The Cooking with Grandma Chronciles

Watch this space! I’m excited to announce a new project. The Cooking with Grandma Chronicles are coming soon exclusively on Here are my family’s favorite recipes, spiked with pictures, drawings, poems, short stories, and more. To be first in the know, make sure you’re signed up to the La Varenne mailing list (please email

#Cookingwithgrandma #Annewillan


The Story of La Varenne Pratique

by Anne Willan

La Varenne Pratique is the biggest book I have ever written, running to 528 pages. The core of the book includes more than 600 recipes and 1,100 color pictures of cooking techniques ranging from how to slice, dice and chop an onion to the correct way to cut a chicken into 8 pieces for coq au vin. It was put together in the late 1980s and took two years to write. I was using cutting-edge technology, an early Sony desktop machine with a vertical screen the shape of a book page. I had simply to indicate what subjects were covered on the page; the actual layouts were for the book designer, a complex mix of text, captions, headers, subheads, technique sequences and mug shots of finished recipes. My job was to supply the text and recipes for the book, plus the images for the technique sequences. Images of the finished dishes were shot separately in London.

The project began in Washington DC, where my husband was working at the time. One wall of our railroad apartment was quickly lined with shelves of cookbooks. I tracked down an editorial trainee whose mother ran a publishing company in London, so she already knew the ropes. Our chief recipe-tester was a Paris-trained chef, thus the core team was assembled. During the following months, we established the text, consisting of factual introductions and sidebars, with the full story told by hundreds and hundreds of captions. The chef tested at least a couple of hundred recipes before we were ready for the next stage.  

For shooting the technique sequences, we moved to France where I was running La Varenne Cooking School in Paris and thus had access to our teaching chefs and also the trainees from all over the world who had come to learn French cooking at the source. Our chef de cuisine was Claude Vauguet, a handsome man in his forties, who was endlessly good-natured and cheerful with, most importantly, plain strong hands that fell effortlessly into the right angles for the hundreds of technique shots. The only preparation that flummoxed him was extracting the blade from cuttlefish, and for that we were able to consult our Portuguese dishwasher.

To have housed the chef and half a dozen trainees in central Paris would have been hopelessly uneconomic, so for weeks at a time we settled on our newly acquired but rustic country property an hour away in Burgundy, a seventeenth-century château. Bathrooms might be scarce but there were plenty of bedrooms and the light in the north-facing kitchen was perfect for photography. Vegetables and fruits were to hand in the walled potager garden out the back door. Trainees worked in shifts, starting at 7.00 a.m. with a visit to the local bakery for the 10 daily baguettes that fired our efforts. The day ended after we had dined on everything left over from the daily shooting schedule – the Fish and Shellfish chapter was a high point, Offal was a low. By the end, no one could face another Chocolate Truffle, though we never forgot the Rum top of fresh fruits preserved in alcohol, displayed in a vast glass tub on the mantelpiece in the kitchen. Neither fruits nor alcohol survived the final night’s shoot. Salud!

After being written in the USA and photographed in France, the bookwas first published in the UK as Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Cookery before being re-christened La Varenne Pratique for its American debut; it went on to a dozen languages and sold more than 500,000 copies. While no longer in print, hard copies are scarce and treasured commodities, but you can purchase it as an e-book in four parts. To anyone who went to La Varenne Cooking School, and to many chefs and cooks who did not, it was called the bible. It remains one of the most comprehensive and visual books ever published on how to cook pretty much everything.

Cooking with Grandma Chronicles Part 4


Grandma often cooks with Lucy, and they’ve been making this cake for years thanks to Bruno, an amazing neighbor of Uncle Simon in France. Bruno is legally blind but he works faster in the kitchen than most professionals. This recipe of his is wonderfully rich and takes only 15 minutes to bake.  

Serves 8-10

  • Butter for the pan
  • 18 ½ oz/550 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup/125 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup/125 g flour

9-inch/22-cm cake pan

1. Heat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F and set a shelf in the center. Butter the cake pan, line with parchment paper and butter the paper. To melt the chocolate, spread it on a heatproof pie plate and set it over a pan of steaming but not boiling water. Heat until the chocolate is melted, 7-10 minutes, then stir it until smooth. Leave it to cool to cool 5 minutes or until tepid.

2. For the cake: In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs until frothy. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until the mixture lightens and thickens slightly, 3-5 minutes. With a metal spoon, stir in the flour, followed by the melted chocolate, the batter will thicken slightly.

3. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake until a crust forms on top, 14-15 minutes. Do not be surprised by the short baking time, it is correct, the cake will be firm on the outside and soft in the center when cool. Take the cake from the oven and leave it at least an hour before you slide it out of the pan for serving. Loosely wrapped, the cake can be kept at room temperature for up to a day, but if stored for too long it will lose its attractive soft center.

4. (Optional) To decorate: cut identical pieces of parchment paper, and lay them on the cake equally spaced – if they are not laying flat, just moisten with a damp cloth. Starting with coco powder heavily dust covering the cake. Gently remove the parchment paper and discard. Then turn the cake by 45 degrees and repeat the same process with confectioners’ sugar. This will then leave the cake with an attractive lattice design.

Cooking with Grandma Chronicles Part 3


Grandma likes to use a wok for this quick ratatouille, a family dish for summer when eggplant, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes are at their best down at the Mas in Languedoc. The wide cooking surface of a wok spreads the vegetables so they cook more quickly and are easy to toss in the pan, but a regular frying pan can be used instead. We serve ratatouille hot or at Mediterranean room temperature as an accompaniment to grilled sausages, fish or chicken, or on its own on toast for supper. A medium can of chopped plum tomatoes can be substituted for the fresh ones.

Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side

  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 medium eggplant (about ½ lb/225 g), cut in 3/4-inch/2-cm chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 red pepper, halved, seeded and sliced
  • 1 green pepper, halved, seeded and sliced
  • 1 lb/450 g plum tomatoes, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3 small zucchini (about 1/2 lb/225 g), halved and sliced
  • Small bunch of basil

1. Heat half the oil in the wok and fry the onion over a medium heat until limp, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme and coriander with the eggplant, salt, pepper and remaining oil and continue frying 2 minutes stirring constantly. Stir in the red and green peppers. Continue frying, stirring often, until the peppers start to wilt, 2-3 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomatoes and continue cooking, continuing to stir, until the tomatoes are soft but not mushy, 5 minutes or more depending on their ripeness. Finally stir in the zucchini, taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Cover the wok and cook over a medium heat for a further 8-10 minutes until all the vegetables are softened, but still holding their shape. Meanwhile, strip the basil leaves from the stems and coarsely shred them.

3. When the vegetables are softened, stir in the basil, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve the ratatouille hot or leave it to stand for at least 30 minutes to cool to room temperature, taste again before serving.

Cooking with Grandma Chronicles Part 2


Grandma came across this ultra-simple raspberry almond torte, during a visit to South Africa and has loved it ever since. This recipe is loved by all, especially Leo who adores raspberries! If you don’t have raspberries try sweet or tart fresh cherries instead, but they will need to be pitted.

  • Almond torte serves 6
  • 2 cups/250 g raspberries
  • 1 cup/125 g flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup/140 g butter
  • ¾ cup/150 g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1¼ cups/150 g ground almonds
  • Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
  • 8-inch/20-cm springform pan

1. Butter the cake pan, line the base with wax or parchment paper, and then butter and flour it. Wash the raspberries, dry them on paper towels. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Heat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C and set a shelf in the center.

2. Cream the butter until smooth in an electric mixer. Add the sugar and continue to beat until soft and light, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the egg until well mixed, about 1 minute. Using a large metal spoon, stir in the ground almonds, followed by the flour mixture. (Expect the batter to be quite stiff.)

3. Spread half the batter in the cake pan. Sprinkle the fruit on top and dot with the remaining batter so the fruit is almost covered. Bake until the torte starts to shrink from the sides of the pan and the top is firm when lightly pressed with a fingertip, 45-55 minutes. The top will be rustic looking, like a crumble.

4. Let the torte cool for 10-15 minutes, in the pan, then loosen the sides and slide the torte onto a rack to cool completely. Sprinkle it with confectioners’ sugar and serve it warm or at room temperature.             

Part 1 of The Cooking with Grandma Chronicles


Grandma’s mother, who hated to cook, nonetheless kept a notebook of handwritten recipes, many of them handed down from her own mother. This recipe is cryptically called “crunch” and during baking the mixture runs all over the baking sheet, browning to a giant golden wafer rather like peanut brittle. We were all set to throw it out as a failure when Leo started to nibble on the results. Scrumptious! You can eat it like a candy or transform it to delicious cookies by adding a cup of flour as suggested here.

Makes about 15 2-inch/5-cm cookies

1 cup/80 g rolled oatmeal

1 cup/125 g flour

½ cup/35 g shredded coconut

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 heaping tablespoon/80 g golden syrup

2 tablespoons water

¼ cup/60 g butter

¼ cup/60 g sugar

13×18-inch/32×45-cm sheet pan or bar cookie pan

1. Heat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F and set a shelf in the centre of the oven; butter the sheet pan, line it with parchment paper and butter the paper. Stir together the oatmeal, flour, coconut and baking soda in a medium bowl. Heat the golden syrup, butter and sugar over low heat in a small pan, stirring until melted and smooth. Stir the golden syrup into the oatmeal mixture to make a rough dough that pulls from the sides of the bowl. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dough onto the sheet pan, setting them well apart. With a fork dipped in water, flatten the mounds to make 2-inch/5 cm rounds.        

2. Bake the cookies in the oven until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet 2-3 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. They can be stored, layered in paper, in an airtight container for several days.


Dear Friends,

Announcing the happy news that I’m starting a series of posts entitled The Cooking with Grandma Chronicles, available exclusively on A couple of times each month, I’ll share a story and/or a recipe, even a drawing or poem. These posts celebrate my time in the kitchen with my five grandchildren, whom I’m proud to say all enjoy cooking and eating as much as I do. It has been a pleasure to have Sophia, Leo, Lucy, Xenia and Nina join me at the stove learning the recipes I treasure. These dishes go back to my Yorkshire childhood and extend to family favorites gathered from life in France, the USA, England and travels around the world. Cheese balls with just three ingredients – a touch of mustard is our runaway favorite.

As a cooking teacher and cookbook writer, I have so enjoyed being in the kitchen with my grandchildren that I thought I would share that joy with all of you. I hope that you will share these stories and recipes with your own grandchildren, grandparents and others you cherish. I look forward to hearing what you’ve chosen to cook. Do send me your comments.

Watch this space for new Cooking with Grandma Chronicles and make sure you follow me on @AnneWillan on Twitter and @annewillanlv on Instagram for updates. You can also sign-up to the La Varenne e-mail list if you would like these new posts in your Inbox.

Bon Appétit, Anne

Summer Week 1

Here is a poem written by my Grandson Leo

COOKING WITH GRANDMA, by Leo Schulkin aged 12

I love cooking with Grandma …

Because she teaches me things I never knew before

I love cooking with Grandma …

Because she helps me if I get stuck in a muddle

I love cooking with Grandma …

Because her instructions are so clear so I can follow along

I love cooking with Grandma …

Because we can test recipes that I never knew before

You are always in my heart

I love you Grandma no matter what happens




For the perfect pink for Valentine’s Day, I’ve layered a mixture of fresh raspberries, whipped cream and grated chocolate with a few flaked almonds for texture. to display the layers, you can use stemmed wine glasses or even clear glass tumblers instead of the traditional soda glasses I suggest here. Long-stemmed spoons are a good idea!

Serves 4
1 cup heavy cream
2 squares dark chocolate, grated
1 box raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons sugar, more to taste
1-2 tablespoons flaked or slivered almonds, browned, more for decoration
4 tall soda glasses

Chill the mixer whisk and bowl in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Chill the cream and the soda glasses in the refrigerator. Whisk the cream in the chilled bowl at medium speed until thick enough to hold soft peaks when the whisk is lifted. Set it aside.
Purée half the raspberries in a food processor and sieve the purée into a bowl to remove the seeds. Stir in the lemon juice and sugar to taste. Add the purée to the chilled cream and fold together lightly but thoroughly; the cream will thicken slightly.
To assemble the Valentines: layer the bottom of the soda glasses with about a third of the raspberry cream mixture and then sprinkle with half of the chocolate and half of the almonds. Next, add 2-3 raspberries. Repeat these layers twice and top with the remaining cream mixture. Decorate with remaining raspberries, chocolate and toasted almonds. Chill for at least an hour before serving.