Lulu in fact was maitresse of the Domaine Templier vineyard near to Marseilles. Richard Olney moved to the area in 1961 and discovered Lulu and her husband and began a lifelong friendship. This is the story of that friendship, the vineyard and its seasons, and of course the food that Lulu cooked and celebrated unpretentiously.
By allying the seasons in the vineyard with the seasonal food cooked, Olney creates a whole world to immerse the reader in. He begins in Autumn, when the harvest is safe and the wine begins to evolve in its barrels. The vines will lay dormant for four months while the skilled job of pruning takes place. This pruning will determine the ongoing health of the vines, as well as the production quantity, for the next year.
In the kitchen Lulu is making salt cod puree, sauteed wild mushrooms, Provencal braised beef and crepes with apples. Just the thing to greet workers, who have spent all day outside, when they come home to the ancient farmhouse.
With the arrival of Spring, more pruning takes place. Some tasting of the previous year’s wine occurs and they gather to eat green bean salads, roast pork loin, grilled lamb chops and fresh goats’ cheeses. The ground is producing vegetables again and the almond trees are in blossom.
Summer’s heat is intense when it arrives. The vines work their magic and the grapes swell and the workers pass among the vines, pruning excess leaf to send energy to the grapes while also reducing the number of bunches to not overstrain the vines. Tomato salads are eaten almost every day, along with olives, ratatouille, fresh fish and green salads splashed with olive oil.
You can lose yourself in Olney’s description of the life and you can torment yourself reading the recipes. The one for bouillabaisse is six pages long. 150 recipes in all, and all a long way from the kind of cooking that involves sous vides and other gadgets. From nibbles to banquets each recipe is enlivened by Lulu’s practical, no nonsense attitude to cooking. Why make things hard? Why do anything that is not crucial to the flavours? And why tamper with tradition?
Alice Waters, no less, sings the praises of Lulu’s cooking on her thoughtful foreword and every page tells you why. The author Olney died in 1999 a renowned authority on French cooking and on wine and this is a reprint from 1994 by the excellent Grub Street, who only publish quality writing, not cash ins or celebrity ego trips.
It’s more than a recipe book, it’s paean to a way of life and of eating and anyone who is interested in food beyond what’s fashionable this week should get a copy. Lulu will in her simple way tell you more about cooking than any Masterchef ever could.