Thursday, December 12, 2013

Another Fine French Book Giveaway


I met writer Luke Barr a few years ago in New York, at a panel discussion at NYU.  Luke was discussing  his ongoing research for a book partially about his great aunt--the legendary author M.F.K. Fisher-- and a very specific chapter of her life in the South of France.  Listening to Luke’s anecdotes,  I knew the finished book would be a terrific read. It finally came out (in late October, in hardcover) and has gotten  wonderful reviews.

Luke and his publisher, Clarkson Potter, are graciously offering three copies as a giveaway to the readers of Provence Post.

In the course of her long career (she died in Glen Ellen, California in 1992 at age 83),  M.F. K. Fisher wrote 27 books, starting with Serve it Forth in 1937.  Her style was a unique combination of food literature, travel and memoir, and W. H. Auden once remarked: "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

The American-born Fisher was a frequent traveler to France, returning again and again, for months and even years at a time. She lived in Dijon in the late 1920s and early ’30s, then returned to France--this time to Aix en Provence-- in 1954.  Between 1955 and 1971, she bounced back and forth between France and St. Helena, California (and lived for a time in Lugano as well). Contemplating her future in a letter to a friend, Fisher once wrote: “I know, at this far date in my life, that I was meant to live and if possible to die on a dry, olive-covered hillside in Provence.”

In the fall of 1970, M.F. (as everyone called her) and her sister Norah (Luke’s grandmother) rented an apartment not far from Plascassier,  near Grasse, where Julia Child and her husband, Paul, had built a vacation home five years earlier. Julia had come to Provence to escape her American fame… to cook for friends…to shop the markets…to relax. The Child’s house sat on the estate of Simone “Simca” Beck, Julia’s great friend and co-author of the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The Childs named their vacation home La Pitchoune. 

“For a few weeks in 1970, the kitchen in the Childs’ house in Provence was the epicenter of the American food world,” Barr explains, in an April, 2013 Travel + Leisure article entitled Return to Provence.  “James Beard and M.F. came to dinner, or stopped by on their way back from a day at the Fondation Maeght museum; Richard Olney, the reclusive American author of the just-released French Menu Cookbook, who lived a few hours away outside Toulon, came to pay his respects. Judith Jones, the editor at Knopf who’d discovered Child and Beck, visited with her husband, Evan, staying at a nearby inn.  

“The trip that fall of 1970 was a fateful one, not only for my great-aunt, but for the entire American food establishment,” Barr continues. “They were all there in Provence together that fall and winter, more or less coincidentally… the people behind the seminal cookbooks and food writing of the era. They ate and drank and cooked together (and talked and sniped and gossiped, too), and they were all, in one way or another, rethinking their attachments to France, where they had each fallen in love with food and cooking to begin with.”
To write Provence 1970, a project that took him three years on and off, Barr (who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Switzerland and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two daughters), took two leaves of absence from his job as an editor at Travel + Leisure. He combed archival research, interviews and the letters and journals of his great-aunt to re-create this pivotal moment.  He also used  the journals and letters of Fisher, Child, Olney, Beard and Beck…and the pages of Paul and Julia Childs’s “Black Book” (an “astonishing” binder of details about their home in France).
Luke also made multiple trips to Provence. “A few were trips in summertime,” Luke tells me,  “and one wonderful trip in November, when the weather was cool and beautiful, and there were no tourists or traffic. I had tracked down Raymond Gatti, who was the chauffeur everyone hired to drive them anywhere in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and who still lived in Plascassier. We spent days driving around together, visiting places that come up in my story, like the Fondation Maeght and the diet clinic where James Beard was enrolled in 1970, which had been torn down and was now the Grasse police headquarters. Raymond also showed all his old photos....’’
Luke also rented Julia Child’s home La Pitchoune  and you can read about that experience here.
And while the book itself has no photos, Luke has some wonderful images on his website here.
Among the flurry of positive reviews Library Journal calls Provence 1970 “…delightfully engaging, highly narrative, and intimate,’’ saying Barr does an excellent job of tying together the various threads of their collective stories through a blend of travelog, cultural history, and biography. “His account is quick and episodic in its pacing and feels vivid, authentic, and authoritative…” the review continues. “This small gem of a book is a fascinating delight.’’

And here’s what chef Alice Waters--owner of the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley--has to say: “Luke Barr has inherited the clear and inimitable voice of his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher, and deftly portrays a crucial turning point in the history of food in America with humor, intimacy and deep perception. This book is beautifully written and totally fascinating to me, because these were my mentors—they inspired a generation of cooks in this country.”

My old friend Clark Wolf, a culinary historian and food consultant who splits his time between New York and Sonoma, knew all the characters in Provence 1970. So I rang him up to find out  what he thought about the book. “I love it but I may be prejudiced,” Clark told me. “For a lot of us it’s the pre-quel to our lives.  Like M.F.K., there is a real sound and feel to this writing that stays with you long after the story ends.  With food and wine we call it a long, fine finish.  With writing, we call it brilliant.”

To enter to win a copy of Provence 1970,  simply leave a comment under “comments” below. Be sure to leave an email address so we can reach you; signing in with your Google account is not enough. Tell us why you simply must have this book...or what the food and cooking of Provence means to you…or tell us about a fabulous French meal you’ll always remember…or which of M.F.K. Fisher’s books have been most-memorable for you. The more personal and evocative your comment, the better!

If you’d like to buy the book (288-pages, hardcover), you can find it on Amazon here or in the Kindle edition here.

Bonne Chance and Bon Appetit!

*Note: If you live in the New York area and are interested in food and food history, get yourself on the mailing list for Clark Wolf’s terrific discussion series at NYU. Called “Critical Topics in Food,” it’s held at the NYU Bobst Library on Union Square. Events (three or four each year) are open to the public and video archived. To get on the mailing list: assistant@clarkwolfcompany.com.

Photos: There are no photos in the book but Luke has these beauties and a few more on his website (lukebarr.net). 1. Julia Child on the terrace at La Pitchoune, her vacation house in Provence, in the early 1970s. 2. In the kitchen at La Pitchoune, Paul Child painted outlines of Julia’s tools and equipment on the pegboard walls. [Photo by Benoit Peverelli]. 3. Bert Greene, James Beard and Julia Child cooking together at M.F.K. Fisher’s Last House, in Sonoma County, in the late 1970s. Child, Beard, and Fisher remained lifelong friends, seminal figures in modern American cooking.

47 comments:

  1. Julie, checked the amazon info; it looks like a terrific Christmas gift. Would like to take part in the draw, please count me in.
    M. & N. (nnedkov@yahoo.com)

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  2. This sounds like a wonderful book. I love Provence . . . the sun, the sights, the smells, the sounds . . . it makes me feel happy.

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  3. I have been collecting books about both American food and Provence since the early 1970s when I myself first moved to Provence. At that time I taught MFK Fisher's books to American students in Avignon, and Julia Child encouraged me to write myself but first, "to get my belly up against the stove!" My own books have been mostly about gardens but in this region, food and gardens are inseparable.I used to organize Provence food tours for the Smithsonian. Looks to me like this book would fill in many parts of the ongoing story of Franco-American connections around this region and I'd love to read it, especially as it seems to be so well written. Louisa Jones

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  4. Geraldine Ventura. gerrybonj@aol.comDecember 12, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Can you imagine what a great dinner party it would be to have all of these wonderful people in Luke Barr's book together at table in Provence
    ? It would be so exciting! I will read the book and pretend! Please enter me into the drawing. Merci

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  5. Julie, what a lovely story and review on this grey December day here in Aix-en-Provence. It perfectly evokes why people ache to visit Provence; why so many do; why so many return time and time again and become seriously addicted. Times have changed and Provence has changed, but the intangible things don't change here. The aspects that make Provence different from any other part of France. It's those dry hill sides, the lovely crisp air and blue skies unlike any other skies; the olive trees, the wild herbs, the people; the honest, superb food and that special light that heightens the senses and that makes the entire experience more intense and more memorable. Living here is a joy and a privilege and I'm aware of that every single day. Provence can't be fully captured in photos or stories and experiencing it is the solution of course. But in the mean times a book like this can get you part way there! By the way, I love the name of the Childs' house: Le Pitchoun = the little one = child :-) Bonne journee! Sophia x sophia@provencesearch.com

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  6. I have spent a lot of time in Provence and have read all the biographies of Julia Child but this book intrigues me even more. It appears to be much more than a rehash of what has been written and the review suggests that in face the book leaves the reader ensconced in the warm ambiance which is Provence. In short, it sounds fabulous.
    Jacqueline (jdbucar@maine.rr.com)

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  7. I have spent a lot of time in Provence and have read all the biographies of Julia Child but this book intrigues me even more. It appears to be much more than a rehash of what has been written and the review suggests that in face the book leaves the reader ensconced in the warm ambiance which is Provence. In short, it sounds fabulous.

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  8. Wow...sounds like a great read!
    lpmccallum (@) sbcglobal.net

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  9. This is a great read, it pulls you in to the story and the scenery - a "dance" around some wonderful meals. Mouthwatering good!

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  10. Thank you Julie for letting me know about Luke Barr's book. Since I was in my early 20's MFK Fisher has influenced me more than almost any other writer. I've kept her now yellowed paperbacks, and often still read them for her sharp prose and wonderful storytelling. She really taught me how to eat, after my having a very ordinary Pennsylvania upbringing. And although there were never photos, her descriptions provided clear and indelible visions which remain in my mind today. She taught me how to cook fearlessly most of all. She was brave and modern and an icon for my generation. I am also a great fan of the all the authors who visited Julia and Paul Child that summer and can't wait to read this book. Thank you again! x
    Anita anrhild@gmail.com

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  11. To enter the world of these icons of food, stand beside them as guides would have been an adventure.---- and now I can do it in my imagination.

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  12. Oh, count me in for sure! I've been reading about the book and would just love to read….

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  13. I would love this book because I'm a huge fan of MKFisher. I've read all her books and because of her, I discovered La Train Bleu and like her ,had my first Truite bleu at the same Moulin in Burgundy.
    cigalechanta@hotmail.com

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  14. Once again thanks to you for letting us know about a new and wonderful book. I had the great fortune to meet Julia Child. Fisher has always captured my curiosity and I too have read all her books. Would love to participate in the draw.

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  15. Would love this book as a Christmas present...for myself!

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  16. m.k, olney, child, oh my!

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  17. How inspiring! I can't wait to read this book. I love Provence cooking and would love to learn how to prepare this cuisine. I've wanted to visit Provence for many years and sadly had to cancel my long-awaited trip to Provence last summer. I hope to be able to visit soon. Diana: osbergdd@earthlink.net

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  18. Can't wait to listen. I already bought my on Audible.com for my ipod.

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  19. I had read a preview of the book and instantly knew I needed a copy of it for my Provence book collection -- It will become my classic armchair travel to read and enjoy over and over. Robin: rclaufer (@) gmail.com

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  20. French cuisine is my first love in the world of cooking, perhaps from having worked, during high school, at Maison Robert, a 4-star French Restaurant in Boston, and from having collected so many of Julia's books. Later I worked at The Harvest Restaurant in Harvard Square and Julia and her husband used to come in and order cheeseburgers, cooked the same way: charred on the outside, and slightly grey and very pink on the inside. I'd also see her crossing the street from the supermarket or visiting the liquor store, for recipe ingredients, I'm certain. M.F.K. Fisher is of course another person high on my list of cooks. How I long to return to Provence—I've been to Avignon, Marseille, Aix, Cannes and Nice—and visit Remy someday. By the way, I just love that first photo of Julia. I'll be sure to check out the book.

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  21. I haven't been to Provence yet.... but this book sounds like the perfect "entree". With my food and wine studies, I can't wait to connect the dots in Provence! wcorrick@hotmail.com.

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  22. Books are my method of travel to Provence, so far and this one looks like it's truly in the First Class seats! How fabulous to have all those wonderful food people together between the covers of one book. Thanks so much for the peek inside :) jawill59@telus.net

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  23. This book has been on my Amazon "wish list" since its publication. I do remember walking past MF's Sonoma home wondering if she was home and by chance walk out that door to say hello. My best memory of cooking in Provence was in Aups for an entire week.

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  24. I remember passing by MF's Sonoma home wandering if she was inside and hoping that she would wander outside and say hello. I have had this book on my Amazon "wishlist" since its publication. What a great surprise if I could hit the "remove" button. My greatest cooking week of all was in the Haute Provence and walking the markets of Aups and others.

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  25. I'd love to add this title to my collection. Pick me, s'il vous plait ! :) kkgb19@gmail.com

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  26. Hi Julie--I cried when I discovered one of my sons took my MFK Fisher cookbooks to sell in his friend's yard sale. I've love the stories of French cookery since my initial foray into France as a student in 1964. Would so love to have this book. Pleawse include my in the drawing. rmixon@triad.rr.com

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  27. thanks for the giveaway! I read a life of Julia Child, loved it, and got her famous cookbook for my birthday. But I would mostly like to win this book to offer a friend of mine who loves everything French! Emma ehc16e at yahoo dot com

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  28. I dream of Provence. Do dreams come true?

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  29. I have been so inspired the last three months where I was living in Puyricard (north of Aix-en-Provence) and meeting all types of agriculture producers, culinary tourism mavens and foodies. Thank you Julie for keeping the dream alive for so many foodies who have fallen in love with the South of France. I can attest that learning about cooking with Reine Sammut (L'Auberge La Feniere, Lourmarin) picking olives with Lisa and Johann Pepin, Cadenet and exploring Les Etoiles de Mougins with other foodies has shifted my awareness and I will continue to learn and grow as I develop a culinary product promotion business. Julie,meeting you in St. Remy was so special. There is no place like "Provence!" I visited Plascassier a few weeks ago and loved this town! I would also like to say to everyone that knows this area to also visit Confiserie Florian in nearby Tourrettes-sur-Loup - you will be warmly welcomed by the staff and surrounded by delicious candies and chocolates as well as breath-taking views. Culinary inspiration is around every corner in Provence, I can't wait to return in 2014.

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  30. Aah, to have been a fly on the wall during those days and been privy to what must have been fascinating conversations! And Provence is one of the most fascinating (to me) places on earth! I hope I win one of these lovely books!

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  31. We just learned of this new book from our dear friend Kathie Alex when having lunch with her last week. I eagerly await the chance to read it to help fill in so many gaps in my knowledge of this luminous group. When we purchased the farmhouse in Saint Remy in the mid 80’s I was eagerly devouring MFK’s paperbacks in anticipation of coming to live in Provence forever. When we came here full time in the early 90’s and started the cooking school and joined the IACP we got to know Julia and saw her many times in the ensuing years and she never forgot to ask where and what you had eaten lately. Richard Olney graciously received us on several occasions at his hideaway near Toulon and we got a bit of an idea of how snarly the relationships amongst the principal could be (per June Jacobs, oh to have been a fly on the wall!).

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  32. So interesting to read all the comments, particularly those by people who've had personal connections with MFK or Julia Child and her husband. I can't compete with these stories. But I can say Julia Child taught me to cook. At least her book did. In the 70s when I was newly married and hadn't a clue about how to produce a good meal. Have been using her book ever since - the pages have nearly all fallen out so it's kept together with a giant rubber band. Have since bought a replica of the original first edition but it's the old one I cook from, with all its wine stains and residues of melted butter and wonderful sauces. After the movie "Julie and Julia" came out an old friend and I produced a fabulous Julia dinner using recipes from this book (main bourse was her boeuf bourguignon) with French wine and cheeses as well. Have been spending holidays in Provence on and off since the 70s and love it, staying sometime in St Remy, Aix or Arles. Will be there again next year and would love a copy of the book so I can read it and walk in their footsteps. Best wishes, Pamela

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  33. From Facebook: Watching Julia's instructional French Chef TV programs inspired me to be fearless in the kitchen and to enroll at The French Culinary Institute in NYC to become a chef. That didn't happen, but I did become a food editor at a terrific food magazine, and all these people who gravitated to Provence in 1970 by chance are my heroes! I'd love to have the book to relish each and every page. gtucker at mshanken.com

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  34. I am languishing in the American Southwest, and do not know when I will get back to France. I can only travel there in my mind -- please, help me make the trip with this book, which looks absolutely delightful! dhmcarver@gmail.com

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  35. What a wonderful post! And such a beautiful introduction to what sounds like a great book. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention 'down here' where we would not have discovered it on Amazon. I am going to ask Book in Bar in Aix to stock it.
    BTW, did you know that MFK Fisher used to live on my street in Aix? Unfortunately, long before I got here. Anne-Marie SImons

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  36. Is it too late to enter? I love ALL things referring to Provence. This book sounds wonderful.

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  37. I can't wait to read it! The pictures in the links are wonderful.

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  38. I first visited Provence in 1966 as a youthful hitch-hiker and didn't return until 2012, after my home became Australia. This book will help me fill in the years I missed.
    grussellt@gmail.com

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  39. I first visited Provence in 1966 as a youthful hitch-hiker and returned in 2012, after making Australia my new home. This book will help me fill in the years I missed in Aix-en -Provence.

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  40. I live in small town Ontario in a town that is as much know for it's commuter population as it is for the locals that haven't travelled 15km outside of their boundaries. I dream of owning a gourmet food/cheese store and am working towards it but wonder if this is the right town when people ask me what gorgonzola is. I manage local farmers' markets, promote local food and watch shows that extol the greatness of what we grow and produce and am an advocate of my local farmers. A cook book like this would give me hope and appreciation for the great food that we are able to create when we look into our own backyards. I am not be able to re-create the recipes as they are written but I will have inspiration as to how to work with what is available in my area. A local newbie, but oh so wanting to spread my wings.

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  41. I was in Washington DC over Thanksgiving and finally crossed off "seeing Julia Child's kitchen" from my things-to-see in the world list. I have always admired her ability to really understand the French culture. She was our best Ambassador. I just ordered the book, but would love to get another copy for a dear friend who shares my love of everything related to Provence. cmfile@yahoo.com

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  42. What a lovely story. I spent some time near Grasse in the late 60s. What a wonderful area. The book, I'm sure, would bring back many happy memories.
    Ann
    cozyintexas@yahoo.com

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  43. I would love this beautiful book! while on our honeymoon, my husband and I were lucky enough to stay with old family friends in Aix...just down the road from the quarries where Cézanne captured the beautiful ochre and gold light of rising and setting sun.

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  44. I'm so anxious to read this book, I can't wait for the giveaway! I'm heading to Amazon right now. Julie, thank you so very much for this wonderful introduction to a book that will bring joy to all Francophiles!

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  45. Julie,

    I must have this book! because I LOVE how it looks... un vrai cahier des recettes... and who on earth doesn't love Julia Child, and then Provence? are you kidding I can't live withOUT this book! I want!

    bisous Kit kit@kitgolson.com

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  46. As a recent transplant to Provence and the producer of a documentary about Provencal wine and food, this is the kind of book that will likely travel with me each time I leave France to share with friends and family in hopes of encouraging a future visit.

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