A best-seller in French cuisine since 1932



Podcast 1

On 1 August 1932, a 650-page book published by Albin Michel was to become a worldwide success. The young author was unknown at the time. But if you look for this book in the literature section, you won't find it! The book we're talking about is one of the great successes of cookery books: the 1932 edition contained more than 2000 recipes, all tested; simple recipes for everyday life or more elaborate recipes for festive occasions!  To find out all about its creator, listen to the story of Ginette Mathiot

The French transcript is available on the French version of the website. 



When we think of a bestseller, we usually think of the latest bestselling novel. In this podcast, I introduce you to a huge French publishing success, but you have to look for it in the cookery section! It's available almost everywhere, from bookshops to supermarket shelves. Next to some magnificently illustrated works, it seems rather modest. It's called "Je sais cuisiner" by Ginette Mathiot. This book, which doesn't look like much, is one of the most successful cookery books in France.  It has gone through no fewer than 53 editions. Here's the story.


The author, Ginette Mathiot, was born into a Protestant family in Paris in 1907. A good pupil, little Geneviève (Ginette is the author's name) wanted to study medicine. But her parents felt that this was not a suitable profession for women. They chose for her to attend the École normale supérieure des Arts ménagers in Paris, one of those schools for girls that prepare them for their destinies as wives and mothers. Geneviève, for her part, remained single all her life, despite numerous marriage proposals. The reason: her parents were formally opposed to any union with a non-Protestant. However, the young woman was not happy to give up her family's happiness: she once confessed that many of the recipes she wrote were copiously sprinkled with her tears of disappointment! 


Geneviève's destiny seemed to be written: that of an ordinary woman, confined to a lacklustre career as a woman. And it was quite by chance that Geneviève became an author. Albin Michel, the famous publisher himself, wanted to publish a cookery book incorporating the discoveries of a still little-known discipline: dietetics. He crossed the street and pushed open the door of the girls' college opposite the publishing house. There, he entrusted the writing of the book to a young teacher, Hélène Delage. But Hélène didn't feel up to this mammoth task on her own, so she called on Geneviève, a friend she had met at the École ménagère. Geneviève took up the challenge and got down to work - it was mainly she who developed the 2,000 recipes contained in the 650-page book, all of which were tested at the school where she teaches.  The idea was to make cooking accessible to everyone, from everyday meal preparation to more sophisticated festive dishes. 
"Je sais cuisiner" was published on 1 August 1932. The book sold 7 million copies and was translated into many languages, including Japanese! 
And guess what? Once again, Geneviève was ill-advised by her parents, who didn't believe in the commercial success of a simple treatise on cooking and dietetics, so she gave up her royalties and didn't benefit much from this incredible best-seller! 


Encouraged by this success, Geneviève didn't stop there. She went on to write over 30 successful books. There is even a Ginette Mathiot for "camping, caravanning and yachting" cuisine.  At the end of her life, Geneviève, who remained a teacher and even became an inspector of domestic schools, was awarded the prestigious Légion d'honneur.

Of course, over time, "Je sais cuisiner" was adapted. The recipes were lighter. In the first editions, guinea pigs were cooked! This has since been dropped. But Ginette Mathiot is still very useful! The recipes are reliable, they've all been tested, there's something for every taste and every budget! And above all, they're easy to make! That's why, today as in the past, "Je sais cuisiner" still has a place on the shelves of French kitchens.


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