Saturday, January 12, 2008

old long since

The snow has almost all gone. A January thaw, rain, and freezing rain, and rain again make the landscape look like the month of March. The dirt roads are wet and muddy and soft. If we do not get more snow soon, we will start to wish for Spring.

Especially since Spring taunts us. Caleb went to investigate his cold-framed lettuce bed once the two feet of snow had disappeared and was shocked to see radicchio still growing. The little heads that were too small to pick in December are still delicate, but big enough to cut now. So, cut them he did, and we brought them into the restaurant to wash, their beautifully speckled leaves smelling of earth and water.

These still growing greens point us both forward and backward. We are nostalgic for summer and our raised garden beds thick with small wild arugula and bitter chickory, yet the miracle of our own lettuces still alive after harsh below-zero temperatures and crushing, thick pelts of snow pull us toward our seed catalogs and writing order lists for spring planting. Deep winter after the anticipation of the holidays and New Year seems to heighten the bittersweet, in what we sense, experience, and remember. It is that time before rejuvenation in which we seem to feel more keenly our losses and our pleasures. In this moodiness, we somehow become nostalgic for the season yet to come as if we are already on the other side and looking back.

This feeling is sharpened as we have not yet shaken off our reading of The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. Now that we have finished the book, there is the nostalgia for the story, for being in the middle of the reading and looking forward to so many more pages. And there is the nostalgia for what no longer exists. This book, which was a touchstone for so many of those American chefs who started out in the early ‘70’s (the Alice Waters and Jeremiah Towers), captures a private world that is now gone. The two Frenchwomen that Roy Andries de Groot writes about, Vivette and Ray, no longer own the Auberge, and are most likely no longer. Mr. Andries de Groot, a master of prose and whose masterpiece is this book, died by his own hand in the early ‘80’s, confronted with the difficulties of a long, arduous illness. His wife, the actress Katherine Hynes, died of a stroke in the early ‘90’s. The de Groots, like anyone else, experienced the difficulties and joys of any life: the loss of children, the loss of health, Mr. de Groot lost his eyesight twenty years after an accident in WWII. He wrote this book with his other senses, Katherine at his side describing the sights while he recorded minutely the world of sound, scent, and taste, and feeling. Perhaps this is why this book is so successful because it is full of so much joy, the delight in the friendship between the author and the two women, the utter happiness created by the harmony of good food, good wine, and perfect hospitality all within a memorable setting. And how happy we are to have experienced the reading of this story, and how sad we are that all the players are gone. Yet, we still have the book, to read again and again. And of course, there are the recipes to be prepared and eaten. This is the only way we know how to recreate a memory, a history.

Change is inevitable and necessary. The Auberge de L’Atre Fleuri does in fact still exist, as does the wild and extreme valley of Chartreuse in which it is nestled. It is run by Bruno and Veronique, and you can see the house and the rooms on-line at You can book your stay there via the internet, now fifty years later. It won’t be the auberge of Vivette and Ray, but it will be Bruno and Veronique’s and contain the stamp of their vision and personalities. How remarkable that there is still even an auberge in the same place under the same name.

At the restaurant, we make a soup of barley and vegetables in a veal stock. Caleb finishes the dish with a clutch of slivered radicchio from the garden and fresh frisée. It is a dish that pays hommage to the de Groots and the Mademoiselles of the Auberge. Created from local elements, it tastes of our home, our earth.


Herbfarm Ron said...

My, my, how this book lives on! I, too, have a restaurant, a restaurant that owes its being to the Auberge.

Here is the letter that I sent out with out winter/spring brochure for 2008:

How a book changed everything (for me). And how its legacy offers you a night of magic and memories.

Dear Friend,
It was an accident. Or was it?

Were it not for a book, a very particular book, I would not be telling you this story. My wife and I would not be the proprietors of The Herbfarm. Our farmhouse restaurant would not exist. And the sort of magic that The Herbfarm conjures nightly would have been stillborn in all the possibilities of time.

I have told only a few about the book.

I no longer know how I came to own the book. It came into my possession about 25 years ago. The book is a tale told by a blind man. His eyes began to go during the siege of London in 1941.

As his vision failed, the man, a journalist by trade, allowed his sense of taste and smell to become his muse. He became an expert on the subjects of food and wine. In the years after the War, he moved from London to New York. He became a major American food writer.

As was his habit, he ended his busy days at the old Oak Bar in the Plaza Hotel at the foot of Central Park. There he held court over evenings capped by a small glass of his favorite liqueur, Green Chartreuse.

His guests would idly read the labels on the old bottles, some pre-dating the War. “Who were these ‘Pères Chartreux’ who distilled the liqueur at ‘La Grande Chartreuse’ by ‘a secret process’ known only to them?” they asked.

He could not answer.

He yearned to solve the riddle. It would be an amusing story for Esquire magazine, he pitched. His editor bit. He flew to Paris. Then on to Lyon. He rode long hours from Lyon, through a frightful, narrow gash in the mountains, past wild walls of leaning granite, the car straining in first gear, up, high into the French Alps. There, in an open expanse, a valley, under the gaze of Le Grand Som, the writer, Roy Andries de Groot, teased out the answers to his story, a story that spans nearly a thousand years. It is a long and winding path, a tale of Brother Bruno, the creation of a Brotherhood, fires, destruction, expulsion, revolution, and repatriation. It is the story of a secret recipe. 130 mountain herbs. 27 years to decipher the faded, mysterious manuscript. Where had it come from?

While he researched the story of the Carthusian monks and their secret green elixir, de Groot, the blind writer, needed somewhere to stay. “There is a six-room inn nearby, Monsieur. The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth.”

De Groot was welcomed. He stayed. He left. He returned. Again and again. He was enchanted. What he could not see with his eyes, he saw with his heart. He had found in these mountains his own Shangri-la.

In the end, it was the Auberge that was the real story. It was run by two women. They cooked by the seasons. They cooked only foods of their valley and region. They aged the local cheeses. They served the local wines. The Auberge was a summation of all that is good. It was de Groot’s perfect metaphor.

I, too, was enchanted. By the book. By the Auberge. I journeyed to France. I drove to the mountains. I sought the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth.

I had come too late. The building was shuttered. Closed. Gone. No more.

By then the Auberge had become my dream. It took root in my heart. My parent’s garage on our farm served as our first restaurant. We grew the food. We cooked with the seasons. We poured the local wines. And, as if by some alchemy that reaches across time, people came to the reborn Auberge of the Flowering Hearth — The Herbfarm.

Won’t you join us soon? Come for a special night. Take home memories that will abide for years. Tuck a piece of the Auberge into your heart and carry it out to the world.

Come and we will take you to a special place and time. And maybe, if you like, you can even peek in a peculiar old book!

Ron Zimmerman

Visit us at

kris Chambas said...

Hi Caleb and Dierdre,
I read Auberge last fall.
I've made the walnut honey bread and the walnut ice cream which both turned out excellent. We have local black walnuts in Wisconsin in October. I ground them by hand with a morter and pestle for the ice cream... Oh my gosh was it wonderful! Hope you both are well.


Kris Chambas

P.S If you haven't read Treasures of the Italian Table by Andrew Burton, you may enjoy that book. Also, "Alice Waters and Chez Panisse" Which came out last spring is really good as well:)

Deirdre and Caleb said...

Ron--What a delight and honor to hear from you! And thank you so much for sharing your letter sent out for winter/spring. It is an amazing story--yours and the Auberge's. We do not get to the west coast as often as we'd like (I have a sister in central Oregon), but next time we are there, we will make a point to make a pilgrimmage to The Herbfarm. If you ever find yourself anywhere in Vermont, please let us know, so that we can welcome you to our table--Deirdre and Caleb

Deirdre and Caleb said...

Kris! How great to hear from you! Was it this time last year that you were here in Vermont? Time is flying by so fast....We too are making the walnut icecream for the restaurant, and I am making the crepes with sourcream and caviar to serve with a little white Beaune at home....

Thank you for the Andrew Burton book. Have not read yet, so will get it on the list!

All best,
Deirdre and Caleb