Mon Cahier de Recette

Mon Cahier de Recette

[My Recipe Book]

Six or seven years ago, I started a little recipe book. At that time, I still lived at my parents’ and hardly ever cooked, except when they were away, and then there would be the obligatory calls to my mother for the recipe to gratin de courgette or quiche lorraine, and how do you cook potatoes again?

I bought a spiral notebook with three sections, and neatly labeled them “Salé”, “Sucré” and “Divers” (savory, sweet and miscellaneous). I then proceeded to ask my mom, once and for all, about her oft-requested recipes and cooking tips. It took a few sessions in the kitchen, with her preparing dinner, and me sitting on a stool, asking questions and taking notes.

I hardly added any recipe to the notebook after that, new ones were filed on my computer or in a clippings file instead, but I always kept it with me, and it really helped when I started to cook in the US and couldn’t call my mother at the drop of a hat. After a while of course, I didn’t even need to open it anymore, because I knew most of those recipes by heart.

Just the other night, I found myself leafing through it again, and found a page I had forgotten about, in the miscellaneous section. I had asked my mother to tell me about the basic ways of cooking some of my favorite vegetables.

About leeks and onions, I wrote :

Leeks. Cut the whites in 1 cm slices, and cook over low heat, first with a little butter, then with a little water that you add once the butter is absorbed.

Onions. Slice thinly. Then : see Leeks.”

And about zucchini, the instructions go :

Zucchini. Remove the stems. Slice thinly. Cook in a pan with a little olive oil. Add the zucchini when the oil is hot. Add salt and herbes de Provence and coriander seeds. They are ready when tender.”

Call me emotional, but I was moved almost to tears reading this. Somehow I had forgotten that there ever was a time when I didn’t know how to cook zucchini.

  • Karen


    I think it shows great maturity that the innocence of the younger YOU moves you to almost tears. A lot of people are way to hard on the persons they once were – using ways like stupid or ignorant.

    I have a preciouse cookbook that my mother wrote when she was 18 – during WWII – and at a finishing school for young housewifes. A lot of strange recipes reflecting the hard times.

  • Yonmei

    My mum returned to me my first cookbook (the first one that was mine all mine: a 1975 edition of Mrs Beeton) the other day. I hadn’t seen it in years: my parents have been unpacking boxes, and my mum found it and thought I might like to have it back. (She runs a second hand bookstall, and might have sold it, but it’s so battered and stained no one would want to buy it.)

    I wasn’t exactly in tears – but I was awfully touched to look at those pages and remember me when I was a child, looking up recipes and figuring out how to cook them. I made Potatoes Anna for the first time from this cookbook, when I was ten, I think – and have never made it since: it dripped with butter and took forever to prepare.

  • What a wonderful entry! Achievements and little steps taken in our younger days always appear so huge at that time, don’t they? I think it is the sense of pride we remember from those days, rather than the achievements alone.

    Coming from tropical Singapore, I didn’t even know what a zucchini was until I was transplanted to North America at the tender age of 20! Now the zuke is a regular feature in the kitchen of my older self, and I’m still learning how to cook it!

  • Maman

    Que de souvenirs ! Je te revois prenant des notes, assise sur le tabouret de la cuisine ; et les instructions au téléphone quand nous étions en vacances… toujours pour les mêmes recettes ! J’étais loin de penser que cela deviendrait une passion !
    J’ai gardé une de tes recettes de 1985 (sans doute apprise à la Maternelle) : “Recette de pate à tarte (3 petits suisses, 130g farine, 170g beurre : je doute du résultat !) le 3 est écrit à l’envers et tu t’es exercée à faire les g sur un coin de la feuille d’ordinateur.

  • Gulp! This brought tears to my eyes! How sweet and lovely — that’s you all over, Clotilde.

  • m

    Wow! this reminds me that I love my mom’s copy of The Jewish Ladies of Johannesburg Cookbook – its not actually called that but that’s what we call it my my family. 4 years ago I was seeing my grandmother in Sydney and she mentioned she was leaving her grandfather clock to my cousin so I immediately said in that case… could I get her copy of The Jewish ladies .. cookbook! Its nostalgia in one volume.

  • C’est bien bizarre– or perhaps not. Food is a core emotional experience and so it shouldn’t be strange that we attach such feelings to cookbooks.

    Clotilde, I love how your post shows your growth as a chef– it’s not often we get to see, ourselves, how much we have changed and grown.

    And here I thought I was the odd one. My mother-in-law was a wonderful, wonderful cook and the kind of hostess who always put everyone at ease and never minded a surprise guest at the table. She’d say “I’ll just put more water in the soup.” She died very suddenly and unexpectedly and we all miss her. But I have her copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (a first edition that she got as a young bride) which is love-worn and has her little notes throughout. I use it often and feel her in the kitchen with me when I do.

  • Mina

    Hi Clotilde,
    Thank you for posting! I know what you mean about looking back at your notes and really seeing just how far you’ve travelled. I have notebooks- the hardcover black and white kind, that I started 6 years ago filled with what seemed at the time not only wondrous, but mysterious information. Now on volume 4, they have become much more than just recipe archives, they are records charting my culinary travels. Cheers to your journey.

  • Taya


    My mother just sent my husband and myself a recipe book that is hand bound and has someone’s initials embroidered on the cover. Someone has painstakingly handwritten out about 30 recipes including one entitled BISCUITS (emergency). It looks like it dates from the 1920’s. She bought it at a thrift store and now we have lovingly added it to our cookbook collection. I love these personal recipe collections. We have recipe cards written by our grandmother’s and we treasure them. I wonder who will end up with yours?

  • shannon

    How nice to have those memories! I don’t use my older recipes anymore either, but when I got married, asked my relatives to write down their favorite recipes on recipe cards and send them back to me. I’m so gald I did that before my grandma passed away!

  • hello. i’ve been lurking over the past couple of weeks trying to figure out when would be the best time for me to pop into the conversation. this post of yours seemed the most opportune. both my mother and i are relatively new cooks (i must admit i had been hounding her to let me bake when i was much younger but she didn’t want me touching the oven without an adult). when she stopped working when i was a teen and became a full time homemaker (a choice she wasn’t happy with), it reflected in her cooking. as she became more comfortable, attested to by the fact that our counters grew crowded with cooking toys and books, it became a channel of sharing between us. my husband and i love to cook, so it was touching for me when she told me she would leave all of her cooking props to me. i pray that it would be a long time in coming.

  • Kris Hasson-Jones

    When I married (the first time) my Nana (maternal grandmother) made me a cookbook–a small 3-ring binder with a picture of her in her kitchen on the front, and traditional family recipes handwritten on the pages inside. I treasure it.

  • Laura

    That’s wonderful. I still have the recipe card where I instructed myself on how to boil an egg. We all start somewhere.

  • jer

    I just read this entry because of a link back you had to it. Is it pretty common to have a recipe book for young french girls? I find it really neat that you didn’t grow up making food but now that you love it.

    I saw a french girl’s recipe book recently and I found it kind of sexy.. (does that make me weird :) )

  • oh! I truly didn’t realize everyone has to start somewhere when it comes to cooking… I thought there were some who sprang forth from the womb hardwired knowing how to cook an onion, something like having perfect pitch. You have infused hope into my culinary ambitions, thank you!

  • Tim

    I was doing some searching on google for our site – and came across this post. I know it is old – and has been said – but it really is great that you are proud of where you started.
    We have recently put a book together for a couple form a Polish background. Some of the old family recipes are fascinating – a real reflection on what was available to them at the time. Potatoes with everything!
    What a great snap-shot of history an old recipe book can be.

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