In this post Guest Blogger Judith Newton shares the back story about the food theme that serves to weave together numerous subthemes in her newly released memoir.
My memoir, Tasting Home, is about the healing and connecting powers of cooking and eating with others, a theme that came to me early in my life. Since as a child I’d found my mother’s meals to be the most secure form of nurturing I’d received, for me, as an adult, cooking became the only sure way I knew to create a sense of home. Tasting Home deals with some painful episodes in my life, but I wanted readers to experience the ways in which cooking helped me to establish emotional connections and a sustaining sense of joy. It is for this reason that the memoir is loaded with scenes in which I invite readers to the table, by recreating what the food tasted like, what surroundings it was eaten in, and the ways in which it bound me to others.
Food memoirs were popular by 2009 when I began Tasting Home. Some came with recipes and others did not. I decided to include recipes as a way of inviting readers to enter a communal space. Although I could share food experiences with my readers through telling my story, I wanted to give them a more lasting way of creating pleasurable moments in their lives. I think of recipes as gifts. I wanted my readers to feel what I often experience when I read magazines like Woman’s World — that I have entered a place in which women share stories, give advice, provide comfort, and hand on recipes.
Recipes also captured the changing cuisines and the spirit of the many decades I wrote about. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for example, struck me as very much a product of the 1960s in the wild optimism and ambition it demanded of those who used it. (Julia Child’s recipe for Veal Prince Orloff went on for three pages when my mother’s recipe for spareribs in the 1950s took only one side of a 3 by 5 card.)
Recipes for the fifth section of the memoir, which covers the 1990s and 2000s when I was hosting buffets to build a cross-racial community on my campus, are often dishes that combine cuisines and that are easy to serve to a large crowd —goat cheese tamales, oven baked polenta with tomato fondue, Sonoma Jack cheese, and chiles en nogada, stuffed chiles in walnut sauce.
I also baked a lot from Martha Stewart’s Entertaining — lemon curd tart made with sweet Meyer lemons and tons of butter, pear frangipane with glazed pears on a bed of almond paste, a chocolate cake surprisingly flavored with whiskey-soaked raisins. Recipes helped the memoir become a book that invited readers to give parties, to bring exuberance to living, and to feel that , despite the suffering one might endure, life could be joyful, intense, and thoughtfully led. As one of my readers wrote about an early scene “you were in a moment of grace and you took us there with you.”
Huffington Post Food blogger Judith Newton is Professor Emerita at UC Davis and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. On March 1, She Writes Press released her culinary autobiography, Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen. The next stop on her blog tour is Eat, Drink & Be Merry Magazine.
Write now: pick out one of your favorite recipes that brings back memories and write the stories behind it.