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Susan Herrmann Loomis – In a French Kitchen

August 14, 2015

LibraryThing Early Reviewers41. In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis (2015)

Length: 320 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 14 July 2015
Finished: 16 July 2015

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? I like books about food and cooking.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 26 May 2015.

What’s a French cook got
that I don’t? Access to a
bakery, for one.

Summary: Susan Herrmann Loomis is an American expat who lives in a small town of Louviers in France. She’s written cookbooks and memoirs about French food, but this book is meant to answer the basic question: How do French cooks do it? How do they live regular, busy lives and still manage to put exceptional, elegant meals on the table multiple times a day? Loomis gathers stories from her friends and neighbors, and combines them with her own observations and over eighty recipes to give readers an insight into the French way of thinking about food and cooking.

Review: This book falls square into one of my pet-peeve pitfalls of food writing: the author forgets that most people don’t have access to the time or resources that they themselves do. This happens pretty frequently, even in books I otherwise enjoy – Michael Pollan in Cooked forgets that not everyone has time to supervise a six-hour braise during the workweek, and Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle forgets that some people live in apartments instead of on several acres of Virginia farmland. (Books that I’ve enjoyed that are more broadly applicable and offer more practical perspectives include The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant.) While Loomis’s stated goal is to provide insight on how the French cook, not necessarily on how to replicate the French experience in your own kitchen, there are definitely hints of “the French live busy lives just like you, but THEY manage to turn out delicious meals three times a day, so you should be able to too.” To wit: in addition to the recipes, she also includes lists of what should be in a well-stocked French pantry and refrigerator, guidelines for how to select cheese for a cheese plate, etc. However, I found this less than useful, because Loomis doesn’t entirely recognize that her selection of informants (in the anthropological sense, not the criminal sense) are all upper-middle-class people living in a relatively small town, many of whom have custom-redesigned kitchens, substantial gardens, orchards, or farms, and all of whom have access to multiple nearby bakeries, butchers, cheesemongers, and farmers’ markets on a daily basis. Not entirely practical for the rest of us who approached this book wanting to gain some tips about the French’s approach to cooking. (Also, I suspect that most of us have jobs where a large glass of wine with lunch on a daily basis wouldn’t go over particularly well.)

That said, however, I did actually enjoy reading this book. Loomis’s writing about food and cooking is clear and evocative (and frequently made me hungry.) The book is organized well, with chapters on salad, bread, cheese, produce, kitchen organization, dessert, breakfast, leftovers, etc., each with relevant recipes. I also did pick up a few tips that are more practical to incorporate into my daily life, such as making sure to take the time for meals – with place settings and everything – and the concept of eating salad after the main course, which I’ve tried and really does seem to round off the meal nicely. (I’ve also started keeping a supply of shallots on hand for making my own simple vinaigrettes, which I don’t whisk (for shame!) but shake up and then store in a small mason jar – a good blend of French and American tradition, I suppose!) I haven’t yet cooked any of the recipes (other than the vinaigrettes), but many of them looked good and not too difficult to replicate. Overall, this book was easy and light reading, and definitely enjoyable if not entirely practical. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of food writing who can treat this as food writing and not as a how-to book should enjoy this. Read it with some good bread and cheese on hand, though!

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First Line: This book, In a French Kitchen, is intended to answer the question I hear more often than any other: “How does the French cook do it?”

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 73: “Finally, I love living in a country where speculoos butter and Nutella sit on the shelves as proudly as peanut butter does at home.” – a Belgian & Dutch spiced shortbread cookie, also sold as a spreadable paste (i.e. “cookie butter”)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 14, 2015 8:52 am

    I do like the way the French place an emphasis on enjoying meal time but I’m not crazy about their food.

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