A blank canvas, a sheet of paper devoid of characters or symbols, an empty plate. All draw us to them, call out for completion, for satisfaction. I am forever filling plates and bowls, in my mind and at the countertop, and it is not uncommon that something I read or view forces me into the kitchen. I recently finished a book that inspired some cooking. It is titled “Provence, 1970,” and it was written by M.F.K. Fisher’s grandnephew, Luke Barr. It’s a work of nonfiction that takes readers to France and puts them at the table with Julia and Paul Child, Richard Olney, Judith Jones, James Beard, and, certainly not least, Fisher, a writer for whom I have immense admiration and respect. I still want to find her home in Vevey and have a vermouth and gin on its terrace.
The book tells the story of a year that saw the end of one grand era in American cuisine and cooking and the beginning of another. It is a fine read, and its pages bring to life conversations between Olney and Fisher, evenings spent at La Pitchoune, James Beard’s enormous personality. (It makes one feel that life is diminished now that those souls are no longer cooking and writing among us, but I say read it despite that.)
I’ve been cooking osso buco, and duck, and radishes, and chicken and watercress, and “Provence, 1970” has added to my kitchen repository, and some of its scenes have been translated onto my plates. For many a year now a handful of special people (including some in Barr’s book) have been in that hallowed room with me when I plan and plate and clean, and from now on a part of me will regret not being in that small part of Provence with those individuals during that pivotal year.