The culinary life that Annie Smithers leads as she describes in her cookbook, Annie’s Farmhouse Kitchen (2017), is similar to the one I’d like to lead, although my version would be on a much smaller scale. At her restaurant, du Fermier, in Trentham, a small town in Victoria, Australia, Smithers looks every day at what her acre of garden has produced and designs a menu around that.
In her introduction, Smithers writes that she considered opening a restaurant “with all the bells and whistles, but in the end I decided this was not the right fit for me, and instead opened a tiny country restaurant that offers a menu du jour put together with my acre of garden that produces up to 90 per cent of my fruit and vegetable needs. Every week at du Fermier (my little restaurant) we construct a different three or four course menu around what is coming from the garden, what the weather is like and where my mood is. The food is unashamedly French farmhouse as it’s a style of cooking that has vast possibilities, yet a familiarity that is truly comforting.
“The menus at du Fermier follow a particular pattern. I always begin with a preparation day to start the elements that need time, such as slow-cooked braises and stocks. Then each service day I arrive about three hours before the customers and quietly go about preparing lunch for 30.”
This, she explains, is why the cookbook is laid out by season then by menu.
“When it came to writing this book, it made sense to organise the recipes in planned menus, to enable you to present a beautiful meal to your family and friends [...] Every recipe in this book is perfectly fine served as a stand-alone dish, but what I hope to do is to give you the confidence to cook a well-balanced multi-course menu similar to those that grace my restaurant tables.” She helps the cook plan by writing at the end of each menu a timeline of what you should do the day before the meal, what to start first on the day of the meal, and what needs to be done at the last minute.
The menus can be challenging but they don’t call for esoteric ingredients or equipment. For an early winter she suggests a lunch of gougeres, goat’s cheese and walnut salad, cassoulet and chocolate marquise dacquoise sandwich; a late spring meal starts with steak tartare followed by salade Lyonnaise, suckling pig and chocolate pot au creme with salted caramel sauce and cinnamon brioche; while a late summer menu has relatively light dishes of calamari with garlic mayonnaise and zucchini, quail with couscous, rose petals and cucumber salad, and gateau Saint Honoré with rose cream.