Le Sud de France: The Food & Cooking of the Languedoc by Caroline Conran
I have over 500 cookbooks, both new and vintage. This one is without doubt one of the most thorough, thoughtful, well-researched, and interesting ones I own. It's black and white inside with no pictures, only illustrated with a few of Caroline's drawings. It's soft cover and a soft-sell, with a moody watercolor of hills rather than of food on the front.
But within this gentle tome is a wealth of experience and food know-how.
Caroline and Terrance Conran made a name for themselves in England, first opening their design oriented Habitat shop in Chelsea, following on with a series of companies from there. Terrance then developed as an international restaurateur, opening at least 8 restaurants in London, with Caroline his partner. Although no longer together, Caroline and Terrance wrote a cookbook together, and Caroline went on to continue as a food writer to work with three-star chefs helping them write their cookbooks. She's written many of her own, including Under the Sun, a book about southern French food.
This one, however, is unlike other cookbooks, conveying every bit of knowledge she has accumulated about food, whether it's attractive to read or not, in the interest of scholarship and because of her fascination with it.
" Boar meat is actually more easily digested than pork, but it is vital that the testicles and guts are removed immediately after it has been killed. If not, the meat, probably because of the animal's thick fur which keeps the carcase warm over a long period, will taint very quickly."
Then, you'll learn about olives:
"Growing and looking after olive trees is an art, one passed down from one generation to the next. The trees are pruned to be open in the centre, so that a bird can fly through. This allows the air to keep them free of mildew and lets the winds of late May flow through and pollinate the flowers for a good crop."
Or this, written as a head note before her recipe for Light Chicken Liver Pate:
"Poultry here are strong, tall birds; my neighbor Madame Galy kept a popular, if ugly, red-feathered breed with bald necks, called cou-nu, that pecked and scratched, along with several ducks, beneath a couple of large fig trees. They taste wonderful."
When I received this book and sat down with it, I found myself unable to put it down, as each of the over 300 pages are filled with interesting imagry, facts, and enthusiasm for the area she lives and the food she encounters there. Reading it makes you want to know her, to go shopping with her at the markets, and to cook with her. I hope some day I will be able to do just that. Her love of the Languedoc, its people, culture and food would be an inspiration to experience. For now, I have her wonderful new book.