picture Joanne Harris by David Sandison
Magical, inspired by fairytales. Food that gives the characters of her books wings. I read Chocolat, Lollipop shoes and Blackberry wine. All books by Joanne Harris. A very imaginative writer. From French and British origins, what a combination. With a plethora of novels on her name. Curious about her life and works I invited her to join Talk and Table. Since I occasionally write culinary stories with fancy figures like Pelle Grød from the North. Let’s see what Joanne answers. For me it will be a hard task to create a dish for her containing food from the low countries that would have brought love or passion into someones life. Let’s try it, maybe it will give me wings….
Who is Joanne Harris and what would you like to share with us?
I am a British-French author living in Yorkshire, where I was born. I was educated at Cambridge University, and was a teacher of Modern Languages for fifteen years before giving up to write full-time. I am married, with a 19-year-old daughter. Arguably, none of this really tells you who I am. As for what I have to share, you’ll find a lot of that in my books. I’ve been writing them since I was in my teens. Most of me is hidden inside…
You come from Yorkshire, can you give a description of that region and what is special over there?
Yorkshire is the largest county in England, and is divided between the fading industrial centres of the North and some of England’s most dramatic and beautiful landcsapes. In literary terms, I live halfway between THE FULL MONTY and WUTHERING HEIGHTS.
It seems to me that growing up in a candystore and having a healing grandmother is a youth full of tales. Has this been inspiring?
I find inspiration in many things and in many places. Some of my books have been inspired from my childhood, from members of my family, aspects of my cultural heritage and the folklore and history of the region in which I live.
You are a romancier. In another life, would you do it again? Or would you like be something else?
I’ve been many things and lived many lives. I don’t regret any of them.
Your prose speaks to the imagination, certainly with me. Sometimes I write culinary fairytales for fun. In your books you combine a lot of imagination with food. How do you do that?
I don’t really plan these things. Instead I let them evolve naturally. We all have a shared relationship with food that speaks to us on a cultural and emotional level, and which resonates deeply with the stories and folk-tales of our childhood. I like to use this to explore the nature of character and relationships. The role of food in fairytales is a very important one, with its implications of magic, transformation and knowledge. I like to bring some of that into my own stories.
My parents were/are very French oriented. De last two decades there has been a shift from French to Italian cuisine, certainly in my generation. Do you notice that too?
There are so many types of French cuisine, or Italian cuisine, that if there has been such a shift, it is mostly based on (faulty) perceptions of what French or Italian food is really like. French cookery is generally (and wrongly) assumed in England to be very elegant, perhaps even complicated, whereas Italian cookery is perceived as being simple and approachable. In fact, both countries share a heritage in which food plays quite a similar role, and in which the strict regionalization of dishes makes for a wide variety of culinary styles. I suspect that if there has been a shift in preference, this may be based more on the increasing popularity of holiday destinations in Italy than anything else. The perception of Italian food in England is still mostly centred around pizza and pasta dishes, whereas the English perception of French food is based on a tradition of haute cuisine, very far removed from the regional dishes the French still prefer.
On French society. Or the country side. It is clearly present in you books. Did you experience change of this country in the last decades?
Of course. The relationship between town and country life in France is changing continually, as it is in England. The rise (and fall) of tourism, the EU, the change in immigration policies, differences in agricultural methods, the job situation – all affect this relationship, which means that over the past thirty years or so there has been an increasing movement from the rural parts of France into the cities, with an increasingly wide division between town and country living. Perhaps this is why my French stories resonate as they do – reminding people of a nostalgic past that is becoming increasingly difficult to remember.
What do you like the most in the UK and in France? And what could be better?
I don’t normally think in such terms. I like both countries for what they are, and for what they represent to me on a personal and emotional level. I live in England, and I may visit France a couple of times a year. As such, any comparison would be rather unequal…
Culinary speaking, you must have tried a lot of French cooking. Which one is your favorite recipe? And naturally which wine?
I have lots of favourites, depending on the region and the season. From my family’s region, the Vendée, I like shellfish and seafood – skate in black butter is a childhood favourite, as are: mackerel in white wine; razor clams with chilli and garlic; mussels cooked in seawater and samphire; grilled sardines; black pudding and apple; roast lamb with rosemary; boudin blanc with rye pancakes. I like lots of different kinds of wine, but my favourite to celebrate with is Château d’Yquem, which we could never afford when I was a child, but which I now occasionally like to buy…
If you were to start a new life in the Netherlands, what kind of thing would you do? And what would you like to uncover? I know this is a though question.
The great thing about being a writer is that you can write anywhere. I see no reason to change what I do because of where I happen to living. But I might write stories set in the Netherlands instead…
Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome.
Just a big thanks, to you and to your readers, for your interest and support. I have such a terrific time writing my books, and I’m always happy if they allow people to connect, to dream or to see the world in a different way. Keep reading, keep cooking, keep writing.
picture: books by Joanne Harris
From this cornucopia of answers and directions, I thought of making a dish with some chocolat in it. But that would be to easy. I think Joanne deserves a dish, that contains a certain sweetness, a touch of bitter, some spice and wine. She says she likes fish dishes and classic ones like roast lamb. For her I’d make a dish from turkey breast filled with dades, almonds and a dash of XP dark sweet sherry. And I’d add some spices. Served with a spaghetti full of fresh chopped parsley and chives. This bunch of tastes will do something with you. Like the prose of Joanne. To pair this dish I’d suggest a white viognier wine form the slopes of the Languedoc. A viognier from domaine de la Baume, full of tropical fruits, a hint of bitter and a dash of fresh acidity.
Ingredients serving 4:
4 turkey breasts
150 g dades
100 g white almonds
1 chili pepper
1 ts of cinnamon
1 ts of ginger
1 glas of XP cream sherry
1 glas of white wine
parsley finely chopped
chives finely chopped
300 g spaghetti
Put the turkey breast between two sheets of cling foil. Flatten the turkey by hitting with the bottom of a pan or kitchen hammer. Chop the dades and almonds. Soak them in a bit of cream sherry. Add the ginger and cinnamon to it. Put a table spoon of this mixture on every turkey breast. Make rolls, that you tie up firmly with some kitchen thread. Season the meat with salt and black pepper.
Heat some butter and a dash of oil in a pan and quickly fry the meat. Get the involtini out and put them on a plate covered with aluminium foil. Cut the chili pepper in small rings and fry them shortly in the butter. Pour in the white wine and the rest of the almond/dade mixture. Leave to simmer shortly. Put the meat back in this gravy and leave on a low fire for about 10 minutes until done. Cook the spaghetti al dente. Stir in the green herbs and some olive oil. Serve the turkey involtini on a plate, with the spaghetti and a dash of the sweet gravy on top.