When this lavender covered book arrived, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Was this another tale of renovating a rundown French house? Thankfully, no.
A Picnic in Provence is the delightful story of a young American woman, Elizabeth Bard, and her French husband, Gwandal, leaving Paris for the French countryside and a small village, Cereste. The book is laced with recipes that spring from the times and occasions her family cooked and ate them.
Initially, the young couple had visited Cereste on a weekend break from Paris to see where Gwandal’s favourite poet Rene Char had lived and worked for the Resistance. Soon, they had abandoned Paris and were living in Cereste.
In the intervening months their son, Alexandre, was born and there are some interesting asides on the pregnancy and birth, especially Elizabeth’s expectations as an American and what she found French women’s experience to be.
The cultural clashes make interesting reading, particularly in her relationship with her mother-in-law, of whom she writes “wherever my mother-in-law goes, champagne will follow”. After the publication of Elizabeth Bard’s first book, Lunch in Paris, her mother-in-law was mortified by the exposure of their family in print, so the two people are continuing to work through that complex scenario.
Her own mother’s visits with her stepfather are also to be delicately negotiated.
There are times when the writer is very introspective and I did find these passages somewhat tedious. I was not really interested in her dieting woes as a young woman, although her experiences as the daughter of a manic-depressive father are very moving. As a young mother, she is torn by her failure to really engage with her son, but fortunately she receives wise advice and relaxes into motherhood. Her comments on the length of a day at nursery school, 9 am – 6 pm, were worth reading.
The latter part of the book is a description of the setting up of an artisan ice-cream shop, and learning to make specialised and individual ice-cream.
But this is a recipe book, too. The index is excellent with ‘Roasted Figs with Roquefort’ appearing as that, but also under ‘blue cheese’ and ‘figs’. There are many light summer salads, warming stews, truffle dishes and exotic meat dishes. I tried out Lentil and Sausage Stew, which in the book suggests the specialised Toulouse Sausage. Funnily enough, these are available in Woolworths; though I’m sure they don’t taste as good as the original. In future, I would just use my favourite sausage. The dish was easy to cook and a winter’s evening tasty meal.
This book works well as both a memoir and a recipe book.