The Dame* with a Pot and a Pen

She’s a little bit like liver, you see.

You either hate her or love her.

Elizabeth David, according to this blog post from The Dabbler in the U.K., deserves a lot more kudos than she’s getting:

I confess to having fallen just a little in love with David since I first discovered her books a few years ago. She was wilful, adventurous, determined and uncompromising. But for more than anything, I love her for significantly improving the quality of my life. [Don't miss the rest -  click the link above.]

If you haven’t ever read Ms. David’s books, run to the nearest bookstore or fire up your Kindle or indulge in however you buy books these days. My favorite, as you might have guessed, is her tome, French Provincial Cooking (1960), a title sneakingly close to that of M. F. K. Fisher’s The Cooking of Provincial France (Time-Life Series, 1968), which came later.

Mine, a cheap Penguin paperback printed on acid paper, dates to 1978; I found it in a second-hand bookstore in Gainesville, Florida just before I returned to Haiti after the revolution against Baby Doc Duvalier. Life at that time revolved around hunting for gasoline so that I could take our 7-year-old son to school and buy food for daily meals, as well as continuing with my lunch-delivery business. (The original street-food truck?)

Inside the back cover of this wretched copy of French Provincial Cooking,  held together with a thick strip of clear tape, I wrote:

Wouldn’t I love to move to a small house in France for six months, and escape from Haiti – I am so weary of the violence and anarchy here, I long for elegance, order, consistency, sanity … .

Some people may not like Ms. David’s oeuvre, claiming that her own nostalgia for better times – in her case, post-war England – colored her work and made it less authentic.

As for me, Ms. David’s book kept me positive, and at the stove, during a time when to drive down the mountain from Laboule to Port-au-Prince caused my guts to clench with apprehension and fear. The soulless sound of gunfire day and night never stopped. Or so it seemed.

When I lost myself in her prose, I could deal with my temporary exile, my “Otherness.”

How could I not love a writer who gave me that?

Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Omelette aux Champignons
Mushroom Omelette

Not very complicated, you might think, but how often does one get a really good mushroom omelette? The answer is that the mushrooms should be int he form of a creamy little sauce, very well seasoned. A quarter pound of small white mushrooms or mushroom stalks is enough for two 3-egg omelettes. Chop the cleaned mushrooms very finely, melt them in butter in a small pan, season with salt, pepper, nutmeg or mace, stir in just a pinch of flour, then two tablespoons of cream. The mixture, very hot, is added to the omelette when it is already in the pan. [From French Provincial Cooking, p. 226]

* Ms. David earned the CBE, Commander of the British Empire, in 1986. Her official title therefore was “Dame.”

© 2012 C. Bertelsen

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  1. Sadly, it seems Mrs David’s oeuvre is not available electronically … oh well, next time i’m in Paris, maybe a bouquiniste will stock her ?

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