Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

Best Food Writing 2012

 

Edited by Holly Hughes
Da Capo, 2012
400 pages
ISBN: 978-0738216034

Review by Rosanna Keyes

I approached this year’s Best Food Writing with reverence and a small amount of trepidation. The pages smelled fresh and sharp as carrots just pulled from the garden or the dirt dried on fingertips after hours of digging in the sun. I skimmed the table of contents, smiling in recognition and anticipation of author’s names I knew. I let it sit on my desk for a day, fingers grazing the cover in passing, waiting for just the right moment to jump in. And, as morning sunlight streamed in through the kitchen window and coffee steamed at my side, I finally began.

Best Food Writing, edited by Holly Hughes, is filled to bursting with essays of all varieties. Divided into eight sections, the book offers a bounty of writing ranging in topic from Eric LeMay’s piece about a local dairy in Southeastern Ohio (“Snowville Creamery Has a Modest Goal: Save the World”) to the hilarious essay by David Leite, “Kitchen Confessional: Burnin’ Down Da House.”

With so many pieces to choose from—and initially a bit overwhelmed by the desire to consume all of them in one big gulp—I decided begin with simplicity, and what better embodiment of that than the intertwined philosophy and cooking of Tamar Adler. In “How to Live Well,” an excerpt from her well loved book, An Everlasting Meal, Adler deftly mixes recipes, philosophy, and humor as she shares her love for the humble bean, in all its delicious simplicity. On the topic of soaking beans she says, “I suggest you put your doubt aside, fill a pot with cold water and two cups of beans, put it on the counter and leave it there overnight. You will be on your way toward making beans that taste like they have fed laborers and fighters for centuries.” Perhaps the most beautiful and compelling aspects of Adler’s writing is that she seems to genuinely believe in the interconnectedness of eating and living simply. The sensation I kept coming back to while reading this essay was one of softness and openness, as if she were inviting the reader to truly experience what it means to nourish ourselves in a less complicated manner.

From the cool and comfort of Adler’s world I moved to a realm that is characterized by heat, sweat and sauce: southern barbecue—really, barbecue in general—is not something to which I’m particularly drawn. As a lifelong vegetarian I’m a bit grossed out by the ferocity and messiness of it. I’m also not a fan of most condiments or sauces, and so there again I am the odd girl out. I’ll never understand the difference in taste and culinary desire between the various cuts of meat (brisket, short rib, shoulder). Despite all that, I found myself strangely drawn to the few essays in the book that focus on barbecue. “Memphis in May: Pork-A-Looza,” by Wright Thompson, seems to capture perfectly the excess and manic dedication that goes into competing in a world-renowned barbecue contest. As a member of the whisky and Jell-O shot fueled Fatback Collective, Wright joins his teammates as they embark on a mission to bring back an appreciation for authentic barbecue that reflects a connection to the past, pays homage to tradition, and is heavy on the fat.

For most of us the fact that healthy land produces healthy food is a given. I've read recent stories of farmland in the Midwest that has been almost simultaneously devastated by both drought and excess rainfall and I wonder just how many people, near and far, that will impact. And the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that leaked close to 206 million gallons of oil in to the Gulf of Mexico was the worst oil disaster in American history. Communities all along the coast were severely impacted by the event. Food writers are trying to reckon with these blows to our environment and the ways we eat.

“The Gumbo Chronicles” by Rowan Jacobson is a beautiful and heartbreaking look at a community in Louisiana that has been struggling to rebound from the effect of the oil spill. On a quest for authentic, locally sourced ingredients to make a traditional gumbo, Jacobson spends time with local crabbers, oystermen and shrimpers, all of whom show him that the highly publicized cleanup has been much less successful than many in the government would have us believe. Seafood catches are significantly lower than before the spill, and in many areas there is clearly oil contamination that has impacted a range of sea life, from baby dolphins to oysters.

In the end, Jacobson does manage to pull together the necessary ingredients for a delicious gumbo. His friends gather to share the bounty, swap stories and sip beers. And on the surface, things seem normal. But Jacobson ends the essay on a sober note.

Complex systems do complicated things. The night after Hurricane Katrina passed through southern Louisiana, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. And then the river came pouring through the levees. Since the spill cleanup ended, the government, the media, and the oil industry have been only too happy to announce that we got lucky. Wait and see though. You can still hustle up a meal from the marshes of Bayou Lafourche. But a way of life is ending along the lengths of the longest Main Street in the world.

Jacobson reminds me how much we need stories such as these to show us where we’ve been and give us an inkling of where we are headed. Through food, we’re able to do so much: connect to the past, engage in the present, and plan for the future. What more could we ask for?

July 2013