Book: Comfort Me with Apples by Ruch Reichl

Very good food memoir

Ruth Reichl
Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Random House, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-75873-9
302 pages

M. F. K. Fisher is one of my favorite authors ever. (The initials are for Mary Frances Kennedy.) And it was with her possibly rather unfairly in my mind that I started the book Comfort Me With Apples by another writer on food who is associated with California, Ruth Reichl. It turns out that I needn't have been concerned that the implicit comparison was unfair. That's true for two reasons. The first is that Ms Reichl's rather confessional style of food memoir is similar to Ms Fisher's. Indeed, Ms Fisher is Ms Reichl's hero (she gets to know her a bit in the course of the book). The second reason that the comparison isn't a bad one to make is that Ms Reichl's writing is good enough that it can stand the comparison.

As the book begins, it's 1978 and Ms Reichl lives in a communally-organized house in Berkeley, California with her husband who is an artist and several other people. She has just become a free-lance restaurant reviewer for the new magazine New West. Her first trip to a restaurant to review it doesn't go especially well when the parking valet refuses to accept her beat-up car and the cost of the meal alone is greater than the limit on her credit card. She rises above these problems and, she suggests, partly by bluffing, talks herself into some important circles in cooking in California.

Then a last-minute trip to Paris (via London and then the boat-train because that way the airfare was cheap) brings us to some fabulous food and the first bit of difficult romance in the book. Difficult emotions come up pretty often here.

There's a quote from M. F. K. Fisher that I'm not having any luck finding to the effect that life, love, and food are so inextricably intertwined that trying to talk about any of them in isolation is pointless. (She said it rather more elegantly.) And you could take that as the theme of this book. Ms Reichl meets people and travels and cooks and eats and pretty much through it all she keeps those intertwined themes working together.

There are some memorable events in the book. We get to meet Danny Kaye and there's a fascinating trip to Barcelona, but mainly the book's virtue is in Ms Reichl's gentle narration and patient interest in the people and food around her. If Ms Reichl's prose doesn't quite rise to the lyricism that M. F. K. Fisher's does at its best, this book is still very much worth the reader's time.

There are recipes at the ends of the chapters, but I'm not a good enough cook to comment on them.

Posted: Tue - May 13, 2008 at 07:15 PM   Main   Category: