Josephine Araldo inspired a generation of cooks. She was a legend: an elf-like woman who spoke rapid-fire English with a French accent.
Araldo was born in Brittany in 1896. She went to Paris in the early 1920s and was one of the first women to graduate from Cordon Bleu. In 1924, she moved to San Francisco as a cook for a wealthy family and stayed there the rest of her long life.
After World War II, Araldo retired as a cook and began teaching her skills to others. Marion Cunningham (of Fannie Farmer fame) and Alice Waters both studied under Araldo. Fran Bigelow, who started Fran’s Chocolates and popularized grey salt caramels in the US, was also a student of Araldo.
Chef Robert Reynolds, now of Trou Food, started as one of Araldo’s students, but later became a close friend. Reynolds collaborated with Araldo in writing From a Breton Garden: The Vegetable Cookery of Josephine Araldo.
From a Breton Garden is a brilliant book. Araldo taught that “vegetables are the jewel in the crown; they make the plate” and her book reflects that philosophy on every page.
The recipes use common, everyday vegetables. The most exotic is artichokes, a favorite of Araldo’s judging from the thirty-one artichoke recipes in the book. Some recipes in From a Breton Garden are traditional and others creative, but all are delicious. I’ve owned the book for 17 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed every recipe I’ve made from it.
From a Breton Garden was published in 1990, one year after Araldo’s death. The biographical information in it gives readers a glimpse into her interesting life, and leaves one wanting to know more about Araldo. Reynolds is now discussing an Araldo biography with her grandson; I’m looking forward to reading it.
The book opens with country recipes from Brittany, where Josephine was born and raised. The Paris chapter reflects the classical cuisine that Araldo learned in cooking school. The San Francisco section is filled with Reynolds’ recipes, which demonstrate the sensibilities he learned from Araldo as she passed her knowledge on to the next generation.
La Mère Jacquette was Josephine Araldo’s grandmother. According to Reynolds, La Mère Jacquette learned to cook before Napoleon III came to power. Her cuisine, as passed down through Araldo to us via From a Breton Garden, includes many unusual recipes combining fruits and vegetables.
One of my favorite recipes in the book came from La Mère Jacquette: Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries. The cabbage is braised in red wine and onions, and then tossed with perfectly cooked mushrooms and fresh blueberries.
In Alaska, this dish is a natural; when it’s time to harvest red cabbage, our woods are filled with wild mushrooms and the blueberries are ready to pick. It’s best made with fresh wild Boletus edulis (aka porcini or cèpes) and wild blueberries, but it still tastes great when made with supermarket ingredients.
Last night I used red cabbage and mushrooms from my Full Circle Farm CSA box with supermarket blueberries. Even my husband, who is dubious on the subject of cooked cabbage, agreed it was wonderful.
Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries – Chou Rouge Forestière (Λάχανο Κόκκινο με Μανιτάρια και βακκίνιο το Μύρτιλλο)
Serves 4 - 6
Adapted from From a Breton Garden: The Vegetable Cookery of Josephine Araldo by Josephine Araldo and Robert Reynolds
I’ve always made this recipe with blueberries, but Araldo says La Mère Jacquette would have used whatever berries she found in the woods. Araldo emphasizes that tossing the mushrooms with garlic and parsley is essential: “without these elements, ‘Cela na vaut pas le pet de lapin’ (it’s not worth the fart of a rabbit).” Araldo recommends using bacon fat to flavor the onions and cabbage; I substitute olive oil without a problem. I’ve served Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries as an accompaniment to pork, roast chicken, grilled lamb, and sausages, and enjoyed it every time.
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil (or bacon fat)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (6 cups) thinly sliced red cabbage (1/2 a medium head)
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 cup fresh blueberries
Sauté the onions in 2 Tbsp. butter and the olive oil (or bacon fat), lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until the onions are golden. Stir in the cabbage and red wine, lightly season again with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to evenly distribute the ingredients. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cabbage is tender.
While the cabbage is cooking, sauté the mushrooms, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 2 Tbsp. butter in a hot pan. Cook the mushrooms in 2 batches to ensure they brown nicely and retain their liquid (if you put too many mushrooms in the pan at one time, they release their juices and stew rather than brown). When the mushrooms are done, toss them with garlic and parsley.
When the cabbage is done to your liking, stir in the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the blueberries. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Serve.