REVIEW | ANNIE’S FARMHOUSE KITCHEN
By Jo Rittey
I want to cook every single recipe in this book. And I want to do it the way Annie Smithers intended, as part of a menu of carefully curated dishes and at the time of the season she suggests, whether that be late autumn, the depths of winter, early-mid spring or late summer. I want to invite people over, have a big long trestle table and share the food that the season offers as the sun slants through the leaves or the days grow shorter.
Annie’s Farmhouse Kitchen is a wonderful book. Reading it, because it must be read before it is cooked with, will transport you elsewhere. Annie has a way of expressing herself that makes you hang off her every word and her writing is the same. She articulates her passion for cooking, gardening and appreciating the little things in life in such a way that I find myself just smiling and nodding in awe, wishing that I had come up with those descriptions.
I had the pleasure of chatting to Annie in September 2014 for my Conversation with a Chef column. The premise for Conversation with a Chef came from hours of chatting about food and cooking to my good friend, Nicola McDermott, a chef in Christchurch who equally wears her passion for food on her chef’s white sleeve. As we talked, I thought to myself, everyone should hear this, everyone should hear about why chefs do the things they do, their delight in seasonal produce, the thrill they get from putting good food on the table. Getting to talk to Annie was the epitome of what I had hoped for Conversation with a Chef.
And reading Annie’s Farmhouse Kitchen is like having that conversation all over again. Annie tells the story of the seasons and the dishes she suggests as she would tell you in person with little side stories about the big cat, Fenn, and Tommy the Cairn Terrier.
Subtitled, Seasonal menus with a French heart, the book captures Annie’s love of classic European, and largely, French based farmhouse type food. Food with a sense of comfort to it. Annie is generous. She makes the comment that, ‘every recipe in this book is perfectly fine served as a stand-alone dish, but what I hope to do is give you the confidence to cook a well-balanced multi-course menu similar to those that grace my restaurant tables.’ Annie explains each stage, not only providing recipes with full explanations, but a timeline that will take you from the day before you intend setting the long trestle table and filling it with people right though to 1-2 hours before and then to the moment of serving. She also points out that ‘not all recipes work the first time for everybody.’ Annie is an amiable realist.
The book starts in autumn, seemingly describing the very autumn we are now experiencing with the ‘intense, residual heat from summer’ giving way to sudden frosts and then ‘seemingly endless Indian summer days.’ Annie’s autumn menus delight in harvest fruit and vegetables and fattened birds and recall my own year in Provence, living in a village and eating like a king. Duck legs braised in cider with prunes, apple purée and potato boulangere, raspberry clafoutis, navarin of lamb and roasted quince with spiced quince cake. Délicieux.
Bring on winter with recipes designed to heat your homes from the kitchen out and bring warmth to your soul on eating them. From the simple goat’s cheese and walnut salad through to the fairly opus-like cassoulet, Annie suggests that these dishes will help you cook your ’way out of the gloom’.
Spring has suckling pig and asparagus tart, summer has spaghetti with zucchini, garlic, anchovy and olive oil and pissaladière amongst many other treats. Annie offers four menus per season, so you have a year full of dinner parties and long Sunday lunches ahead.
Watercolour illustrations throughout are by Melbourne-based illustrator, Robin Cowcher and beautifully reflect the food, animals and life enjoyed by Annie in rural Victoria.
Annie’s Farmhouse Kitchen would make a beautiful gift, but you’ll be hard-pressed to give it up once you read the first line of the introduction.
Published by Hardie Grant Books, 1 April, 2017
Jo is a French teacher, a freelance writer and loves cooking lamb shanks. Armed with a PhD in Medieval French Literature, an exotic New Zealand accent and a winning (hopefully) smile, she likes nothing better than sharing a meal and good conversation with chefs.