A debut memoir about eight months of French culinary delights.
In 2012, food writer and Chicago Magazine features editor McAninch was sent on assignment to Gascony, a fertile agricultural region bordering the Pyrenees in southwest France, to write a piece about duck. Although he had passed through the area on other visits, this time the “card-carrying Francophile” was smitten. Everything about Gascony entranced him: the amazing food, wines, customs, and people, who “seemed more open-minded than their compatriots,” importing from Spain “an easy warmth and boisterousness.” Forgoing trendiness (no nouvelle cuisine here), cooks created “dishes of immense depth from a limited palette of local ingredients that hadn’t expanded in generations.” Following a plot that has now become familiar, McAninch became obsessed, imagining Gascony as “a kind of Brigadoon,” and conceived the idea of writing about a region that he believed had been overlooked in favor of the more picturesque Provence. Soon, he, his wife, and young daughter were installed in an old water mill in the village of Plaisance, where they would experience all the blessings Gascony could offer from May to December. McAninch tells a charming but predictable tale of abundant meals prepared by fabulous cooks in their own kitchens or modest restaurants. The author enrolled in cooking classes and private lessons, practicing his new skills in his rudimentary kitchen. Meals, he writes, “became the organizing principle of our daily life.” Besides garbure (cabbage and white bean soup), poule au pot (chicken in a pot), duck confit, foie gras, seared duck breasts, and cream-filled tarts—recipes included—wine and beer flowed at every event, morning, noon, and night. “Glasses were filled, emptied, and filled again,” could serve as the book’s refrain. As in most such memoirs, the visiting Americans encounter kindly, sometimes-eccentric, always colorful, and voluble characters, such as the taciturn cheese maker who sometimes, but not always, manages to bring his wheels of cheese to market.
Warm recollections to please fellow Francophiles.