This week in the New York TImes Jeff Gordiner wrote interesting piece on Laurie Colwin. She is, unsurprisingly, one of my favorite authors though I may be in the minority in that I enjoy her fiction as much as her food writing. Truth be told, there's a lot of food in her fiction and having spent my high school years in the eighties in New York City I found her writing to be very true to life as I knew it. It was fresh and unique with a distinct voice as all the best writing often is. Now I have bookcases full of food writing and still Home Cooking and More Home Cooking are among those that I reach for the most.
In my younger days I was a huge fan of James Beard and MFK Fisher. I bought The Art of Eating when I was working at Metropolitan Museum of Art one Christmas season. I managed to find quite a few great cookbooks in the stores there but MFK was by far my best purchase. I read it over and over again and it seemed to embody the kind of writing I most enjoyed. Autobiographical, food-centric, and slightly eccentric. Each book in the series was clearly written in her voice and yet there were distinct variations in style and tone, time and space. She also wrote a tiny bit of fiction and I greatly enjoyed her novel Not Now but Now, and it sits alongside her other books on my shelf. James Beard's Delights and Prejudices is still a favorite and though it may have been years since I last cracked the cover I can close my eyes and conjure up stories of summertime in Olympia, French markets, sand tarts, curries, and Dungeness crab.
John Thorne was my go to for developing opinions and learning to cook on my own. His stories embody a journey of culinary evolution. Not in a fancy or snooty way, just the stories of an opinionated cook who often finds cooking and eating to be a solitary pleasure. He has both a website and a newsletter and his books are an extension of these. Some of his most popular pieces are on breakfasts and midnight snacks. These are highly personal meals that we may never want to recreate ourselves but then we all have our secret passions and strange meals that we enjoy most when we are alone. John Thorne invites us into his world without imposing his ideas upon us. Recipes are given but there's no pressure to run to the kitchen or follow them exactly. Instead they are a natural unfolding of whatever story they originate from.
Growing up with a Jewish uncle I was especially fond of books describing Jewish food. There's a whole culture to the cuisine, similar to what we see in Southern food writing, another favorite of mine. From My Mother's Kitchen by Mimi Sheraton was a keeper comfort read. Her voice is clear and informative as she matter-of-factly explains her mother's preferences in the kitchen and her own variations. It is as much a story about their relationship as it as about the food. Perhaps that's what makes the very best comfort reads, they give you something to relate to and something you can build upon for yourself. Of course these few books are just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for days but instead I'll leave you here, so I can go curl up with a good book.