Joanne Harris's novel Chocolat is quite well known, particularly after it was made into a film in 2000 starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. It was only in the past year or so however that I started reading Harris's other books, and realised they are even better. Food and chocolate is an overarching theme that is not just in the setting and background of the books, but an intrinsic part of the plots. The books are all set in France and feature a lot of French cooking, a lot of which involves fruit.
In Five Quarter of the Orange, we have a dual storyline: the present day, where Framboise (whose name means raspberry - her family share similar names like Pistache, Noisette and Peche - pistachio, hazelnut and peach) returns under a cloud to her hometown and opens a creperie. Her nephew and his wife are trying to force Framboise to share her inheritance - a book of recipes from her grandmother. Her nephew desperately wants the book to boost his failing career in Paris as a food writer, so he comes to the village with his wife and does all he can to force the creperie to close and Framboise out of business, so she will need to sell the book to him.
At the same time, part of the story is told through Framboise's memory of the past, and explains why she fled her home village as a child. During the war German soldiers occupied the village and Framboise and her brother and sister befriend one who seems genuinely kind; he gives the children treats but manages to extract information about the villagers from them at the same time. The situation ends in tragedy, for which Framboise blames herself. Through her memories Framboise comes to terms with what happened and is able to reconnect with her two daughters, from whom she had become estranged.
I had bookmarked - quite literally, with scraps of paper - all sorts of quotes from the novel, where food is used to evoke a picture or emotion and where we have lengthy descriptions and snippets of recipes of the food Framboise makes and that her mother used to make. But I'm in the process of packing up to move house and all my books - apart from a dozen or so I haven't read yet, which should last me until the move - are sealed in boxes!
I loved this book; the plot is pacy and intriguing both in the present day and past story, and the characters are vivid and real; and I love the picture of the French village and the French cooking that emerges.
The title of the novel comes from the fact that the young Framboise could only escape her home and go out on adventures when her mother has a migraine. One of the things that sets her migraines off is the smell of oranges, so Framboise steals an orange, wraps it in muslin and hides it in her mother's room whenever she wants to stimulate a migraine so she can go out. So food really is central to the plot.
One of the desserts I particularly remember from the novel is clafoutis - a sort of fruit tart cooked in an eggy batter (and without a pastry base). A recipe for apple and dried apricot clafoutis is given within the story and it is one of the grandmother's recipes in the book that Framboise's nephew is so desperate to get his hands on. So in honour of Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, I present my low-fat apple clafoutis.
I adapted a recipe from the Tesco website. I was going to make nectarine clafoutis to use up some nectarines but when I looked at them they were distinctly furry! I also wanted to make a lower fat version so used fat-free Greek yogurt instead of cream.
I made this in an 8 inch sandwich tin.
75g honey (I used runny honey)
120ml Greek yogurt
60g plain flour
2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 180C. Whisk the eggs with the honey, then add the milk, yogurt and flour and whisk until smooth. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the top.
Pour into the tin or pie dish and lay the thinly sliced apple gently on top. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
This was a tasty, light dessert that went down well as a dessert. It's quick and easy to make, though I think next time I would experiment with different fruit.
I'm sending this to Novel Food, hosted by Briciole; the idea is to make a dish inspired by a novel.
I'm also sending this to Read Cook Eat, hosted by Chris at Cooking Around the World, which is a similar literature-based blog challenge.