Book Review… Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table

Greetings dear readers and friends. Well, we’re just about coming to the end of summer vacation in the South of France. Thankfully, we’ve still got a lot to look forward to – namely great weather / fewer crowds in September and harvest season getting into full-swing in the coming months.

And cooking, always cooking. Food is such an integral part of understanding life in France, and the French culture, and I had the pleasure of reading a book that takes an in-depth look at just that: Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table.

Author Carole Bumpus, a tried-and-true Francophile and retired family therapist, becomes fascinated with how French home-cooking has transformed the landscape of the country and become the focal-point of French family life. Encouraged in large part by her French / Californian friend Josiane Selvage (who also serves as her translator), Carole and her husband Winton hit the road for northeastern France; touring the Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsatian regions.

In a carefully constructed itinerary, and with notebook in hand, Carole visits with local families who recount how traditional French dishes have been woven into their everyday lives and upbringings. Particularly important are the holiday foods that stand out in childhood memories and have been passed down for generations. In Alsace, for Christmas, many families have turkey stuffed with sausage or chestnuts and the very traditional bûche de Noël (a classic yule log popular all over France). At Easter, there are homemade chocolate eggs galore and a special Easter bread shaped like a lamb called a Hammele.

There is also the traditional fête de La Chandeleur, which is near and dear to French hearts and also known simply as “crêpe day”. Untold amounts of crêpes are tossed in the air that day and if you can hold a coin in one hand while tossing a crêpe into a pan in the other, it’s said to bring good luck.

On a more somber note, we also learn how much WWI and WWII affected these regions. Stories of tragedy are mixed in with courageous tales of ingenuity – new dishes were invented due to scarce resources and family members opted for different paths in life after the war(s).

This hit particularly close to home as my husband’s family is from the Lorraine region and my father-in-law is a volunteer at the reenactment of the Battle of Verdun which takes place every summer. Verdun being a city which the author visits and which was almost completely destroyed in WWI.

On a brighter note, my father-in-law is also an avid producer of eau-de-vie: a knock-your-socks-off liqueur made from the mirabelle plums for which the Lorraine region is famous. As Carole and her husband learn, men usually drink eau-de-vie in tiny cups while women (since it’s so strong ladies!) have a wee bit of eau-de-vie poured on a sugar cube.

For the true French food lovers (aren’t we all?), you learn about everything from patés to potées to what goes into a quiche Lorraine – not to mention regional specialties like baekeofe and knepfle.

This book is chock-full of details and foodie inspiration and gives the reader intimate insight into French home-cooking traditions.

Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table will be available on Amazon starting August 27, 2019. The second book in the series will focus on the author’s experiences through Pas-de-Calais, Normandy, Brittany, the Loire and Auvergne.

Wishing you a très bon weekend from belle Provence!

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