How to eat like a French family

Cookbook author Beatrice Peltre
Cookbook author Beatrice Peltre White Loft Studio

With her popular blog turned cookbook, “La Tartine Gourmande,” Arlington-based writer and photographer Beatrice Peltre built a devoted following for her simple and beautiful take on French cuisine. Peltre’s richly colored photos and fresh, produce-focused recipes embody the simple elegance of the French countryside where she grew up. Now the mother of two young children — Lulu, 7, and Remy, 16 months, both of whom turn up frequently in her photos — Peltre has turned her eye to cooking for a family with “My French Family Table: Recipes for a Life Filled With Food, Love, and Joie de Vivre.”

The book includes recipes such as tomato and fennel tart, fava bean and pea spread, and saffron-flavored carrot risotto that Peltre, who has lived in the US for 18 years, prepares for her children and husband, Philip Jacob. No separate meals for parents and children at this table. Instead, Peltre looks to introduce her children to a variety of foods and flavors. “I really want to convey the feeling that educating your kids to taste is very important and it starts very early. You need to include them in all of this. Try to make something that works for everyone as much as you can,” she says.


Q. What is mealtime like for a French family?

A. We [believe] you need to sit around the table. We basically set a certain time to all eat together. We have a schedule where you have snack at a certain time. You have dinner at a certain time. If you’re hungry, you have to wait. Also, you eat what the mother, or whoever, cooks and puts on the table. Lulu has tastes, things she prefers and likes. I know that. But I’m not always making the things she loves. The rule is always that she has to try.


Q. What was your childhood like in France?

A. My village in France is 600 people. Everyone had vegetable gardens. For me, it’s a very important element in terms of understanding the whole cycle of life with food, people, meals, and everything. I take Lulu and now Remy to farms. We’re so lucky that there are so many that I can take them to. We go to Concord and Lincoln. Go apple picking, strawberries, cherries, whatever. My mother was very keen to spend a lot of time outside, just hanging out in the garden. Pick peas and beans and do the preserves in the summer, which to be honest I didn’t always like. I liked the peas because I could eat them, but the beans, so boring.

Q. How did that influence the way you cook now?

A. I always create the recipe around one ingredient. I visited Wilson Farm today because I was craving fresh peas and fava beans. I know the season is very short. It’s not like I have a recipe that I want to cook. It’s that I have this ingredient and now I’m going to do something with it.

Q. Has your cooking changed with kids?

A. It’s a little more simplified, but I still find time to make food. When I go shopping, [I think] how do you recycle one ingredient into another meal? I always like to extend. What I do like is to think how can something be for everyday, and then take the dish and finish it more elegant or with more unusual touches to host a dinner with friends or family. We had friends staying for two days. I cooked the carrot and saffron risotto from my cookbook, which I make very often and very simply. Last night I made some shrimp with it and some kind of micro greens or something that dresses it up on the plate.


Q. What misconceptions do you find about French cooking?

A. People are like, “It’s too involved or too technical.” They don’t think that French people eat this kind of everyday food as much. I often want to say we do very simple things. I eat a lot of vegetable tarts or mixed salads or soups, stuffed vegetables with a little salad. What is tradition is not what people eat everyday. We really focus on ingredients. Now you find people like myself cooking risotto, gazpacho, all those things that are in essence not French in their roots, but they’re really in the tradition of French cooking in a very natural way. Often when my French friends see my cooking, they say, “Oh yes, that’s what we eat at home,” which is very nice.

Q. Are the photos in your book really shot at your home in Arlington?

A. I specifically wanted a garden that was reminiscent of the countryside I grew up in. A big garden was the key. It often appears I live in the middle of nowhere. I live on a street where there’s a succession of houses where we all have the same kind of garden. Because I’m a photographer I can frame it so it appears it’s a large expanse of garden.


Interview was edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak