French Farmhouse Cookbook, Hazelnuts & Honey

French Farmhouse Cookbook
Susan Herrmann Loomis
Workman Press, New York: 1996

Autumn is in the air here in the UK and my thoughts turn to comfort foods – simple rustic foods that warm and sustain, that feed the soul. For me, that means getting Susan Loomis’ book, French Farmhouse Cookbook, off the kitchen shelf and paging through for earthy Puy lentils with bacon, silky smooth pumpkin and chestnut soup, tender duck baked with prunes, hearty potato ragout with green olives, slow-cooked sticky onion marmalade for tarts and flatbreads, and dense dark walnut bread.

Don’t get me wrong, this book has a wealth of other seasonal French farmhouse delights like Les Pêches Assaisonnées (a herb seasoned peach accompaniment for roasts), lamb stew with spring vegetables, or zucchini gratin and slow-cooked red peppers with tomatoes and garlic making the best use of summer veg. But, it is these cold weather recipes that keep me coming back to this book when the days close in and the nights get longer and cooler.

The book also offers a selection of pantry goods (another obsession of mine) – sweet and savoury preserves, meaty rillettes and confits, a wide variety of homemade liqueurs, country breads, and a brilliant tutorial on making your own wine vinegar. It sparks the hoarding instincts that the weather brings. Remember the chidren’s story based on Aesop’s Fables of the industrious ant and the indolent grasshopper? Well, I’m like those ants – busily scurrying around stocking my pantry for the winter. It is no wonder that those particular pages of the French Farmhouse Cookbook are splattered, smeared and dog-eared.

I could go on and on about the fabulous, flavourful food, but interspersed with the recipes, or often prefacing them, Susan Loomis has wonderful vignettes – word pictures that bring the French countryside to life. Some of these little stories are all about particular ingredients – l’ail Rose Lautrec (rose-coloured garlic), La Rochelle mussels, “pearls of the north” (Belgian endive), Fleur de sel, the small reine-claude and mirabelle plums, the blue-footed white-feathered Poulet de Bresse, and many more special foods. Or, the stories are about the people who work the land (and sea) – the paludier (salt raker), the hydroponic farmer, the cheese maker, the farmer’s wife, the the expert foragers and hunters. She also touches on traditions and reflects on her memory of visiting many of the places and people she writes about. Finally, there are useful bits of information (how to peel a chestnut, all about French flour, etc.) and tips for cooking – little astuces.

Susan Loomis, an American by birth, lives in Normandy where she runs a successful cooking school – On Rue Tatin. She’s also written about her life there in two books (with a few more recipes): On Rue Tatin: The Simple Pleasures of Life in a Small French Town and Tarte Tatin: More of La Belle Vie on Rue Tatin. I can recommend both of these as good reads along with her French Farmhouse Cookbook. It is one of those cookbooks that can both be cooked from and enjoyably read.

hazelnut_spread_ontoast

Hazelnut & Honey Spread
Autumn is hazelnut season and what could be better than a simple nut and honey spread for toast. It’s also a healthier alternative to that well-known sugary chocolate and hazelnut product. I’ve modified the proportions somewhat, but the basic recipe is from Susan Loomis’ French Farmhouse Cookbook. Simply two ingredients: roasted, blitzed, and spread!

  • 300g Hazelnuts
  • 400g runny light honey

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C). Place your hazelnuts on a large, shallow baking tray. Roast for approximately 10 minutes until they are beginning to brown.

roasting_hazelnuts_1

Place the warm hazelnuts on a clean tea towel, fold over the ends and roll the cloth to remove the skins.

roasting_hazelnuts_2

Put the skinned, roasted hazelnuts in the food processor and grind them finely. Add the honey and continue processing until you have a thick, slightly nubbly spread.

hazelnut_spread

Pot up into jars. It will keep well in the refrigerator for many months – if it lasts that long!

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29 comments

  1. I have Susan’s book On Rue Tatin and have read it at least four times over the years. It’s such a fascinating story of how she made a life in France, plenty of amusing stories about culture differences!

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  2. What a great idea and how nice to have the relief from a chocolate flavour. Coincidentally, when I was in Italy in the summer, I bought a spread very like this from some monks who’d set up a stand at a farmer’s market. I loved it, but my kids didn’t, and one of the things I realised about modern processed junk food is that it also gives people a very industrial sense of texture– i.e., the way Nutella is so hyper-smoothe, also supermarket hummus, etc…

    Anyway, as usual, as lovely post and a terrible feeling of excitement looking at your cookbook shelves.

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    • I think that was Loomis’ response too – a way of providing an alternative to her children. I really detest the hyper smoothness of that chocolaty spread. I didn’t have that problem with my nut allergy son! I usually have cravings for this spread at this time of year and really love the little hazelnut bits. and, you can really taste the hazelnuts!

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    • If you’re going to drizzle, add more honey! It is a dense spread with a concentrated hazelnut flavour. I really love it. And, now you’ve mentioned it, it would tasted nice over grilled figs…

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      • Ha, yes, a ‘shmear’ of it would be more likely if I didn’t add more honey. A dollop beside blue cheese and crackers would be well tasty as well. My dad used to love smearing honey on cheese and I used to think it was weird. Enjoy your dinner party and kuchen!

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      • Susan Loomis, in her book, also mentions walnut halves stored jars with honey that were then used to accompany goat cheeses. I’ve also had chestnut honey on pecorino in Italy. It is really yummy and a great contrast to the creamy sharpness of the cheeses. Once again, you’ve made me look at the hazelnut-honey spread in a new light. Yes! It would taste nice with cheese!

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  3. Your posts always inspire me, the beautiful pictures alone get me thinking but once I start reading, that is the clincher. Getting off the computer now and going in the kitchen to cook something wonderful:)

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    • I know…my cookbook wish list is slightly out of control! I read about so many new and wonderful books on other people’s blogs. Soon, if I’m not careful, I may need another bookcase. That said, French Farmhouse Cookbook is one of my favourites.

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  4. This sounds like a wonderful cookbook but I’m still trying to resist adding to my collection. I’ll put it on my Wish List and maybe the book fairies will figure out a way to move it to my shopping cart the next time I purchase something. Don’t laugh. That’s how I got “Jerusalem.” (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
    I will definitely try this spread. It sounds great and if it’s as good as I think it will be, I’ll be buying even more honey next September. 🙂

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    • Oh, I wish those book fairies would visit my amazon wish list! I have to keep myself from looking at the list or else my errant fingers might hover over (and actually click) the “buy now” button. Loomis’ book is great. She also wrote one on Italian Farmhouse Cooking, but I don’t think it is of the same calibre. I suspect she was commissioned to write it after her success with the French book. The moral is – stick to what you do best!

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