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Luncheon of the Boating Party

 A novel by Susan Vreeland
Review and recipe by Donna Scocozza

There aren’t too many novels that have me reaching for an art history book as well as the usual pile of cookbooks when I find an intriguing food reference in something I’m reading, but that’s exactly what happened when I recently read "Luncheon of the Boating Party."

This delectable novel is a well-researched and lushly imagined version of how Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s magnificent painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party," came to be. The story is set in Paris and environs in the post-Franco-Prussian War year of 1881, and it follows Auguste, as he was known to his friends and fellow artists, as he creates one of his best known and perhaps, his most beloved work.

The novel follows Auguste as he agonizes over his role as an artist: Is he part of the Impressionist movement? Is he a classicist at heart? Should he break from his fellow Impressionists -- Manet, Monet, Degas-- in order to survive and continue to be recognized as a true artist? Whom should he enlist, and more importantly, trust, to pose for the painting that he believes will make or break him as an artist?

All this agony is juxtaposed with the incredible joy brought by the dinners served by Madame Fournaise and her family to Auguste’s friends who posed for the painting during seven summer Sundays. Food descriptions are vivid and colorful to the point that I could almost taste the sweet just-picked raspberries that Madame Fournier’s daughter Alphonsine, lovingly gathered for the tart she will bake for the first Sunday dinner.

Aside from the Sunday dinners with entrées like braised duck garnished with turnips, onions, celery, and fried potatoes, and desserts like Charlotte Malakoff (fresh ripe strawberries and ladyfingers in a rum-almond cream), it seems like every other page had a luscious food reference, from wine-soaked galettes to exquisite chocolate confections consumed at an outdoor café, to morning café au lait and croissant.

The Impressionist movement was all about light and color, and in this novel, the two elements are fused with people and place to evoke a time passed, a time yet to come, and fortunately for us, a time captured on canvas by Renoir’s talented hand.

Raspberry Cream Tart (as imagined from Alphonsine Fournaise)

Serves 10 to 12


Sweet Pastry
1¼  cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
½ cup seedless raspberry jam

1 container (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur

3 packages (4 ounces each) fresh red   raspberries
Confectioners’ sugar for garnish, optional


1. For the pastry, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, sugar and salt to aerate.
With a pastry cutter or 2 knives used scissor fashion, cut in butter
until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing just until dough holds together.

2. Gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350º F. On a clean, dry, lightly floured surface, roll out dough
to an 12-inch circle  ease into a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan. Press onto bottom and into side of pan; level off crust at top. Prick bottom of dough with  a fork. Bake 18 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to wire rack to cool for 10 minutes then spread jam over bottom of pastry.

4. For the filling, in a large bowl, with electric mixer at high speed, beat  the mascarpone, granulated sugar, egg and cream, until well mixed. Stir in flour and liqueur.  Pour mixture into tart shell. Bake 20 to 23 minutes until
filling is barely set in center. (it will continue to set as it cools).

5. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Arrange the raspberries over the filling, in a random or a decorative pattern, as desired. Chill until ready to serve.

6. ust before serving, if desired, dust a small amount of confectioners’ sugar
over the raspberries.

P.S. Renoir’s magnificent painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party," is part of the permanent collection at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. For information on viewing hours, tickets and more go to: