Food memoirs have been calling my name for several years now. I can't get enough of them and yet I find there are still plenty more I need to read. Since I'm frequently asked for book recommendations, I thought I'd start compiling lists of different categories and there was no better place to start than books about food. Mainly because most of the best things in life involve good food, yes?
Also, I have a lot of favorites.
The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry- Kathleen Flinn
One of the first food memoirs I recall reading, it swept me off my feet. After learning she's been fired, Flinn decides to move to Paris and pursue her dream of a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu. Funny yet informative, Flinn includes many great recipes along the way.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle- Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver and her family document a year of deliberately eating food that was produced where they lived. The book is chock full of information on processed food, farmer's markets, and more, as well as delicious recipes. I haven't taken a similar plunge but it definitely made me reassess where my food comes from.
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table- Ruth Reichl
Masterfully written memoir by renowned food critic Ruth Reichl. She details her chaotic childhood compliments of her undiagnosed bipolar mother, work-prone father, and a revolving door of help. It's her mother's penchant for serving spoiled food that ultimately propels Reichl into the kitchen. Reichl's unpredictable relationship with her mother is at the heart of each story and its resolution is full of redemption. Reichl wrote two more memoirs- Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires- that are more than worth your time but to me, this is her best work.
The Language of Baklava- Diana Abu-Jaber
Abu-Jaber painted such a rich and vibrant picture of culture, relationships, and self-identity. There is so much to relate to, even for those of us without immigrant parents. I hope she will write another memoir because there were quite a few times where I wanted to know the rest of the story.
Yes, Chef- Marcus Samuelsson
I was familiar with Marcus Samuelsson thanks to Top Chef but I had no idea about his story. I like to see how chefs become the people they are and finding out what kitchen life is really like. Samuelsson pulls no punches, detailing honestly about the explosive personalities of his mentors, the good and bad of working in restaurants, the racism he encountered (while differentiating himself from African Americans, as he had a somewhat different experience in Sweden), and the constant striving of any good chef.
Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef- Gabrielle Hamilton
Beautifully written chef's memoir but so much more than that. Hamilton's bohemian childhood translated to an interesting life. We see the role the kitchen has always played, from accidental cook fending for herself to opening an acclaimed restaurant. The food descriptions are stunning when they occur but I was most mesmerized by Hamilton's winding journey. We live markedly different lives but I enjoyed reading about how she discovered- and continues to discover- herself.
I've read and loved Tara Austen Weaver's blog for a few years now. She's such an engaging writer and while I knew some of her story from her blog, I was curious about her journey from vegetarian to carnivore, as well as the impact of her diet on her health. I loved reading about her interactions with butchers, meat-lovers, steak aficionados, and sausage makers, as well as seeing whether her foray with meat would last.
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table- Molly Wizenberg
A Homemade Life was a true treat. I'm a fan of Wizenberg's blog Orangette, albeit a sporadic reader. Her book is beautifully written, memories and stories gently folded around food. Her recollections of her father were especially evocative. I laughed and cried and, of course, bookmarked recipes to try. I also found her second book Delancey to be delightful and was just a wee bit proud of myself for having dined at the restaurant prior to the book's release. If you're in Seattle, you have to get some pizza and a fancy drink on my behalf. Also, the chocolate chip cookie with gray salt. You won't regret it.
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace- Tamar Adler
Tamar Adler has such a reverential approach to food and eating in An Everlasting Meal. Beautifully written, her book also serves as a handy guide. I will never approach eggs or leftovers in quite the same way after reading her words. A must read for anyone who enjoys eating or cooking. (This isn't entirely memoir but it's had such an impact on me, I couldn't leave it out.)
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals- Michael Pollan
If you like to eat, this is a must-read. Beware, however, it will change the way you eat. Very eye-opening and insightful.
On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town - Susan Herrmann Loomis
How is it possible to paint a dreamy yet realistic vision of life in France? Loomis drew me in from the start and while I'm not going to pack my bags for Paris quite yet, she did have me considering the possibilities of life abroad. Oh, to have a life revolving around food and restored convents like them!
My Life in France- Julia Child
I had vague memories of Julia Child's cooking show, supplemented by the movie Julie and Julia, before I read this. Julia's personality shines throughout. Her determination to perfect recipes and compulsion to continue working on her cookbooks after years of work is quite inspiring. Her efforts changed the way cookbooks are published.
Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith- Fred Bahnson
Beautifully written exploration of the relationship between faith and food, especially the garden and soil. But I hasten to add, this is for more than gardeners and farmers. It's for all of us seeking, all of us eating. The writing is alive and moved me time and again. This is a book I'll return to often. (We read it at The Red Couch last here. Here's my introduction and here's the discussion.)
Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table- Shauna Niequist
Equal parts memoir, manifesto, and cookbook, I read Shauna's essays, underlining and nodding in recognition. I respond to Shauna's writing as if I've jumped in to the middle of conversation with her. This is her best work yet.
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love- Kristin Kimball
Reading this was like a walk down memory lane. Not because I bought a farm with a guy I barely knew but because we have a family farm. This is a beautifully written memoir but also packed with information on farming, green living, and ethical eating.
What are your favorite food memoirs?
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