Monday, February 23, 2015

O My Darlin', Clementine!

This has to do with egg cups, I promise.
I was reading this book for the third time.
 It's a good book, very enjoyable. It lost some of its appeal this last time though, when I learned that Susan Loomis and her husband (the book is a bit of a romance, after all) later divorced, and she's now living in the cool medieval house by herself. Took the glow right off the story, if you know what I mean! Anyway ... we all know that some books are simply better than others. So midway through On Rue Tatin, I launched into this book, also for the third time:
 Ah, precious Clementine! Or, more accurately, I should say, "Ah! Delicious writer's voice of Samuel Chamberlain!" Because that's what I love about books -- the writer's voice with all its nuance and personality and smack and snark and vulnerability. Chamberlain is a delight to read, a natural on the ol' alphabetical keys.
I have two copies of Clementine, the newer one (above) I bought years ago, and the older copy (below) I found at a thrift store for pocket change. Couldn't resist. And somehow the older hardback seems more closely connected to the author and the time of the story (pre-WWII France). So I keep the older book on my bedside table. I keep the other copy among my cookbooks.
 Mr. Chamberlain, also an artist, did the drypoint pictures in the book, which are incredibly detailed and poignant, capturing the antique beauty of pre-war France.
 But many other "line illustrations" in the book, scattered here and there, were done by Henry Stahlhut. They are lively and funny. This is always how I think of the darling Clementine: chubby, utterly competent, cheerful, and in the Chamberlain family's eyes, "practically perfect in every way." She reigned in their kitchen and kept them all in gastronomic ecstasy for years. Note her halo and wings :)
 Thus (I'm winding my way around to the egg cup, you know), when I saw this egg cup in the antique mall the other day, I recognized her immediately. It's Clementine!
 Don't you think? With the floating apron and the grapes and squash around her skirt, and the laced-up bodice? Clementine will serve my soft-boiled eggs to me :)
 Here's the first cup we located at the store. It has birds singing in a window with musical notes ascending into the air.
 Both those cups are cute and kitschy. (Wow! I spelled that right on the first, hesitating try! Miracles still occur!)
Then I found this pair. I cannot resist little lavender-colored flowers on china. I first knew I had this weakness when I fell in love with some lilac-adorned dishes in Iowa belonging to an elderly friend. Sigh.
 These two are stamped as Bavarian, while the other two bear no stamp at all.
So Clementine has come to live in my kitchen, and I'm having regular, perfect soft-boiled eggs. Such little joys are important in life, even when life is hard or troublesome. Perhaps when life is especially hard or troublesome. Our world is in a state of chaos, violence, upheaval, just as Samuel Chamberlain's world was in 1940 Paris. However, he chose joy. We should too.


  1. I liked the purple ones, too. I have a little ash tray with purple flowers like that and I use it for a sugar spoon rest when I serve up coffee or tea to a group. I love the adorable drawing of Clementine and it is so cute I will forgive the DEAD DUCK in the basket. :D Really, he has captured the silly look of ducks really well (at least when they are alive). That alone makes me want to find a copy of the book. If little things don't bring a person joy they sure won't have much of it, that is for sure. I am tickled for you on finding and enjoying your sweet egg cups.

  2. Clementine is bizarrely adorable!!! What an unusual find xx

  3. Pure delight! I need to see about those fabulous books myself...

  4. I love the Clementine egg cup!! The book sounds really wonderful.

  5. I see that this book is in the same series as The Supper of the Lamb - and did you write about Clementine before? Because this is not the first I've heard of her, and I am getting the urge to order the book myself. Thanks!

    1. GJ, it's very likely I've written of this book before, because I love it so. I enjoy books that combine biography and food. Now, this book is not as serious about studying food in a spiritual way as "Supper of the Lamb." Mr. Chamberlain is just a gastronome, and adores food. But I think you'd enjoy it. Perhaps your local library could get it for you if you didn't want to buy it? My mother used to recommend books to her library that she wanted to read. They always purchased a copy (they longed for good recommendations for their stacks), and then she got to be the first to read it.

  6. I was reading reviews on Amazon and came across one that said that Clementine was a fictional character. But then I did some more searching around and found this on a Chowhound discussion

    "'I have, however, just this moment, read on the internet that the author made Clementine up ...'

    "Where did you read that? It's true that the name Clementine was an invention, as was the name Phineas Beck. And she may have been a bit of a composite of a few cooks who worked for the Chamberlains in France. But there was a Burgundian cook who worked for the family in France and came with them to Marblehead. Her real name was Germaine. I used to work with (and was good friends with) Narcisse Chamberlain--aka Diane Beck--and her stories of 'Clementine' were very real indeed."

  7. I can relate to "Clementine" even more knowing that her name was really Germaine, because *my* name was Germaine in high school French class. :-) Did I not post a comment about finally remembering where I knew of this book before? It was on my Philadelphia cousin's kitchen shelf when I visited two years ago, and had been given to my aunt, maybe by our grandfather...? I leafed through it quite a while as I remember...


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