I got so excited by my finds yesterday that I decide to have a go at joining in with Food for Thought, I have probably posted it incorrectly but there you go. I can only claim to have been a virgin!
SUITE FRANCAISE written by Irene Nemirovsky. Translated by Sandra Smith.
I highly recommend this book and would give it five stars. Beautifully written,a moving and intelligent account of a horrendous period in World history that has strong resonances with our modern times. Do read the appendixes that tell of the real story of Irene Nemirovsky and how her manuscript only saw the light of day 65 years after it was written and she had died.
The two books that make up Suite Francaise are actually a ‘work in progress’. Although they seem polished and complete the author was working on them in 1942 as Germany invaded France during World War Two.
She cut the elderly Monsieur Pericands filet of sole into small strips. He was on a complicated diet that allowed him to eat only the lightest food and Madame Pericaud always served him herself, pouring his water, buttering his bread, tying his napkin around his neck, for he always started drooling when he saw food he liked.
Already a published writer and a refugee from the Russian revolution, Irene Nemirovsky was an extra-ordinary woman with an acute insight into the vagaries of the human condition.
Set in the year when France was invaded by Germany The first book follows a cast of Parisians as France falls to the German forces, the disbelief and fear as a nation crumbles and it becomes every man for himself as a tide of humanity fled from Paris southwards towards a hope of sanctuary. A sanctuary that many never reached.
After saying her prayers, Madame Pericaud left the church. Once outside, she decided to restock her supply of biscuits, which had been greatly diminished by her lavish generosity.
‘We’ve nothing left, Madame,’ said the employee.
‘What? No shortbread, no gingerbread, nothing?’
‘Nothing at all Madame. It’s all gone.’
‘Then let me have a pound of tea, Ceylon tea.’
‘There’s nothing, Madame.’
The second part follows a small rural community under occupation.
The Germans had immediately demanded champagne(Sekt! Nahrung!) and corks flew from their hands. Some of them were playing billiards, others went into the kitchen carrying piles of raw pink pork cutlets which they threw on the fire; the meat sizzled and let off thick smoke as it cooked. The soldiers bought bottles of beer up from the cellar, impatiently pushing aside the waitress who wanted to help them; a young man with a rosy complexion and a mass of golden hair was cracking eggs open on the edge of the stove; in the garden, someone else was picking the first strawberries of summer.
In frightening simplicity Nemirovsky describes the horror of an invasion. The demise of a cultured society and the inhumanity of man to man. The fear of the oppressed, the arrogance of the victors. Her descriptions of the depths to which we will all sink once our own survival is threatened.
She needed to feed and protect her own children. Nothing else mattered anymore.
It’s a book of pain and truth and even beauty. Although, ultimately, through the chaos of defeat it is a book of hope.
This is a book that makes demands on you as a reader. It makes you think, makes you ashamed and makes you angry. I found it both disturbing and illuminating.
It is also a work that has an enormous relevance to our world today, describing the denial of society when faced with catastrophic change. Highlighting our inability to comprehend the evidence that surrounds us in every direction and raising the spectre of what can and does happen when we leave it too late to deal with our altered circumstances.
Irene Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942
Now as to the foodie part of this challenge. I am a little disadvantaged…
I live on a boat, a boat that is cruising around the world. A small boat with just two of us on board. My husband and myself. We are currently in Central America, in the jungle, up a river! It is just not possible to run out to a supermarket and buy a host of ingredients to order, nor do I have a magazine style kitchen and endless photography props! I have no appliances, I hear you gasp with horror! No microwave, blender, freezer. It’s all done by hand..
So excuse the basic nature of my photographs and cookery, I will do my best.
It may be remote here to many but we feel well served compared to many places we have been. We can sail up the river a few miles to a small town that is vibrant with roadside stalls and even a supermarket that we are led to believe is a scion of the Walmart chain. I have my doubts on that factoid! But produce buying here is a little hit and miss. If the roads are flooded, as they have been this week, many products simply cannot be delivered. The Mayan ladies with their woven baskets balanced on top of their immaculately plaited dark hair may not make it down from the mountains. There are regular shortages of items. Suddenly the whole place is out of yeast, or butter. It’s a fact of life that I am learning to cope with. In a small way, a very small way, it makes it easier to identify with the characters in Suite Francaise.
They could see the outskirts of Tours in the distance but the cars weren’t moving; a barricade had been set up at one of the crossroads. Everyone had to wait their turn. A whole hour went by like this. Gabriel was growing paler. It wasn’t sandwiches he was dreaming of now, but light, warming soup, or the buttery pates he’d once had in Tours.(He had been coming back from Biarritz with a woman.) It was odd, he couldn’t remember her name any more, or her face, the only thing that stuck in his memory were the smooth, rich little pates, each with a slice of truffle tucked away inside. Then he started thinking about meat: a great red slab of rare beef, with a curl of butter melting slowly over its tender flesh. What a delight…Yes, that was what he needed…roast beef…sirloin…fillet…a pork cutlet or mutton chop at a pinch. He sighed deeply.
So I will fire up the gas stove in my little galley and introduce you to one of my favourite luxuries that I make when the universe conspires to deliver the necessary ingredients to me…Chicken Liver Pate.
Not the truffle stuffed one that Gabriel salivates over, not a smooth luxury from Tours. Nevertheless it’s rich and creamy. Served chilled and fresh from the refrigerator (rather important as we are in the Tropics with regular daily temperatures of over 100 degrees F).
Chicken Liver Pate.
1 tbsp butter for sauteing
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
A little ground nutmeg
½ glass brandy(or port, or rum)
1 tbsp Worcester sauce.
A little thyme
Finely chop the onion and saute them with the garlic in the butter for 3-4 minutes. Add the cleaned chicken livers and cook for a further 2 minutes. Lower the heat and leave for another 4 minutes. The livers should still be soft and slightly pink inside.
Add the herbs, brandy and Worcester sauce. Allow to reduce a little.
At this stage most of you can throw the whole lot in a blender along with the butter and puree.
( I, in contrast, mash the liver mixture down in a mortar and pestle and then rub it spoon by spoon through a fine mesh sieve! Then I beat in the softened butter.)
Put in a small bowl, cover with some clarified butter then Clingfilm and put into the refrigerator (I have got one of those)
It is better left for a couple of days to allow the flavours to develop, but should be eaten within a week.
Serve with crusty bread and a chilled glass of something white and crisp, Sauvignon Blanc is my tipple of choice.
Curl up with Irene and thank your lucky stars that you have food and wine on your table and are not fleeing for your life.