Part Two of Dean Tudor’s 2015 Holiday Cookbook (and drink book) review is all about memoirs and literary food books. Part One (Art, Travel and Restaurant Cookbooks) can be found here. Watch GFR for new categories every week.
For the more literate person, there are the histories , “memoirs” and humour of writers, chefs, and wine people. Some have called these memoirs “creative non-fiction”, many with embellishments and gilding. And most – not all — of them suffer from a lack of indexing, which makes it difficult to find what the writer said about another person or subject. But this also avoids the potential for lawsuits and disjointed noses. Nevertheless, they are rewarding to read. Who cares about poetic license? Here then are some that stood out from last year’s run, and any of them would make great gifts for the reader. Here we go, in no particular order…
AN IRISH CHRISTMAS FEAST (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, 415 pages, $24 CAN) is a collection of 50 tales by one of Ireland’s most popular writers – John B. Keane, a playwright, novelist, poet, songwriter, and short story person who died in 2002. Every tale here celebrates an Irish Christmas with Gaelic humour, principally from County Kerry characters such as Hiccups O’Reilly who disappears one Christmas Eve and isn’t seen again for seven years. Food and drink such as Christmas dinners and cider and beer are at the centre of many of the stories.
EATING WORDS (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015, 471 pages, $45 CAN hard covers) has been edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Roger J. Porter. You know food studies have made it in the world when it gets “Nortonized”, that is, made into a collection or anthology of literate writings. This is a survey of literary distinctive writings about food, from the classical world to the present. The first section covers through to the beginnings of the 1900s, followed by sections on family hearth, the delight and dread of eating, kitchen practices of chefs, cultural tales, and food politics. Enough to accompany any academic course dealing with food culture and history. A great gift for the student.
BON APPETEMPT (Grand Central Publishing, 2015, 320 pages, $18 CAN paper covers) is by food blogger Amelia Morris, MFA. These are whimsical observations about family, food, and the extremes of modern living. It is billed as a coming-of-age story with recipes. The recipes are scattered, and unlike some of her experiences, they do work. Learn to profit from your mistakes by adjusting. A good gift for the millennial in your life.
FOOD; a love story (Three Rivers Press, 2015, 340 pages, $20 paper covers) is by humourist Jim Gaffigan. As he says, it is an entertaining but ill-informed look at all foodie stuff – health food to junk food. He claims to be an “eatie” rather than a “foodie”. To him, shellfish are bugs while bacon is candy. And that is becoming all too true, based on what I read in the papers.
THE LANGUAGE OF FOOD (W.W. Norton, 2015, 246 pages, $32 CAN hard covers) is by Dan Jurafsky. His subtitle is “a linguist reads the menu”: his work is about what we say about food as analyzed by someone who specializes in food studies and etymology. His chapters cover toast, ketchup, turkey, sushi rolls, potato chips, salsa, sherbet, macaroni, and more. Good end notes and bibliography.
THIS IS WHAT YOU JUST PUT IN YOUR MOUTH? (Three Rivers Press, 2015, 255 pages, $18 CAN paperback) is a listing by Patrick DiJusto of what is inside everyday products. It’s based on his Wired Magazine column, “What’s Inside”. So he gives us the ingredients in Cool Whip, Spam, eggnog, Doritos, beef jerky, coffee, and more. He’s got some product histories and back-stories, as well as label decoding. This tome is great fun: you may never eat again!
VORACIOUS (Little Brown and Co., 2015, 285 pages, $31 CAN hardcover) is by Cara Nicoletti, a butcher who is author of the literary recipe blog Yummy Books. Here she has 50 “great books” related to food; she does essays on the books and the food scenes that give their characters depth. She then adds her own inspired preps at the end of each chapter. So: soft-cooked eggs from Emma, fava bean and chicken liver mousse from The Silence of the Lambs, white garlic soup from Pride and Prejudice, pea and bacon soup from Charlotte’s Web. It is arranged by age, and includes childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. She’s got some good comments on the food and what that all means to her.
YEAR OF THE COW (Flatiron Books, 2015, 302 pages, $29.99 CAN hard cover) is by award-winning TV producer Jared Stone. These are the interesting experiences of cooking for his family; how 420 pounds of beef built a better life for one American family. He learns the provenance of the cow, how to correctly pack a freezer, cooking nose to tail, leftovers, plus contributes one recipe per chapter.
THE BEST OF JANE GRIGSON (Grub Street, 2015, 360 pages, $36.95 CAN hard covers) was published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Grigson’s death. It is arranged by regional cuisine, including the Americas, Mediterranean, Europe, India, Far East, with special chapters on England and France, her faves. These are some of her most-loved recipes, with anecdotes, quotations and poems.
THE MODERN SAVAGE (Thomas Dunne Books St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 293 pages, $29.99 CAN hard covers) is by James McWilliams, a food writer (5 previous books) dealing with agriculture and animals. It’s a polemic on our unthinking decision to eat animals, and raises the ethical and ecological problems of that decision. It’s an exposé, with extensive end notes and index.
PICNIC IN PROVENCE (Little, Brown and Co., 2015, 336 pages, $29 CAN hard covers) is by Elizabeth Bard, a US journalist based in Provence. She had previously written “Lunch in Paris”, and continues with this volume about Provence. This is a memoir about love and marriage and family, moving from Paris to Provence and setting up an artisanal ice cream shop. Local recipes are included.
BECOMING SALMON (University of California Press, 2015, 214 pages, $34.95 US hard covers) is by Marianne Elisabeth Lien, and academic who teaches social anthropology in Oslo. It is a first account of salmon farms, and covers farmed Atlantic salmon which are bred to be hungry and mobile This is a story of industrial food production and human-animal relations. Geographically, she covers Tasmania, Canada, Chile, Peru, Alaska, but mostly Norway. Worth a read.
THREE MANY COOKS (Ballantine Books, 2015, 316 pages, $31 CAN hard covers) is by Pam Anderson, Maggy Keet, and Sharon Damelio. This is one mom and two daughters, with shared stories if the highs and lows of food, faith and family. Mom Anderson is a cookbook author and once helmed Cook’s Illustrated. Recipes are scattered throughout.STORIES FROM THE KITCHEN (Everyman’s Pocket Classics Knopf, 2015, 410 pages, $21 CAN hard covers) has been edited by Diana Secker Tesdell. These are classic tales showcasing the culinary arts globally and universally in time, with food in the starring role. Check out Alice B. Toklas, Proust, Zola, Dinesen, Woolf, Chekov, Dickens, and many more. It comes with a yellow bookmark ribbon.
NEW YORK IN A DOZEN DISHES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 304 pages, $29 CAN hard covers) is by Robert Sietsema, restaurant critic for the Village Voice for two decades, and now writing for Eater.com. Here he presents a dozen essays on dishes found in New York city, such as pizza, clam chowder, pastrami, even scrambled brains. The chapter on pambazo is enlightening: it reads like a history of Mexican sandwiches, mentions three places to try pambazo, plus six more for tapas, and then gives a recipe. His writing here is a good portrait of NYC food, with appropriate log rolling by A Bourdain and R Reichl.
101 USES FOR A CELEBRITY CHEF (Century, 2015, unpaged, $21.99 CAN hard covers) is by Andy Watt. These are cartoons on how to make a celebrity chef look much more useful. For example, there is the Jamie Oliver pinata, the chaise Nigellongue, the Yotam fridge, and the Ken Hom doll. Hey, for the insiders …. get with it!!
THE POCKET BUTLER (Appetite by Random House, $122 pages, $14.95 CAN hard covers) is a follow-up to Charles MacPherson’s THE BUTLER SPEAKS. It is a compact guide to the two modern manners of business etiquette and everyday entertaining, crammed (for the latter) with useful knowledge about table settings, holding knife and fork, popping corks, foolproof menu plans, table manners, and the like. Small enough to slip into your pocket for a quick review from time-to-time.
COGNITIVE COOKING WITH CHEF WATSON (Sourcebooks, 2015, 231 pages, ISBN 978-1-4926-2571-1, $29.99 US hard covers – comes from IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education. [See GFR’s February 2015 interview with Cognitive Cooking project lead Florian Pinel here.] These are recipes for innovation and culinary exploration, thinking outside the box. With IBM Watson and the power of cognitive computing, you no longer need to rely on experience/intuition to create new recipes. But it is amazing in this day of the Internet, where most people find recipes online rather than in print, that this book exists in print, and not as an ebook or pdf. Italian roast duck is terrific.
SCONE WITH THE WIND (Virgin Books Ebury, 2015, 160 pages, $21.99 hard covers) is by Miss Victoria Sponge who encourages you to make and bake 72 novel recipes such as Banana Karenina, Flapjack and the Beanstalk, Nineteen-eighty Petit Fours, and then some great Middlemarshmallows. These are puns on novels, divided by genre (romance, comedy, thrillers, tragedy, historical, science fiction, plays and more). Cherry Pie Orchard is, well, a cherry pie. Head notes relate to the theme. An engaging gift book, affordable.
Dean Tudor is a Ryerson University Journalism Professor Emeritus, The Treasurer of The Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada and creator of Canada’s award-winning wine satire site at fauxvoixvincuisine.blogspot.com. Visit Dean’s websites at deantudor.com and gothicepicures.blogspot.com. His motto: “Look it up and you’ll remember it; screw it up and you’ll never forget it.”