War II and the changes in France, such as the rural backwater of Brittany, eventually was connected to Paris via the high speed train, and soon lost much of the handcrafted, natural foods that made this region so unique. This book covers these regions, including the Savoie, the French Alps--a region usually visited only by skiers and which has its own cuisine and foods. Each chapter is a region, with a memory of a woman who cooked there, someone close to Kamman. I loved the story of Eugenie in Alsace, where Kamman tracks down a family legend, Aunt Alwine. I lived near Alsace, and the distinctive and magnificent cuisine was something we explored with constant delight. So I have a good recipe here for "Flammkuche" (a kind of onion pizza), Lentil Soup with Bratwurst and Spaetzle. I have a lot of Badische (German) cookbooks with the same, but Kamman's versions are written up with such detail and commentary that they succeed.
Her writing and memoirs about these women and her life in various areas of France is as poignant as the writing of M. F. K. Fisher. Her cooking technique is of the highest caliber. This is one of my treasured books, and I replaced the copy I had lost over the years, when we moved back to the US. If you are interested in French cuisine, I highly recommend you read this. I don't think you will be disappointed. As for me, I read and re-read this simply for the essays. Let alone the recipes, everything from brioche to coquilles St. Jacques.