Over the past month or so, I’ve received two new (to me) cookbooks, Elizabeth David’s classic French Provincial Cooking and Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Cooking. The first was a gift from Will to celebrate our recent trip to France (I was supposed to pack it for travel reading, but I forgot); the second was a gift from our meat-lovin’-est friend, who inscribed the title page, “Will+ Jen, Enjoy! Make me something?”

The books are quite different in the cuisines they describe–David’s is self-explanatory and a strong influence on Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, while Henderson’s celebrates centuries-old British recipes for game and organ meats–but their language and approach to cooking are remarkably similar, despite their having been written more than 40 years apart. Both strive to revive and preserve rural, regional traditions of cooking and eating, with emphasis on high-quality local ingredients and simple things done well (David goes on for several pages about the various ways to boil eggs), as opposed to showy haute cuisine.

Both encourage cooks to take responsibility and show individuality when executing their recipes through deliberately vague language, for example calling for knobs of this and handfuls of that and giving only approximate cooking times and temperatures. Many of David’s recipes call for “a coffee cup (after-dinner size) of olive oil,” and almost all of them tell the cook to “throw in” several handfuls of something. Ferguson tells us to chop parsley “just enough to discipline it” and, when cleaning sweetbreads, to “give them the occasional gentle shuggle” to remove all the blood.

Despite these similarities, the tone in each is quite different. David comes across sort of as a cool but slightly scary grandmother–you want to win her praise and fear her tart judgment of having created something “insipid and flavourless.” I tried her method for ouefs mollet this morning, sort of a halfway mark between soft- and hard-boiled egg; it turned out okay, except I mangled the egg a bit in the peeling and didn’t cook it quite long enough (I guess the egg was too large and not fresh enough), so I had to stick it in the microwave for 30 seconds to finish it, which I’m sure would have horrified the old lady. Henderson, on the other hand, comes across as your buddy. I could imagine pouring out a generous tumbler of whiskey with him while shuggling, braising, and roasting odds and ends (literally) of various animals for several hours to see what happens.

Both books are now heavily dog-eared to mark recipes I plan to try in the coming months. Stay tuned for reports.