Did you know that Claude Monet was as passionate about the produce grown on the Normandy coast as he was about its landscapes and vistas? That he claimed to be good at only two things, painting and gardening? That he planted a two-acre vegetable garden on his estate at Giverny, and that he used the fruits of that garden to conjure meals for his friends—the leading writers and painters of the day—in his elaborate country kitchen, served on his own personalized pattern of Limoges china?
These are just a few of the facts you’ll learn in the first pages of Monet’s Palate Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, $21.60), published last Friday. The book is a collaboration between Derek Fell and Aileen Bordman. Fell is a nationally acclaimed garden writer who has penned two books on Monet; Bordman has been associated with the Monet museum at Giverny since its opening in 1980, and produced a documentary on the painter (Monet’s Palate: A Gastronomic View from the Garden) which was broadcast on all 350 PBS stations.
Although the book begins with fascinating details about Giverny and the garden itself, the real payoff is in the recipes. Some dishes celebrate the bounty of Normandy (Camembert Fritters with Apple and Raisin Chutney; Aromatic Mussels with White Wine, Crème Fraiche and Tomatoes). Others are versions of French classics (Beef Bourguignon with Rosemary Puff Pastry Crust; Crispy Duck Breasts with Berry and Orange Glaze). Still others blend art and cuisine, such as the bouillabaisse Monet used to prepare for Cezanne when his fellow painter came to visit—an atypical bouillabaisse, in that it contained shrimp, clams and lobster tails in addition to fish.
This is a wonderful book. It might look good on your coffee table, but it would be far more useful in your kitchen. If you become seduced by the recipes and try to replicate them, you’ll inevitably begin a search for better quality vegetables, a quest that will likely lead to local farmer’s markets and produce stands. And it just might inspire you to plant a garden yourself.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014; for more information, go to amazon.co