Category Archives: writing

Writing food memoirs

I attended a wonderful panel moderated by Cara De Silva at the past weekend’s Food Writing Forum at the New School in New York. The panelists – all with rich careers in food and writing — had so many interesting things to say, a handful of which are excerpted below. Not exactly restaurant history, but close enough.

Elissa Altman

“I grew up in a home that was tied in knots over food.” Her mother, who was afraid of food, gave her diet pills while her father, a “fresser,” smuggled her off to secret meals at La Grenouille.

Among other books, she is author of POOR MAN’S FEAST and the upcoming MOTHERLAND: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing.

Mark Russ Federman

“A fish monger from the lower East Side,” he observed that when word got out that he was writing a book about his family’s famed business, “All the literary agents showed up and bought an eighth pound of lox.”

As the third generation of the Russ family to own and operate the family appetizing store, he published a combined memoir/history titled RUSS & DAUGHTERS: Reflections and Recipes.

Madhur Jaffrey

As a memoir writer, she realized that “When I looked back on my life it was all about food.” Reflecting that the name given to her at birth means honey, she commented, “God connected me to food.”

She is author of cookbooks and CLIMBING THE MANGO TREE: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.

Anne Mendelson

Writing a biography of the mother-daughter cookbook authors of The Joy of Cooking she admits, “I was flying blind.” But she considers this a “necessary condition” for writing a biography.

She has written STAND FACING THE STOVE about Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, as well as cookbooks and other food books.

Laura Shapiro

“You can tell any life if you know the food,” she observed. Working on her recent book, she knew she was onto something when she discovered that feminist Inez Haynes Irwin had once confessed that preparing Sunday dinners had “set a scar on my soul.”

Among her books are PERFECTION SALAD and the new one, WHAT SHE ATE: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories.

 

See my new-ish blog on childhood food memories, Archaeology of Taste.

 

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2016, a recap

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It has been a great blog year. After 8½ years and 381 posts, it’s nice to report that my blog is still growing. I’ve accepted that it won’t ever be a blockbuster, but I am cheered that I get more readers all the time. 2016 also stands out for including my best day ever as measured in page views, doubling the total from my last best day. And 34 posts, many of them old ones, got more than 1,000 views this year.

I hear from a lot of readers via e-mail, many of whom have information about a restaurant I’ve written about or ideas for future topics. Some of them are doing their own research. Recently I heard from an author in France asking about restaurants that provided customers with telephones at their tables. I’m always happy to share my sources with them, though of course I can’t perform individual research.

Warm thank-yous to all my readers, subscribers, commenters, linkers, and likers. Happily, only one post I’ve written has attracted trolls. I am perfectly willing to approve comments that disagree with my slant on things or correct mistakes, but I don’t accept hostile comments that attack me or another reader. Nonetheless, thanks to trolls for boosting my stats!

It’s heartening to see that many of my old posts still have power to attract readers, such as the ones on parsley, uncomfortable seating, or the buying power of a nickel. Posts on once-beloved restaurants such as Wolfies in Miami and Miss Hulling’s in St. Louis continue to draw thousands of readers each year.

What’s coming up? More books are being written on the history of restaurants, so expect to see reviews of Ten Restaurants That Changed America (Paul Freedman), Restaurant Republic (Kelly Erby), and Dining Out in Boston (James C. O’Connell). And my list of ideas for future posts never shrinks — in fact it’s longer than ever. There are quite a few in the pipeline, such as restaurant fashions for women diners, The Bakery in Chicago, and the 19th century’s cheapest-of–cheap eateries.

Wishing everyone happy restaurant-ing and a good new year.

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