Adventures in Cooking

Reading Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl‘s 1998 memoir about her early history with food, I am of course struck by her love for food, by the passion with which she describes its ingredients. But just as interesting as her adventures in learning to prepare and appreciate good food, are her adventures with life in general.

Reichl’s mother suffered from bipolar disorder (or manic depression, as they called in the 1950’s when Reichl was growing up). She subjected her family to some very odd, even dangerous, culinary situations, thinking nothing of serving them food with mold growing on it or things she had pulled from garbage cans. She also loved to entertain, throwing elaborate parties with some very suspect menu items.  Reichl spent her childhood trying to protect the people she cared who attended these affairs from eating what was being served.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Reichl would leave home at an early age, or that she would travel to France and then California while still in her late teens and 20’s. She lived a very bohemian lifestyle, finally ending up in a communal living situation in the late 1960’s in Berkley with three other permanent residents and numerous floaters. “The plan was to grow our own food,” Reichl recalls. “It would be cheap and we would not be dependent on evil agribusiness.” When “everybody in Berkley started reading Diet for a Small Planet…meat completely disappeared from our lives.”

Fast forward to Thanksgiving. The group decided (under some protest from Riechl) to forgo the Turkey, which was “one of the more egregious examples of the vertical integration of agribusiness,” and undertake to creat their Thanksgiving meal entirely from usable refuse discarded in supermarket dumpsters.

Initially skeptical, Reichl and the other members finally gave in.

“It was extraordinary what was being thrown out! Flats of perfectly good eggs had been discarded merely because a couple had cracked. We found ripped bags of flour and crumbled cartons of cookies. The bananas might be a little brown, but they made wonderful banana bread and the apples were just fine for applesauce. The garbage runs were fun. We came home with all sorts of items I would not normally have bought and I liked the challenge of figuring out how to use them. Maybe Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be so bad.”

This book is a feast of similar stories.

Fascinating adventures in cooking. I’m loving them every one, and eagerly awaiting my second helping in her next book, Comfort Me with Apples.

What are you reading or cooking up this Sunday?

The Sunday Salon.com

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4 thoughts on “Adventures in Cooking

  1. I loved this book too! It put me on a Ruth Reich kick and I read several of her books. She is a delight (but thank goodness I never had to eat at her mother’s house!).

  2. I share her essay, “Queen of Mold” with my students every term for various reasons. It’s just such a wonderful personal essay example, and her description is first-rate. It’s a scandal I haven’t read the whole book. I have a gift card and may need to use it on this one!

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