Susan Herrmann Loomis
Broadway Books, 2001
If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend who loves food, cooking, and has moved to France so she can tell you about the details of French life, this book may be for you. It is a chatty, friendly recitation of life details reminiscent of Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.
Most lives don’t have a literary storyline arc of building to a climax and neither does Loomis’s book. But if a reader is happy with reading of renovating a French house built in the 1600s, which was a nunnery for three hundred years and raising a son in a foreign country with notes of touching her thyme because it is a plant that needs daily contact, this book is enjoyable.
There are colorful neighbors, glimpses into customs and routines of daily country village French life, and humorous scenes of her efforts to explain a few American customs like the baby shower. There are parts that were a tad ponderous, but only because everyone has a patience level for daily trivia and mine was occasionally exceeded.
A reason I enjoy biographies and memoirs is there are often glimpses into people and ideas that are startling with revelation or convince me once more how right I am and I can feel momentarily smug. An example is a heated argument with a neighboring priest. The priest told Loomis and her husband they were the most selfish of people and he would never allow the building of a new entryway. When they ask why, he replies, “I have my habits.” Because I hear the priest’s response as a selfish reason, I can use the example to support my belief that very often the quirks that aggravate us the most in others, are in fact, our very own (or we wish they were).
Loomis adds a few reasonably easy recipes at the end of each chapter. I tried the Rustic Apricot Sorbet since I had a load of ripe apricots at the time. It was good and not too sweet. There are a few others I will try, like the walnut cake and the chicken in white wine and mustard.
The writing is superior with flowing lovely sentences that are easy to read and move reading along. A bonus for me is Loomis’s courtesy in providing translation for every French phrase she uses.
Rustic Apricot Sorbet / 6 servings
Note: Chilling the poached and pureed apricots before freezing makes for a better-textured sorbet.
1 C/250 ml bottled water, 1/2 C / 100 g sugar, 1 pound / 500 g apricots, pitted, 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Place water and sugar in small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring all the while. When the sugar has dissolved, add the apricots, return to the boil, and reduce the heat just until they begin to turn tender, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and cool completely. Puree the apricots and their poaching liquid in a food processor until smooth and slightly foamy. Strain the mixture if you like, though a fine-mesh sieve, to remove any bits of skin (This isn’t necessary, but it does produce a finer, more sophisticated sorbet.) Chill the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
3. Just before freezing, whisk in the lemon juice. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.