For those familiar with Pumpjack & Piddlewick you know we have pet ducks. So when I spotted a book called ‘Duck Season’ set in France, I had to read it. And then of course review it for our Vive le Livre Book Club.
First, a caveat. Yes, we love our pet ducks. And no, we don’t eat them. But we do live in France where any animal that is eaten, is eaten top to toe. Waste not principal in very real practice.
France’s Last Best Place
This book is a non-fiction focus on Gascony, a region in the southwest of France. Another reason I wished to read this book. I am not at all familiar with this corner of France. Here was a chance to learn more about its culture and foods, and how ducks fit into it.
The author is David McAninch, an American with a long history and love affair with France. He, his wife and young daughter decided to spend 8 months immersing themselves in Gascony. And to give McAninch his due, he truly does immersed himself. He takes on a cooking class (reminiscent of Julia Child’s autobiography) which morphs into being more involved with the local community and its local dishes.
He tells us of many an interesting dish, and some quite frankly I would be hesitant to cook. What truly comes across is not how ‘exotic’ but rather how local everything is. These are dishes steeped in history and its ingredients.
Duck features highly on the recipe list, but then ducks are to Gascony what sheep are to Wales or New Zealand. Yet it is not just this long standing famous staple that shows its hand. There is also the Basque history that plays a part.
French food is, no doubt about it, delicious. But one thing it is not is spicy. If you are into an Indian curry or Indonesian bami you can forget any heat by spices. However, the food in Gascony McAninch tells us leans a little more towards spices than normal in France. Not necessarily always heat orientated, but definitely steeped in a layering of flavours.
Steeping in History
Another aspect of the book and its focus on foods is how the culture plays a part in what is eaten. From reading, this is not an area to go to to ‘diet’. (But then the French don’t diet.) It’s all about home cooking, slow cooking and eating appropriate to your lifestyle.
The area is very agriculturally orientated, and with working the land tends to come hardy appetites. (Having done many vendanges, I can attest to that!) If you leave the cities behind and head into the countryside of France you will find the food mirrors its clientele. Gascony seems to be all about wholesome and hearty fare for the hungry. And this book doesn’t disappoint on showing us how much they enjoy their food.
I delighted in garnering a taste of this region by written word. Particularly with the angle of food taking centre stage. It really did give an interesting insight into a region I knew little to nothing about.
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