The title of this book could be "Spring Cleaning." The author, Justin Spring, takes a fresh, and not always flattering look at six famous American writers that he says contributed to the idealized image of French food and wine in much of American intellectual and gourmet life. Spring concentrates on the post-war years, approximately 1945-1975, with bits of background and followup -- a wonderful era in France, and an interesting time for the development of American taste in food, especially French food.
Although I was already very familiar with the lives and works of four of Spring's subjects, and moderately aware of the other two, I learned something -- usually a lot of things -- about all of them from Spring's book. His research into their lives, their publications, and the history of their time in France is incredible. I very much liked his narrative style: he doesn't separate the discussion of the six, but treats their experiences as a continuing history and describes their relationships to one another and common approaches to food and to French life. In the course of the book, Spring also provides lots of information about a vast number of other books and personalities, both French and American, which I equally enjoyed.
Ruth Reichl, in her New York Times review titled "Iconic Food Writers Toppled Off Their Pedestals" took this view of the book --
"Spring sets out to prove that the six writers he chronicles — Julia Child, M. F. K. Fisher, Alexis Lichine, A. J. Liebling, Richard Olney and Alice B. Toklas — were responsible for making 'the age-old French dialogue surrounding food, wine and the table' part of the American dialogue. I’m not convinced he’s done that, but he has achieved something much more interesting: offered us an entirely new perspective on a group of people we thought we knew."Instead of writing a review here, I'm going to show a photo of my own books by five of these authors and tell you one or two new things I learned about each one. I do not own any works by Alexis Lichine, and virtually everything about him was new to me.
From My Bookshelves
|Richard Olney (1927-1999)|
|Julia Child (1912-2004)|
"Apart from Michaud, which became their local favorite, the Childs began following the Parisian custom of visiting particular restaurants for particular dishes. Having been stunned shortly after disembarking the transatlantic liner by the sole meunière at the restaurant La Couronne in Rouen...she was delighted to discover that La Couronne had a sister restaurant in Paris, La Truite... serving the same seafood just as beautifully. ...
"The Childs also liked the poulet gratiné at Au Gourmet; the tripe at Pharamond; the snails at L'Escargot d'Or; and the onion soup -- de rigueur after a late night visit to Les Halles -- at Au Pied de Cochon. For choucroute they went, of course, to Brasserie Lipp ... On special occasions, they went to Prunier, so famous for its fish, or to Lapérouse, the ancient and celebrated restaurant on the quai des Grands Augustins. Still, it was the intimate Le Grand Véfour, with its unbelievably elegant neoclassical interiors fronting the gardens of the Palais-Royal, that quickly became their favorite...." (p. 92-93)Spring explains that Julia Child had a substantial inheritance that enabled them to dine out and generally live well beyond the means that Paul's salary as an American government employee would have covered.
Just a note about money: Spring is fascinated by it! For example, virtually every bottle of wine mentioned in the text is footnoted with its price at the time of its purchase, along with the price one would have to pay at the time he wrote the book in around 2016.
|A,J. Liebling (1904-1963)|
|M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992)|
|Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967)|
ConclusionIn Spring's Afterword, he underscores his principal claim about his subjects: "While none of these six writers invented French cooking, and while none could be called a definitive authority on the subject, each did his or her readers an extraordinary service by introducing them to the genius of French gastronomy." (p. 381)
The Gourmand's Way is a deep and rich history, very much worth reading. It will be the selection for the next meeting of my culinary reading group. It's also very appropriate for the ongoing blog event "Paris in July" hosted by Tamara. I especially want to encourage my fellow bloggers who love France and love Paris to read Spring or to read any of the other authors he discusses -- I hope to go back to some of these authors and read more of their work/try more of their recipes! After all these years, you know, hashish fudge is finally legal in many states.
All content in this post is written and copyright 2019 by Mae E. Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. If you are reading this at another blog, it's been stolen.