The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth
by Roy Andries de Groot
Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, reprinted 1983.
It all started with curiosity. Food writer Roy Andries de Groot was fond of finishing his dinners with a glass or two of a green liqueur known only as "Chartreuse". He began to wonder – what was this Chartreuse, where did it originate, who made it, and from what was it made? Who were "les pères Chartreux” who, it said on the many bottles he kept, bottled this liqueur at “La Grande Chartreuse” by a secret process known only to them? Why had they gone into exile until "France returned to normal"?
de Groot posed his questions one day to Carl Anderson, his editor at Gourmet magazine. It turned out that Anderson knew even less about the mysterious liqueur than did de Groot. The two men realized that discovering the secrets of Chartreuse might make an excellent assignment for the magazine, so de Groot was dispatched to find out all he could.
A few weeks later, de Groot found himself in France, on his way to the Valley of La Grande Chartreuse and the small village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse. Rather than lodge himself at one of the more mainstream hotels of the area, on a local recommendation he chose a small country inn known as the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth (in French, l'Auberge de l'Atre Fleuri).
What he discovered at the Auberge was a way of life that revolved around good food, well prepared using the natural foods found in and around the valley. de Groot returned again and again to the Auberge, dining often with the proprietors, Mademoiselles Vivette Artaud and Ray Girard. He learned about their methods of French provincial cooking and their fascinating recipes.
de Groot’s book is a wonderful account of these visits. In the first half of the book, he recounts what he discovered about Chartreuse and its origins. The monks of the monastery of Chartreux suffered many trials in establishing their monastery situated in a “high and lonely place” above the Valley. Though their monastery was destroyed by fire seven times, and they were driven out of France twice, the monks persevered. Their Chartreuse liqueur, based on an old recipe found by one of the monks, was the result of a desperate search for some means of income. The liqueur, made from over 130 herbs found on the mountains, became world famous and saved the monastery from certain ruin.
Later in this section, de Groot tells many stories of the time he spent at the Auberge. Each story is a small adventure in itself, and every one contains a complete menu of the dishes served on the particular occasion. de Groot's prose is so descriptive that you want to gather the ingredients and try your luck at reproducing the recipes.
The second half of the book contains the recipes for the dishes discussed in de Groot’s narrative. They have wonderful titles – Beef Stew à la Sainte-Tulle, Chicken Rousille of the Valley, Gratinee of Potatoes a la Savoyarde, and Artichokes a la Barigoule, to name a few. Desserts are equally appealing – Souffle of Fresh Raspberries, Mousse of Fresh Apricots, Les Crêpes Surprises, and Fried Chestnut Croquettes, for example. All the recipes are adaptable to European or American kitchens, and do not require special equipment or techniques.
Many books purport to "take you away", but this one actually delivers. The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth can be read as a travel book or a cookbook, and succeeds in both cases. The Auberge itself still exists, and more information can be found at http://www.st-pierre-chartreuse.com/hebergement/aaf.htm.