REVIEW: A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France by Georgeanne Brennan

I’m a Francophile. I suspect this is some sort of residual frustration over my two-week trip to Paris and Northern France when I was 17 years old: naturally, I didn’t appreciate the culture as much as I could have and was more excited to just hang out with my friends and eat lots of pastries. So now I’m an adult and it’s incredibly complicated to get back to France, which is ironic since I would “get it” so much more now. And, in my more self-pitying moments, I think about the wasted opportunity. In my more generous moments, I'm happy to have had the opportunity at all!

So I read. And I cook. I’m fascinated by those people who have gone to France and had a culinary epiphany: Julia Child, Alice Waters, MFK Fisher. Curiously, Georgeanne Brennan hasn’t made it into the canon of cooks who have had a “conversion experience” in France (unless I’m just running in the wrong circles and more people know of her work than I’m aware). Either way, her name deserves to be spoken in the same breath as these other fine women.

A Pig in Provence is a lovely, cozy read with an exquisite sense of place. It begins with Georgeanne, her then-husband Donald, and her 3-year-old daughter Ethel (all Californians) moving to Provence to raise goats and make goat cheese in the old-style that was no longer being made in the village at that time. Donald had studied animal husbandry at UC Davis, but Georgeanne was more inexperienced, and their initial bumbling steps to achieve their dream are amusing and heartwarming.

On the other hand, Brennan doesn’t sugar-coat things: think twice before owning goats – it ain’t just a walk in the park. Brennan makes it clear that a simple life, like simple food, doesn’t necessarily equal an easy life: the people of the village, Brennan included, work incredibly hard to provide sustenance for themselves and others.

In the midst of all this hard work, though, there is great joy…and food….oh, yes, there’s food. Brennan does a remarkable job of describing food and the meals they eat; you can taste the textures and hear the hiss of fat on the fire. Respectful of les arts de la table, Brennan also describes place settings, lighting, and ambience and all you want to do is be at that table underneath the trees with Georgeanne and all the lovely people she befriends in Provence. Or, better yet, I want to go mushroom hunting with Georgeanne after reading her incredible chapter on gathering wild mushrooms in the forest.

There are recipes included, but I have to confess that I’m reluctant to try them. It’s clear that Brennan makes them from the freshest ingredients imaginable, and I hesitate to make the poor urban version I would no doubt create. There are a couple of recipes, though, where I know I can get fresh, local, seasonal ingredients at Union Square: Tomato Tart (tarte aux tomates) for summer and Braised Pork Shoulder with Mustard and Capers (porc à l’ancienne avec moutarde et câpres). Brennan also has additional recipes posted on her website.

I highly recommend this book for fans of Child, Waters, and Fisher. Or, quite frankly, for those who love France and food. If you haven't been to France, this book will make you want to go. If you've already been, then you'll be longing to go again.

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