09 November 2013

Weekend Cooking: Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Provence, 1970 by Luke BarrI came to age in terms of the kitchen at a turning point in the American food scene. The food stars of my youth were not celebrity chefs (Julia Child excepted), but men and women who wrote and taught and critiqued while changing the face of the typical American dinner.

Luke Barr's Provence, 1970 captures one of the pivotal moments of, as the subtitle says, the "reinvention of American taste." For varied reasons, in December of 1970, Julia and Paul Child, M. F. K. Fisher and her sister Nora, James Beard, Richard Olney (an ex-pat), Judith Jones, Simone Beck (a French native), and others all found themselves more or less in the same place in France at the same time. Most were facing major changes in their lives and careers and all were connected through food and writing. Although there was no meeting or consensus, soon after that holiday season, almost all of them were treading a new path that sloughed off the fussiness of classic French cuisine to embrace flavor and fun.

Two Towns in Provence by M. F. K. FisherLuke Barr, great-nephew of M. F. K. Fisher (M.F.), relied on his aunt's personal journal of that trip as well as the letters, notes, and papers of the other writers and chefs who were in France that winter. Barr's account is made all the more interesting because of this reliance on firsthand observations.

I was absolutely fascinated by the relationships among the individuals who appear in Provence, 1970. Although some of the material was familiar to me, other stories were totally new. The personalities of Edna Lord and Sybille Bedford, Olney's reaction to Beard, and Elizabeth David's thoughts on M.F. were some of the surprises.

Barr doesn't go into detail on how the American food revolution occurred, but instead tells us about the complex personal factors that prompted both Child and M.F. to see their home country in a new light. Provence, 1970 is the kind of book that will appeal primarily to people who are familiar with the major and minor players. Most foodies have heard of Fisher, Child, Beard, and Claiborne, but not everyone will recognize the names of Olney, Gael Green, Michael Field, and Judith Jones.

From Julia Child's Kitchen by Julia ChildI, however, couldn't stop reading Barr's book. I have read and own almost every book and cookbook mentioned in the text. I mourned Michael Field's early death and remember when Claiborne temporarily left the Times. Plus Barr so wonderfully captured his aunt's voice, it was as if she were once again among us.

I both read and listened to Provence, 1970. The audiobook (Random House Audio; 9 hr, 7 min) was brilliantly narrated by John Rubinstein, who subtly projected each person's personality, while avoiding the dramatic and impersonation. He altered his voice just enough, so it was easy to tell when he was reading a quote or a menu, and his characterizations were consistent. Highly recommended in print or audio.

Clarkson Potter, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780307718341
Source: Review (audio), bought (print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Linda 11/9/13, 6:16 AM  

What an ideal time to review these books. With Christmas approaching I now feel like I have solid leads on gifts for two foodie friends who savor the audio book experience.
Thanks again for opening up your site on a Saturday.

Tina 11/9/13, 6:28 AM  

A good reader makes all the difference in these audio books. Sounds like a good one. I have read some of the foodie authors you mentioned and particularly like MKK Fisher....but many of the names are unfamiliar to me.

I also grew up in the era where there weren't big name chefs and watched the likes of The Galloping Gourmet on TV :-)

Sandy Nawrot 11/9/13, 7:47 AM  

OK this has my name ALL OVER IT. I'm off to the library to see what they offer...

JoAnn 11/9/13, 9:14 AM  

This sounds like the perfect book for you! I'm familiar with the major players, but don't know a thing about some of the others. Think I'd still enjoy it though.

(Diane) bookchickdi 11/9/13, 9:26 AM  

This sounds like such a fascinating read, thanks for sharing this. I agree that it would make a great foodie Christmas gift.

Laurie C 11/9/13, 9:30 AM  

I missed the French cooking craze; my first foodie author was Laurie Colwin (still a favorite). But someone lent me a copy of Dearie and I bought a memoir by Judith Jones over a year ago -- both of which I still need to read! I'll add Provence 1970 to the list, but I also need to read some MFK Fisher first!

bermudaonion 11/9/13, 9:48 AM  

This sounds fantastic!

Beth S. 11/9/13, 9:51 AM  

I was offered a chance to review this book but passed since I didn't think I'd get to it in a timely manner. Sounds like a great read.

Heather 11/9/13, 1:19 PM  

As soon as you mentioned that this is available as an audio book, I stopped and went to my library's site and downloaded it. Thanks. Looking forward to listening.

Also, I'd like to thank you for continuing to host this wonderful meme. I don't get here every week, but I certainly do enjoy when I do get here whether I post or not.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice 11/9/13, 2:26 PM  

This book totally needs to be on my list. Thanks for the reminder!

Esme 11/9/13, 3:33 PM  

I have been wanting to read this and your review confirms what I already thought about the book.

Joy 11/9/13, 4:07 PM  

This is waiting for me at the library. Although, now I'm wondering if I should pursue my project to read something (anything!) by M.F.K. Fisher first because I've somehow missed her in my culinary reading.

Joy's Book Blog

jama 11/9/13, 6:10 PM  

I've been wanting to read this one and enjoyed hearing your reactions to it. Sounds so interesting!

Couscous & Consciousness 11/9/13, 7:39 PM  

Some of those names are not familiar to me, but this sounds like a fascinating read nonetheless, and one I would definitely look out for.

Cecelia 11/9/13, 8:22 PM  

Oh, it sounds as though this was the perfect read for you! I wonder if it would resonate as much with me, when I don't know any of the names mentioned (except Child, of course!).

Sue Jackson 11/10/13, 10:01 AM  

This sounds like a fascinating book. I must admit to knowing very little about the people featured in this book (obviously I have heard of some of the bigger players but otherwise know little about any of their lives). I learned to cook from my mom, and I was already a busy mom of 2 when the whole Food Network scene arrived.

I would love to learn more about some of these key players in the food world!


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Unknown 11/10/13, 3:27 PM  

I'm glad you got to read and review this! I loved it so much and I knew you would, too. Great review.

Anonymous,  11/10/13, 6:43 PM  

The other one I remember from my youth was The Galloping Gourmet - Graham Kerr. I have read a lot about Julia Child, she was an amazing woman and often credited with enormous change in American eating.

Nan 11/11/13, 12:09 AM  

I bought this the minute I heard about it. It looks so wonderful! Thanks for a great review.

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