Featurettes

Words and Images by Betsy DiJulio

Lessons from a French Kitchen by Richard Goodman

Limits by Dinah Lenney

Slaughterhouse by Marissa Landrigan

Home is Where the Beer Is by Adam Blake Wright

Navel Gazing by Samuel Stinson

The Sacred Canon by Betsy DiJulio

Game Over by PES

A Return to M.F.K. Fisher by Leo Racicot

Two Poems by L.A. Ashby

Dame Factor Inc. by Melanie Abramov

With Mangoes by Grace Pauley

Table 7 by Marko Slavnic

Monster Roll by Dan Blank

Revenge by Lernert and Sander

Poor Girl Gourmet by Amy McCoy

The First Taste by Saatchi & Saatchi and Heckler

Samba Salad by Sandra Kaas

flatten by Kay van Vree and Hugo de Kok

Ways of Cheddar Chex Mix by Megan Kimble

Menupoems 2014

Chocolate Bunny by Lernert and Sander

The Traveller Eggs by Nora Silva

Interview by Peggy Wolff

Fermentophone by Joshua Pablo Rosenstock

Lycopersicum by Uli Westphal

Cupcake Canon by Johnny Cupcakes and Kamp Grizzly

Street View Supermarket by Liat Berdugo

Modern Art Desserts by Caitlin Freeman

Travel Around the Hob by Nora Silva

Marzipan in Toledo by Kristen Hemlsdoefer

10,000 Items or Less by Blair Neal

Menupoems 2013

How to Explain It to My Parents by Lernert & Sander

The Burger Foundation by Michelle Ellsworth

Bebe Coca-Cola by Décio Pignatari

Tournedo Gorge by Kathi Inman Berens

Food Remix by Michelle Ellsworth

Interview with Darra Goldstein

Eating on Berry Street by Emily Nemens

In the Most Unlikely Places by Jason Bell

The Birthplace of the Tomato by David Wanczyk

Pot Luck by Cindy McCain

Secret Foods

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An Interview with Peggy Wolff, Editor of Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food

This fall, Alimentum contributor Grace Pauley had a chance to chat with writer and editor Peggy Wolff.

Peggy’s stories on what, where, and with whom people eat have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other newspapers. She is also the food editor for realizemagazine.com and has written articles on ultrasports, art, design and photography for numerous publications including Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Tribune SUNDAY Magazine and ArtNews. Find her online at peggywolffwriter.com.

Grace spoke with Peggy during her visit to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she was giving a talk on her book for the College's "Food for Thought" series.

G: In your introduction to Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie, you mention how you started cooking at an early age. I wonder when you started cooking, and writing, and then writing about cooking?

P: Cooking comes first. I lead off in my introduction that, when I was eleven, I was making a tray of chocolate chip cookies. They didn’t come out looking like the ones I saw in the Betty Crocker cookbook, so I wrote a hate letter. When Betty wrote me back, she sent me a cookbook with information on how to measure and measuring spoons. I thought, “Betty wrote me back?” because at that time she had been getting letters from the President’s wife, Mrs. Roosevelt. She was my generation’s Martha Stewart.

G: Did you always enjoy cooking?

P: I think I always enjoyed cooking. I liked cooking for people. I liked feeding people. I cooked at a luncheonette after school three days a week and on Saturdays. They had actually hired me to clean the makeup counter. This was before they packaged things in plastic. Or, I got to clean the fish tanks in the back of the store. So I said, “Give me the luncheonette.” I became a short order cook. My next food job was working at a fruit-and-vegetable stand in Illinois. They had relationships with area farmers outside of Chicago. The farmers would bring their food to the market, and people brought it home to the table; there really was no middleman. It was the first suburban Chicago farmer’s market. Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I was up in Seattle. I had a job up in the mountains at a lodge. I learned that when you feed people, they tell stories.

G: In Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie, all of the stories are lighthearted yet sentimental. I really like that combination. Why do you think that food and storytelling go so well together?

P: The best food writing is not about food. It’s about longing, it’s about sentimentality, it’s about trading in your innocence for coming-of-age. It’s about traditions in families. You could really make three books like this.

G: Do you plan on making any more?

P: Oh, that’s a complicated question. I will tell you that so many of the contributors wanted to write about pie. There were pie fights. Jeremy Jackson told me he was going to write about church suppers. And he did, it’s a beautiful essay, but this is funny because I just did a public radio show with him in Iowa. He read an excerpt from his essay and it was about about pie and he said, “I know, Peggy, you didn’t ask me to write about pie.” I could have recast this collection and just called it The Midwestern Sweet Tooth.

G: What’s your favorite kind of pie?

P: Cherry pie.

G: Is that why it’s in the title?

P: The title is really a nod to the cherry-growing region in Michigan. That little region produces seventy-five percent of all the cherries in America. It’s also a nod to the importance of walleye in the Midwest. Ohio is having fights with Minnesota on who is the walleye capital of the U.S..

G: If you could try any of the recipes in this book, which one would it be?

P: I’ve had every one.

G: Every one?! So what’s your favorite?

P: When you turn in a collection to a press, you need to test the recipes. I had a recipe testing party! The guests picked a recipe, and we tested all of them. I will tell you that the pistachio Bundt was a winner. It says to use a cake mix from a box and instant pudding mix. It’s excellent. It’s moist.

G: In my apartment I have limited appliances. Could I make that recipe?

P: Very easily.

G: So when did you begin writing?

P: I went to film school and I always knew that writing was your way in. In other words, if you wanted to work in the film business, one way in was to become a writer. I wrote, produced, and directed children’s films. I had had no training in writing. My art school didn’t have a writing curriculum at all. I just got into writing through the back door. It wasn’t until I left L.A. and moved back to Chicago that I realized it was time to take a class. There were so many things I didn’t know. Writing about food phased in around that time. I loved food, and I was learning something about writing. For the final project, we could either write an essay or start a book project. I thought I was no formal essay writer. I was sitting in my professor’s office and I thought I would write a small book about people in the business of feeding us. I think that as a writer you don’t know what your subject is going to be until about your tenth feature or so. I kept veering off to food.

G: Is this how Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie got started?

P: That’s the genesis of this book. My professor’s idea was that I would write unconnected essays. So, I began. I thought my first topic would be a farmer. I went to a farm and I knew on the first day that the farmer would be a good story. It was five weeks later that I realized I had a book. I had so much material. I would go with him dropping off greens to restaurants in Chicago. But the story wasn’t about the organic tomatoes and wonderful greens; it was about launching people. A book editor in New York tweaked the project and suggested that I bring authors in to write stories, and leave the introduction and one of the essays for myself. I sent out an editor’s letter describing what I was looking for. I was not looking for someone to deconstruct bratwurst or Wisconsin cheddar. I wanted personal essays and memoir.

G: I’ve lived in this part of the country for my entire life, except for five years in North Dakota. The food there wasn’t great. Where should I go to get the best representation of Midwestern food?

P: Where we are right now (meaning Ohio) is more typical of Midwestern food than the Plains States. I didn’t really include the Dakota’s because a lot of people think that they’re the Plains States. I came up with my own composition of ten states that fit the Midwest. I think you’re in the heart of it right here. There’s a very strong essay from Molly O’Neill, a former Ohioan, about why the Midwest will be the center of the next food revolution. You are living in the middle of it.

G: What is this food revolution going to be?

P: It’s the foods that we basically eat, like the meat and potatoes, but it’s just turned up a notch. For example, I was at a restaurant in Michigan and I was blown away because they were butchering whole animals in their own kitchens. There’s no middleman anymore. They know the farmer; they know how he raises animals humanely and sustainably. That’s a huge change. It’s going to be the same foods but just tweaked a notch.

G: Aside from Betty Crocker’s cookies, is there another food from your past that you could write about?

P: Goop.

G: I’ve never heard of that! What is it?

P: My mom made up the word. It’s butterfly pasta and meat sauce. It sounds like something you’d feed the army. There’s nothing special about it. I’m sure my mother opened cans. It had to deal with family meal times. I think food reaches back into your memories. So I could write about that, because its not just about good food, it’s about memories.