Welcome to Summer Reads 2017 where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
Today for Summer Reads I’m excited to introduce you to Duck Season: Eating, Drinking and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place by David McAninch. McAninch is the Features Editor at Chicago Magazine and the book tells the story of the eight months he lived in rural Gascony with his wife and young daughter. McAninch and his family lived in the Gers, the neighbouring department to the Lot-et-Garonne where our little maison de la fontaine is situated so the story is one that is close to my heart.
The Southwest is a little bit overlooked when it comes to the tourist trail in France (this can be a blessing in a way – you really feel like you are in uncharted tourist territory sometimes! – but it also feels like a shame – more people should know about this magical corner of the country!) and, like many, McAninch wasn’t really familiar with the region until he was travelled there to research a story about duck (a less-common ingredient in North American but a Gascon staple) for a food magazine. A “card-carrying Francophile” for most of his life, McAninch had fallen in love with the language in high school, spent a year in the South of France as a student, then another year teaching in Paris. He went on to study French at university, obtaining a Master’s degree, then honeymooned in France but Gascony hadn’t been on his radar until that assignment. While he was writing that story, he was enchanted by the people, the food (and Armagnac!) and the lifestyle and knew he needed to know more.
On returning home, McAninch tried to secure another Gascony-related assignment so he could get his fix and was lucky enough to be sent to cover a wine festival (tough job, huh, but someone’s gotta do it!) in the small village of Viella which fuelled his obsession even more. McAninch started reading everything he could about the region, the food, the people.
As curiosity sometimes does, mine blossomed into an obsession. This hilly region of duck farms and vineyards began to shimmer in my imagination like France’s Last Best Place, a kind of Brigadoon.
It was a passage in Paula Wolfert’s classic The Cooking of South-West France that spurred McAninch to do something about his obsession:
One could write a rich and anecdotal book about the region, the people, and the land, the sights and smells and moods.
Convincing his wife, Michele, to make the move to Southwest France was swift. A four-day house hunt in the Gers saw him making a handshake deal on an old millhouse. Other pieces of the administrative puzzle seemed to fall into place quickly too and in early May, the McAninch family saw themselves transplanted to the Gers for what would be eight months of French immersion of the best kind.
Duck Season tells the tale of the McAninch family’s immersion in the Gascon art de vivre. It’s a delicious tale of discovery – not just of the region itself but also of a whole different lifestyle – the epitome of what the “slow living” movement is all about. McAninch learns to respect time as an important ingredient in the preparation of really good food – the Gascon way of life is anything but fast. “Moderation” isn’t a word typically associated with Gascon food (it’s rich and heavy) and McAninch notes that folks in the Gers ate and drink “what they craved. They always ordered cheese or dessert and often both. They sang a lot.” It’s joie de vivre at its finest and proof that a little excess has a place in the everyday. The life expectancy of people in this region is higher than any other in France (with twice as many men over the age of ninety as the national average), so they much be doing something right! It’s an enchanting look at everyday life in rural France which will, in fact, make you want to jump on a plane immediately and seek out this lesser-known corner of France for yourself. I can say with the utmost confidence that McAninch’s declaration that this region is France’s “last best place” is pretty darned accurate. Read the book and see for yourself!
Read McAninch’s fabulous article in The New York Times: Is Gascony the most delicious corner of France?
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received a copy of “Duck Season” for review purposes from the publisher. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions 100% my own.
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