Food and Memoir

Although I don’t personally enjoy cooking as an art form (although I’m prone to complicated cookery – the more exotic the better) I do love food memoirs.  I enjoy memoir in general for the insight it affords into other lives and motivations, and the added allure of food memoir is the vast amount of information conveyed and the occasional great recipe.

In an interesting twist on food memoir, I utterly enjoyed Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl’s book Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table about the influences of food in her young life, even though I did not have the slightest desire to try any of the recipes appended to each chapter.  Perhaps we will differ on that front, but I think no matter what your gastronomic taste, your literary taste would enjoy this book.

Reichl writes with humor and interest about her childhood with her German expat book designer father, unmedicated manic depressive mother, and interesting honorary grandmother, and the foods they taught her.  She writes about the adventures she had at a French boarding school, becoming a hippie, learning about organic food in Berkeley, and learning about wine in France.

If you’re interested in memoir and enjoy learning about other people’s lives and what shaped them, you would probably enjoy this book.

Comfort Me with Apples is the second volume of Reichl’s memoir and traces her transformation from a cook to a food critic.  I found this book particularly interesting because Reichl completely changed her life direction in her early 30s, found a new (highly successful) career, and had a family.

This volume is sadder than the first, because Reichl’s first husband and best friend left her, and the daughter she adopted with her second husband was taken from them six months after they took her home when her birth parents changed their minds.  But in spite of these trials, which she writes about with honesty and without bitterness, Reichl emerged stronger and found purpose and happiness.

Call me crazy, but I also did not feel tempted by any of the recipes in this book.  I know, weird.

I think the third volume in Reichl’s story, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, is the best.  This book chronicles how the author was hired as the restaurant critic at the New York Times and her adventures in that job and in her hometown of New York with her husband and their small son.  Each episode ends with a reprint of the actual review Reichl wrote of the restaurant where the events took place.

I really enjoyed the food and restaurant descriptions in the book, and I admired how Reichl was able to document the way her job changed her and influenced her ultimate decision to leave the position.  The title of the book comes from T.S. Eliot passage her husband used when they were talking about who she was and whether the job was good for her.  The book ends with Reichl leaving the NYT to become the editor at Gourmet magazine.

Believe it or not, I did find a recipe in this book that I aim to try.  It’s for brussels sprouts.

In all of these books, Reichl’s humor and writing style are engaging and I would recommend them.

Many thanks to Shannon for suggesting this author!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

4 thoughts on “Food and Memoir

  1. I *loved* these books, and have recommended them many times.I’m ready for her to write a fourth, covering her time at Gourmet & beyond.

    As much as I loved them, I also did not feel tempted to try any of the recipes. I enjoyed reading them, but that was enough.

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