Recipe books often have a theme, whether it be gluten-free, clean eating, afternoon tea or something with its roots based in a hot and sunny country; these types of cookbooks are easy to find, it is however, a little less common to find a selction of recipes inspired by a person. F. Scott Fitzgerald's Taste of France brings together a variety of recipes that Fitzgerald, his characters, or some of his well-known companions from 1920s France, are known to have at eaten, (or at least were popular in that era). Divided into seven chapters ‘Breakfast’, ‘Luncheon’, ‘Hors d'Oeuvres’, ‘Soups and Salads’, ‘Dinner’, ‘Desserts and Baking’, and ‘Drinks’, the book transports you back to a time when artists and socialites (and indeed bartenders) migrated to Europe from America to escape prohibition, with many settling (for a while) in Paris or on the French coast.
The food included feels familiar and classic, yet somehow still manages to communicate both romance and drama. Many of the recipes don't look particularly fancy, but I could imagine sitting in a small café in France eating them after a morning of walking and seeing the sights. I would happily tuck into a ‘French Devilled Egg Salad Sandwich’ or a plate of ‘Cervelats and Mustard Sauce’ with ‘Pommes a l'Huile’. You will find classic French foods such as ‘Salade Niçoise’, ‘Bouillabaise’ and ‘Beouf Bourguignon’, scattered with American influence: ‘Daisy and Tom’s Fried Chicken’ and ‘Sara Murphy's Creamed Corn Risotto with Poached Eggs’; and while I’ve no personal desire to eat French Shrimp Cocktail or Escargot, they look completely at home within these pages.
Throughout the book you will also find features written about the Fitzgeralds, their companions, or 1920s Paris in general, which gives you a little more history and background on that particular period in time. Little anecdotes are also given at the beginning of each recipe, particularly if the recipe has been directly inspired by Fitzgerald or one of his friends.
Recipes I'd love to try include ‘Nicole Diver's Chicken à la Maryland’, ‘Gnocchi al Virgil Thomson’ (I haven't tried many times, but I'm yet to produce a successful gnocchi) and Cherry Clafoutis. Nearly all the recipes are accompanied by a photo of the finished snack, drink or meal; the images feel rustic and warming, styled, but not overly so, so the whole book feels authentic and natural. The layout is kept simple, incorporating smaller images that look like scrapbook photographs to help give the book a vintage feel, and elegant art deco type and visual embellishments are used to help emphasise the look of the time. As well as photographs of food there are also a handful of black and white photos showing the Fitzgerald family and other well-known people (such as James Joyce) and the sights of the 1920s
While much of the food seems quite humble (okay, maybe not the ‘Caviar Sandwich and Champagne’) I love how the chapter on ‘Drinks’ is full of cocktails, suddenly adding (in true Gatsby style) something decadent and exciting to what, for a lot of the artists at least, was a financially trying time. I quite like the idea of sipping on a glass of ‘Between the Sheets’ or ‘Dorothy Parker Champagne Punch’.
I love how authentic this book feels. Not all of the recipes can be linked directly to Fitzgerald, some are just known to have been popular in France at the time, so it is assumed he probably would have eaten them, but there is definitely a sense that the author has done her research and produced a book that illustrates a little slice of food history, rather than being influenced by any current food trend.
There are two things that have made this book really enjoyable for me, one is the selection of recipes, they may seem a little old-fashioned but that’s what this book is about, a particular time in history that we can lose ourselves in. The second thing is the historical content, it really adds character to the book and supports the feeling of nostagia, elevating it to something more than just your average cookbook. The only tiny gripe I have is that I wish there was a bit more history and in a bit more detail. There is an F. Scott Fitzgerald timeline at the back of the book which I found interesting, as well as a ‘further reading’ list including titles by the authors mentioned within the book, but I would have also really liked a list directing me to biographies about these people, as they all sound so interesting, exciting and full of life; I would love to immerse myself into Fitzgerald’s world a little more.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Taste of France by Carol Hilker,
Photography by Alex Luck © CICO Books
Published by CICO Books.