Book Review: French Women for all Seasons by Mireille Guiliano


French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes and Pleasure
By Mireille Guiliano, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2006, 350 pages.

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(c) 2006 Chris Card Fuller
“Flowers are an important part of every day life for author Mireille Guiliano. She looks forward to the change of seasons and the flowers that come with each season.”

Sequel to the author’s best seller French Women Don’t Get Fat this compendium takes a seasonal approach as its framework for creating a great lifestyle based on the author’s favorite recipes and a day-to-day rhythm and outlook that is decidedly French. No surprise considering that Guiliano is a French native hailing from Alsace. Her many years living in New York City gives her an excellent perspective on the differences between French and American lifestyles.

In her opening chapter, Guiliano takes some time to talk about some surprises she had concerning her first book’s success i.e. the overwhelming increase in leek sales in the US, but also the fact that so many of her copies sold in France. As she herself noted, obesity has also become an increasing problem in France (although not to the same degree as in the US).

Here are two important observations she made about food awareness in the US:
She mentioned that in a farmer’s market in New York City, an eight year old school kid did not know what an apple was . . .This is true in Rochester NY also. On one occasion at a Wegman’s supermarket, a check out clerk held up a cabbage and asked me what it was. So, it isn’t too big a stretch to imagine that even an apple could be foreign to a kid living in the “Big Apple”.

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I enjoyed reading about Guiliano’s life experiences being brought up by a family that remained close to the ‘terroir’ with all the stories that make for great memories: her father’s homing pigeons, the neighbor who brought over fresh frogs’ legs, her mother’s formulas for facials and her apple tarts, yet I also felt a sense of sadness. As much as one would like to bottle forever these essential elements not only of French lifestyle – but American lifestyle based on fresh foods (Guiliano discovers the flavor of Indian River grapefruit and oranges, New England fiddleheads, and New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes to which she gives high praise). I know that the world and the values that she wants to impart are for the vast majority of the population – far from reality.

The ‘thin’ generation of French women that lived through World War II and the post- years is on the wane and the new generations in the wake are battling with obesity for many of the same reasons as their American counterparts. Women are choosing to remain single. They’re working full time and eating out in restaurants much more often.
Guiliano spends a great deal of time talking about the joys associated with eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although there are still tons of apples in Normandy, not so many years ago, the French government was paying Norman farmers subsidies to rip out their apple orchards to make way for cereals including corn. (Corn syrup was one of the nasties that Guiliano zeroed in on that has been such a great detriment to American foods). Many of the original apple varieties of Normandy are disappearing (the New Jersey beefsteak tomato variety actually has already become extinct btw).

Likewise the traditional perfumed roses are practically gone. Guiliano mentions salmon and states that nothing can compare to wild salmon (if you can get it – and when you do it’s outrageously expensive).

All that being said, French Women for all Seasons provides great recipes and menus which I am eager to try out – while the products are still available. Run out and get yourself an apple from your local farmer’s market while you can!

Guiliano makes a few other statements with which you may or may not agree.
RE: sugar. It is true that American food tends to be laced with sugar at every turn. However I don’t think you can make generalizations about sugar intake in France either.
She states that people don’t take as much sugar with their coffee in France. Which reminds me of a French comedian who put five lumps of sugar in his coffee, split the sixth lump in half and told his wife he was on a diet.
RE: allergies and foods people can’t eat. She stated that in France she didn’t have trouble preparing dinners according to people’s allergies and preferences. Normally, I’ve noticed that if people don’t like a food in France, they just grit their teeth, clean their plate and tell you they enjoyed the meal. People have to really feel they know you before they’ll admit to disliking a particular food.
Since I’ve been in France, I’ve discovered that some of our friends dislike the following:
Garlic, cucumbers, endives, lentils, green peppers, olive oil, pears and white wine. Eggplant, zucchini and broccoli are eaten but not greatly appreciated. One friend is allergic to oysters.
On the other hand, the mayor of our village was delighted to be served green peas. (He eats no red meat, and particularly dislikes Tete de Veau (Calf’s Head) a Norman specialty which President Chirac likes very much.

My problem now is that I forget who doesn’t like which vegetable – so normally I serve all vegetables in serving dishes so people can take ‘no thank-you’ helpings which is what we used to call it back in Girl Scouts.

So, definitely, pick up a copy of French Women For All Seasons. Enjoy the recipes and it’s ‘slice of life’ glimpse at a quickly disappearing world – unless you decide to fight against the tide – buy yourself a patch of land, be it in Normandy or New Jersey and start planting apple trees.
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(c) 2006 Chris Card Fuller