Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place

When David McAninch first moved to Plaisance du Gers, a small village in Gascony, with his wife Michele and their young daughter, Charlotte, he was going full-force Francophile by indulging a dream he’d nourished for years—to become part of French village life, a move he chronicles in Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place (Harper 2017; $28.99). McAninch had lived in Paris and the South of France at various times in his life, but Gascony with its traditions centered around what was grown on the land or made locally, was in some ways like place time had overlooked. The nearest McDonald’s was in Toulouse, a two-hour drive away, very little processed food was available and tourists seldom seemed to find their way to this part of Southwestern France.

McAninch, an editor at Chicago magazine, had first discovered Gascony when researching a story on duck and was determined to return for a much longer stay. Getting an assignment, he started researching and was surprised to find how little was written about Gascony. Unlike other regions of France, there were few cookbooks and even fewer less restaurants focusing on Gascony cuisines. His bible became Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine.

 He became captivated with the old fashioned farmhouse practices of making the foods that define Gascony such as Armagnac (and please don’t call it Cognac in front of a Gascon)–a rich brandy made from a blend of white wine grapes. Among other regional specialties are Madiran, a blackish, tannic red wine and Pacherenc, the local white, dry cured ham and confit—where duck is first salted and then cooked in its own fat which then acts as a preservation method.

Of course, when living in Gascony, it helps to love duck which is always on the menu. At first Michele McAninch isn’t sure about this 24/7 duck thing but her husband says within two months she was eating skewers of grilled duck hearts and he realized Gascony had won her heart—and her stomach as well. Obviously they know how to cook duck in Gascony.

But then, when reading McAninch’s sweet and humorous memoir of the eight months the family spent there, it becomes apparent that the Gascons take their cooking very seriously indeed.

“Every meal is special,” says McAninch. “The cuisine of this corner of Southwestern France is very focused on having three wonderful meals a day—usually with wine at lunch and dinner, but not too much so.”

The family brought a little Gascony back with them as well.

“On the weekends I make garbure, the classic peasant soup,” says McAninch. “It’s a beautifully simple dish and it really embodies the food of this region.”

They also relish a small slice of quiet time each evening, where for just 15 minutes or so, David and Michele sip a glass of wine (though it’s hard to find Madiran says McAninch) and Charlotte enjoys her sparkling water in a fancy glass. For those moments it’s almost like being in Gers again.

Ifyougo:

What: David McAninch is doing several book events.

Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30pm he’ll be at Froggy’s French Café, 306 Greenbay Road, Highwood, IL. Tickets are $45 for dinner. To register, call 847-234-4420.

Thursday, March 16th at 7pm at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. Free.

(773) 293-2665.

Tuesday, March 21 at 12:00pm, University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL. For reservations, call The Book Stall at 847-446-8880.

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