Serendipity is affording me an opportunity to spend the month of August at La Pitchoune, Julia Child’s beloved Provençal home in Châteauneuf de Grasse, France, and I am inviting you to come along…virtually, of course.
In the early 1960s, after the release of her classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the subsequent television program The French Chef, Julia and Paul Child felt a hankering to return to France and a simpler lifestyle. The Childs bought a small parcel of property in southeastern France from Simone Beck, one of her collaborators, (along with Louisette Bertholle), on the cookbook and built a modest vacation home. La Pitchoune (the little thing) or—as Julia called it—La Peetch, was recently bought by Makenna and Evie Johnston, two enterprising Juliaphiles, who have lovingly retained the home’s historical and gastronomic significance while preparing to launch La Peetch École de Cuisine in spring 2017. The small and intimate cooking classes will allow students to not only bone up on their culinary skills, but to soak up some of the joie de vivre that Julia Child treasured at La Peetch.
In the meantime, the Johnstons have rented the home, via Airbnb, and, thanks to a serendipitous social media connection, I have been asked to be the home’s concierge for the month of August. Concierge? Yes, it occurs to me that I have been a concierge in my own home for the past 33 years. At La Peetch, my duties include changing six beds and restocking the kitchen’s pantry three times over the course of the month. After the minimal chores, I am free to explore Grasse and its environs, while soaking up the flavors and aromas of Provence. The month will also give me a chance to brush up on my rusty French. A lifetime ago, I was a carefree college French major and spent my junior year in Strasbourg. Marriage, three children and responsibilities took natural precedence and now, 37 years later, I am heading back to France…enfin!
During my last stay in France, the 21-year-old me was content to fill my belly with baguettes, Nutella (yes!) and inexpensive red table wine. Today, with a thankfully more cultivated palate, and a full appreciation for locally grown and produced food, I cannot wait to visit the local markets. Provence and the Côte d’Azur region, in particular, is known for its fresh seafood, produce and herbs. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, artichokes, garlic, herbs (basil, bay, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon and thyme), apricots, lemons, peaches and plums will all be in season. Provençal olive oil, honey, goat cheese, air-dried sausages, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenades, and the ubiquitous French baguette will figure prominently in my expected daily sojourns to the marchés des fermiers of Grasse, Plascassier, Mougins and Valbonne. Leisurely French cafes will beckon me with the specialties of the region; salade Niçoise, bouillabaisse, ratatouille, bourride, pan bagnat, and pissaladière. Lastly, there will be wine. Rosé wine from the Côtes de Provence, France’s largest producer of rosé.
Passport and laptop in hand, I leave for Nice on Wednesday, July 27. I will be chronicling my #MonthinProvence here on ediblelongisland.com, as well as on my Instagram page, betsylongisland. Come along with me; allons-y!