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10 Food Narratives & Memoirs We Want to Read Again & Again

March 13, 2015

You know how some people are obsessed with stamp collections or fantasy football teams? Well, we're obsessed with cookbooks. Here, we'll talk about them.

Today: This person's story about a croissant in Paris is more interesting than yours.

  

Every single person has a story to tell about food -- likely countless. Lots of vegetarians can write about the first time they ate bacon again, lots of people can talk about their grandma’s cooking, but few can tell these stories in a way that makes them simultaneously singular and relatable. Whether the subject is animal agriculture or getting dinner on the table or a croissant in Paris, these food narratives make us laugh, think, and/or head to the kitchen.

  • Reading Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin makes you wish Laurie Colwin -- the self-described “refined slob” -- was your friend, the one that hovered over you while you cooked. Her writing is timely and relatable, her recipes are not wholly foolproof, and that’s why we -- and many others -- often ask, “What would Laurie Colwin do?” 

  • Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach: As Nicholas Day put it, Jenny Rosenstrach’s book is “a realistic but not humiliating appraisal of your time-limited capabilities, a balance between aspiration and actually getting to eat, a voice that manages to confide without you wanting to tell it to stop confiding already.”
  • Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch: Kermit Lynch brings his wine expertise, opinions, and humor along the French wine route to find its very essence. The result is this landmark book that MFK Fisher said was “one of the pleasantest and truest books about wine I’ve ever read.” While it was originally written over 25 years ago (an anniversary edition came out in 2013), it is an essential primer on French regions, varietals, and winemakers. 

More: Read why Dorie Greenspan is also a fan of Adventures on the Wine Route.

  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer: Yes, this is an assiduously researched investigation on animal agriculture, but it’s framed within a deeply personal story that draws you in -- and keeps making you think. 


Above: Amanda Hesser and Molly Wizenberg

  • A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg: We are avid readers of Molly's blog, Orangette, so needless to say we were thrilled when she came out with her first book (and her second). Molly’s debut takes the pieces we love about the blog -- homey recipes and personal narrative -- and ties them into a story about her family. It pulls us simultaneously to the kitchen to cook and to the couch to keep reading.
  • Fried Chicken by John T. Edge: Writing about food so that your mouth waters constantly is no easy feat. In Fried Chicken, you'll be torn between wanting to go out for fried chicken and never wanting to put the book down -- as the story Edge tells of how fried chicken plays a role in American culture is a really good one.

More: Here, have some fried chicken.

  • Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton: People have griped that there aren’t any headnotes or an introduction in Prune. But you get a whole book of headnotes, and then some, in Hamilton’s first book, Blood, Bones & Butter. It’s a brutally honest story about growing up, cooking, and family from a seriously gifted storyteller and chef.
  • An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: A reminder of how humble cooking can be -- and that the tail end of one meal can be the start of another. As Merrill Stubbs put it: "Tamar has a great talent for using a handful of ingredients to chart a fluid course of delicious meals, with no clear beginning and no clear end." In Tamar's world, leftovers are just the beginning.

More: Give Tamar a six-pound pork belly and see how she cooks with it for a week.

  • Heat by Bill Buford: As the subtitle says, Heat chronicles Bill Buford's adventures as a kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany. The ride is as raucous as that sounds, with appearances by and honest insight on Mario Batali and Marco Pierre White.
  • Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser: Because of course.

What food narratives keep you up past your bedtime?

20 Comments

Julie S. August 27, 2017
Food and Friends by Sylvia Thompson came into my life by accident a couple decades ago. Love her combo of travel/personal memoir and great recipes. A wonderful read and fun to cook from.
 
Kristin I. September 29, 2016
I'm currently reading Eric Ripert's 32 Yolks and really enjoying it.
 
ambradambra July 29, 2015
I'm planning to write a food memoir soon (?) and am taking inspiration by the books listed on the site: 'Off the Shelf: the bakers dozen' http://offtheshelf.com/2015/05/the-bakers-dozen-13-mouthwatering-food-memoirs-to-devour/#sthash.RMY4MJan&st_refDomain=&st_refQuery=
 
Maureen T. July 6, 2016
Thank you for this suggestion! I'm writing a book about a bakery - how is your book coming?<br />
 
ariane B. July 3, 2015
eating animals is awesome.
 
Dr.Insomnia March 30, 2015
Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen. It's one transplants foray, a chapter at a time, into specific foods of New Orleans that are as opaque to a non-native as they are an intrinsic part of the background of locals. She delves just deep enough into the history of each food to keep it from getting boring, and focused enough on the modern places to find these foods to make it really interesting. The reviews somewhat speak for themselves.<br /><br />http://www.amazon.com/Gumbo-Tales-Finding-Place-Orleans/dp/0393335372
 
susan G. March 25, 2015
Many of my favorites have been mentioned, so I will add only one (and there are so many!). I recently started reading one of the oldest - Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste, and I'm pleased to find it witty, insightful and readable.
 
witloof March 25, 2015
Michael Ruhlman's memoir Making of a Chef about his training at the CIA was a real page turner for me. And Laurie Colwin is never far away from my nightstand. <br /><br />Lora Brody is a sadly under appreciated food writer who has published many books of memoirs and essays about food, cooking, and family. Growing up on the Chocolate Diet and Indulgences are two favorites.
 
AntoniaJames March 24, 2015
Anything by Joseph Wechsberg. And not just his food and/or wine related pieces, of course. So much to learn, so much to enjoy. And oh, his voice - almost if not as beautiful as Patrick Leigh Fermor's. Now that's saying a lot. ;o)
 
sjo March 21, 2015
I wish there was more of Ludwig Bemelmans, who in La Bonne Table, celebrates a lifetime love affair with food. Pieces on a lost world of luxury and elegance seen from the bottom up, from the busboy, to the waiter, to the maitre d', as well as chefs and restauranteurs and hoteliers.
 
calendargirl March 16, 2015
Any and all by M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and Nigel Slater. Also, the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto (As Always, Julia) are delightful. <br /><br />One tiny correction: the title of Amanda's book is Cooking for Mr. Latte.
 
Gary G. March 15, 2015
Elizabeth David I meant and this gives me the chance to mention one of her key influences, X. Marcel Boulestin, especially his autobiographical volume written on the eve of the Second World War.<br /><br />Gary
 
Gary G. March 15, 2015
Well like some of your commenters I tend to go back for my favourites.<br /><br />Elizabeth Davis is first and foremost for me. Apart from being a great stylist when she put her mind to it (her reprinted short essays are some of her best work), she actually did understand food to its core. Never mind the lay-di-dah tome of some of the writing, there was very little about the Western food tradition - its essentials - she didn't understand and this makes the readings revelatory in a way not characteristic of many good food writers. Her description of picnicking in "Summer Food" is an example, or meals she ate in Egypt during the war, or the market in Venice, or…<br /><br />I like James Beard's memoir writing, the "Prejudices" book in particular and when he speaks of "Mother", all first-rate and he brings to life a school of natural, home-grown cookery (yet influenced by his mother's English origins) that is nonpareil.<br /><br />Cal Trillin is good but perhaps overrated in my view: certainly a trailblazer.<br /><br />Alan Davidson, the late English writer who specialized in the subject of fish cookery and fish as such, was a master stylist in his way. He wrote in an updated Victorian style which was notable for its humour and gentle qualities.<br /><br />Jane Grigson for her no-nonsense explications of English, French and Italian food - the intellectual writer par excellence.<br /><br />Anne Willan on French provincial food.<br /><br />Never liked M.F.K. Fisher, not sure why, perhaps I need to try again.<br /><br />The Time-Life series - almost any volume - which had a characteristic voice courtesy probably its editor Michael Field and fabulous day-glo 60's photography. The New England book is great or the one which pictures a Philadelphia grandee family at table, but they all are.<br /><br />Thanks for your own recommendations which I will try to explore - time to update.<br /><br />Gary <br /><br />
 
Ali March 15, 2015
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking - Anya Von Bremzen.
 
Oggie March 14, 2015
TOAST - by Nigel Slater
 
gingerjillian March 13, 2015
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a brilliant collection of essays about food and cooking--many different authors, SUCH GOOD WRITING.
 
Sarah March 13, 2015
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel! I love how food, practically a character itself, is so central to a work of fiction instead of nonfiction for once. With lots of delicious mexican recipes, too!
 
Alyssa J. March 13, 2015
If there's one thing I love as much as food, it's books about food!! I devour them (haha)<br />I'll be adding these books to my To Read list for sure!
 
Cyprille March 13, 2015
James Villas - everything. <br />John Thorne<br />Calvin Trillin - everything<br />Robb Walsh - Are you really going to eat that?<br />James Beard<br />
 
Peggasus March 13, 2015
How about M.F.K. Fisher? Every one of her books has wit, humor, cooking, and she definitely evokes the times in which it was written. I am currently re-reading the collection titled 'The Art of Eating.'