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Top 10 culinary memoirs

11 September 2019

From The Guardian:

When I was writing about the dinners I had with my elderly friend Edward, I made a decision early on not to include any recipes. Edward, an accomplished cook, rarely wrote down any instructions for, say, his oysters Rockefeller or chicken paillard. While the food we ate was certainly important, the book was not meant to be a cookbook, but instead a memoir about the nature of friendship.

In this pursuit, I was inspired by a rich literature of culinary writing in which food is a central motif, but is held together by the story of its preparation and the fellowship that comes from sharing a meal. So many writers – from MFK Fisher, who wrote lyrically about the pleasures of dining alone, to New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who documented her hardscrabble upbringing through family meals – use food as a catalyst for memories and loving nostalgia.

While I’m still a big fan of a good recipe book – anything by Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi and Julia Child – it’s the stories in beautifully rendered memoirs that stay with me longer than any recipe. It’s Nigel Slater using burnt toast as a metaphor for his mother’s love, and Anne Fadiman getting drunk as a teenager when she tries to please her vintage-wine-obsessed father. Below, are what I consider some of the best culinary memoirs.

1. The Wine Lover’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anne Fadiman
Fadiman’s most recent book about her father, the American author and radio personality Clifton Fadiman, is a deftly written memoir – a coming-of-age story written around her father’s oenophilia. He was “a lousy driver and a two-finger typist”, she writes, “but he could open a wine bottle as deftly as any swain ever undressed his lover”.

. . . .

5. Consider the Oyster by MFK Fisher
WH Auden called Fisher “America’s greatest writer”, which is my excuse for choosing a second book by her. It’s easy to see why the poet so admired her, in this slim 1941 volume – an ode to the gastronome’s prize treat. “An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life,” she begins. Fisher tells you everything you ever wanted to know about this bivalve mollusc and writes brilliantly about such unfamiliar ingredients as Herbsaint.

6. My Life in France by Julia Child, with Alex Prud’homme
A great account of the Childs’ life in Paris after the second world war. Working with her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme, the great chef reminisces about meeting her husband Paul in what was still Ceylon while both were working for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. When Paul took a job in Paris, Julia immersed herself in French cooking. Her description of eating sole meunière for the first time at a restaurant in Rouen is mouth-watering: “It arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian





Non-Fiction, Non-US

One Comments to “Top 10 culinary memoirs”

  1. I would also heartily recommend “When French Women Cook,” by Madeleine Kamman. And be sure to try the black bread soup.

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