Food Writing, or foodie books, is a relatively new genre compared to other genres in publishing. Columnists have been regaling us with stories of food preparation foibles, family memories, and reflections on food related stories since the advent of food magazines in the 1940s, but didn’t gain prominence until the 1990s.
My interest in food writers began with Julia Child. In the 1970s, a weekly column appeared in the newspaper with words of wisdom from Julia and the recipe she would prepare on her PBS show The French Chef that week. As a new wife, I looked forward to those columns and shows as Julia taught me how to cook. Julia showed through her triumphs and mistakes that I too could put a wonderful meal on the table.
One of the my favorite food writers is someone likely few people outside the foodie world know. His name was William J. Garry, and he was the editor of Bon Appetit magazine from 1985 until his untimely death in 2000. His Letters From the Editor column wasn’t the usual ‘rah rah, here’s what’s in this issue’ stuff. Quite the opposite, his columns were full of humor and stories about food with goofy illustrations. He wrote about his experiences and observations on our culture as it relates to food. This was a man that was rarely serious, often doing outrageous things. Once at a fancy banquet dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, he thought the food was so terrible that he and a colleague ordered room service to be delivered to the table, and then shared the pizza and shrimp with others at the table. He wrote columns dedicated to doing the opposite of the mainstream, like declaring a day in April as Give Asparagus a Rest Day, to protest the seemingly endless articles on the vegetable every spring. These columns are hilarious, covering everything from Y2K to apples, seasonal eccentricities to the ritual of the backyard barbeque, meat loaf to picnics, dining with a Elvis impersonator on a park bench and much more. He poked fun at everything. If you find an old issue from those years, get it and read his column. When he died, I took all my old Bon Appetit magazines, cut out his columns and put them in a binder so I could enjoy them for years to come.
I found those columns, and many more to be so entertaining that I looked for more. Food writers were becoming more prominent in the 1990s, but it was still difficult to find them unless you subscribed to every food magazine and most major newspapers with food sections. Remember, this was before food bloggers, Food Network, and competition cooking shows. In 2000, that changed with the publication of a new series called Best Food Writing. Editor Holly Hughes brought together in one volume the best columns about food. Words of wisdom, family memories, interviews, observations and humor from the premier writers of the day covered diverse topics all relating to food organized into five sections. The anthologies have been published yearly since then.
I found another favorite food writer, David Leite, in the pages of Bon Appetit, and was delighted to see some of his columns reprinted in Best Food Writing. Guys will enjoy David’s humorous column dedicated to his new stove named Thor – http://leitesculinaria.com/10134/writings-a-man-and-his-stove.html. His column The Goose of Christmas Past is particularly good – http://leitesculinaria.com/10021/writings-goose-of-christmas-past.html. His website has even more of his columns and lots of recipes, just to get you started.
Ruth Reichl, famed editor of Gourmet magazine, former New York Times restaurant critic, former Los Angeles Times restaurant critic and food editor, and book author is a frequent contributor in these anthologies. Her books including Comfort Me With Apples, Tender at the Bone, and Garlic and Sapphires are staples on most foodie book lists. Try her Sour Cream Apple Pie at http://www.ruthreichl.com/sour-cream-apple-pie.html
The columns and articles in these books are short reads, usually 3-5 pages in length, and perfect for what my friend Patty calls ‘snack reading’. Snack reading is just a little something to get you through to the next big block of reading time. The articles cover such topics as the search for the perfect ingredient, finding the right kitchen tool, restaurants behind the scenes, family memories, memorable holidays and so much more. If you enjoy reading food related short stories, look for these anthologies, and have a little snack read.