Peter Mayle and his wife buy an old stone house in the Luberon – a relatively remote and mountainous area of southern France. A Year in Provence is the monthly chronicle of their renovation of the farmhouse. They suffer through the trials of home destruction and construction, all the while baffled by the Provencal dialect.
In the process, they come to know their neighbors (farmers, restaurateurs, craftsmen) and the regional cuisine. Mayle is an enthusiastic consumer of food and drink, and devotes large portions of the book to memorable lunches, restaurants and holidays. The best way to read this book is while eating something decadent – Mayle is not one to worry about calories. He joins wholeheartedly in the local passions for mushrooms, wild game and the powerful, locally-made brandy.
Mayle was one of the first to write this type of foreigner-buying-a-rundown-property-and-discovering-the-simple-things-life memoir. He stands out as well for his humor and sense of the ridiculous, not taking himself or anyone else too seriously.
Though there are several food-related adult mysteries to blog about (my favorite is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley, which Ann blogged about earlier) I’m choosing instead to highlight a delightful childrens book with a food theme — Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco.
Polacco has written (and also beautifully illustrated) many fine stories for the younger set, and some of those, such as Pink and Say, have some pretty weighty underlying themes. But Thunder Cake is just a fun, family story which not only “teaches” about rain and thunderstorms, but also about how to put a cake together. By ignoring the thunder and keeping busy gathering ingredients, Grandma effectively dispels her granddaughter’s fear of thunderstorms. At the end of the story, you’ll find the recipe, which includes a surprise ingredient — tomatoes! I used this book back when I was a school library-media specialist and I’m looking forward to the time when I can use it again when my own granddaughter is old enough to want to make cakes herself.
If you are a fan of cookbooks, or any type of book related to food, then take a quick trip to Iowa City to see the The Chef Louis Szathmáry II Collection of Culinary Arts housed in the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collection Department. This collection contains over 12,000 items relating to the art and science of cooking and eating, including cookbooks, fiction, pamphlets, artist books, manuscripts and much more. Louis Szathmary (1919–1996), was a Hungarian-born chef, restaurateur, food writer and owner of The Bakery restaurant in Chicago who built one of the largest culinary arts archives in the United States; in fact, the University of Iowa is housing only a fraction of his collection. In Books at Iowa 42 (April 1985), Szathmáry wrote: “To house this large and varied collection requires 31 rooms in the residential area above my restaurant (The Bakery) in Chicago.” That is a lot of tasty print!
However, don’t worry if you prefer to be an Armchair Cook– The UI Special Collections and Digital Libraries have digitized a huge selection of Szathmary’s Recipe pamphlets, such as “I thought I knew all about Bacon–“, that you can view online at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/szathmary/!