I picked this memoir, biography, auto-biography, (whatever you want to call it) up from my local library. I love reading other people’s stories and they’re even better if they involve food and travel, two of my favourite things!
This is the first story and book of Jane Webster and her love of France, a big move she made with her family to immerse herself into the French culture, namely in a village in Normandy called Bosgouet and more precisely Chateau de Bosgouet. It is a truly lovely book with photos, recipes and stories leading us on the journey of Jane Webster and her family, their decision to move to France, buy a Chateau and set up a Bed & Breakfast/Cooking School. And after my first flick through the pages it really did make me want to both cook some of the recipes in the book and travel to see this part of the world! I have done some of the cooking but the trip will have to wait a little bit longer!
My interest was piqued from Le debut (The beginning) and held my interest throughout as it wasn’t just their story but the story of this French region, the story of a much neglected chateau and of course a story of food! Hushed tales of World War 2 German Officers hiding in a cellar room in the chateau that may have a hidden passageway dating from the sixteenth century is just one of the titbits you will find! I love these tales!
Jane shares her tales of the hard work taken to get this chateau cleaned up, fixed up and ready for use, hiring staff, getting the children settled into school, visa complications. It is a book full of challenges, joy, fun, food, family, beauty and of course all the markets and architecture you can imagine! The Norman Table (page 69) says it all. ‘Normandy is not a place you come to diet.’ That sounds like my kind of place!
Reading this wonderful book always made me hungry. Hungry for good food, hungry for adventure, hungry for travel and hungry for life! And this is what a good book should bring to you. It is also quite light-hearted. On page 72 is a great description of the local butcher and his wife, sharing with ‘the strange Australian’ the preparation of some fresh milk fed veal and how to cook it to perfection. The French seem to have no problems sharing hints, tips and recipes with those that are interested and I think that is great!
The descriptiveness of the events within this book had me picturing them in my mind too. I could see the family (and friends) sitting outside around the big, solid stone table which was brought over from Melbourne as well as eating a ‘typical’ French breakfast of croissants (YUM!). I am there, right there with them.
Interspersed throughout the book are narratives about subjects such as finding the right fireplaces (to replace the 10 original ones that were stolen from the house), A French Easter, Petanque, Cheese, Fleur de sel, and more, each page with its story on that particular subject, each fascinating and fun. And then there are the recipes! Oh how I love recipes.
Each recipe has a little description or story and the pictures, good enough to eat. So of course I had to try just a few. My partner and I were planning a picnic and what better reason to try the Cheese Sables (pg 92) and the Honey and Lavender Madeleine Cakes (pg 106), minus the lavender as I just don’t like lavender at all! Perfect finger food and both recipes turned out a treat. A meal of baked salmon and vegetables called for the Stuffed Tomatoes (pg 162) and they worked perfectly with our meal. And a couple of cool autumn nights sang out for warming soups and pies so I tried the Classic French Onion Soup (pg 278) and Chicken and Leek Pie (pg 236). All I can say is each and every recipe took me on my own little trip to France and I loved them. Can’t wait to try some more.
Life in Bosgouet, as Jane has said, is simplistic and relaxed, life revolves around the outdoors, fresh air and fresh produce, sharing food and wine with family and friends, and the markets. This reminds me of days gone by as we used to live a simple life with less processed foods, our fruit and veg still had dirt on them and we loved to be outdoors. This is how life should be.
Enfin (at last)! And finally we come to the end, The French Table is up and running, a business idea has now become a reality for Jane Webster and her family. This is one place I need to put on my Bucket List! And one book you need to read if like me you are obsessed with food and travel.
Just to make everyone hungry I want to share with you a passage on page 138 where Jane talks about the ripeness of Camembert. ‘When Camembert is young it is quite firm and crumbly, but as the cheese ages inside its supple crust it becomes viscous and velvety.’ Now if that doesn’t make you hungry to read this book then I don’t know what will!
Jane Webster has written two more books which I haven’t read yet. Her second book and a continuation of At My French Table is French Ties: Love, Life and Recipes and her third book is French House Chic. I look forward to reading Jane’s second book and trying some more of her recipes and I promise I will share this experience with you when I do.
Enjoy! Eat, drink, read, travel and be merry.