The Food Literature Group meets four or five times per year to discuss books relevant to Slow Food values and food as an expression of cultural heritage. Along with wonderful conversation, we also share a potluck dinner at the meeting or gather at a local restaurant that reflects the theme of chosen book.
The Food Literature Group is open to current Slow Food South Bay chapter members. Please email us if you have an interest in joining this group at:
Our current book selection is A Family Farm in Tuscany: Recipes and Stories from Fattoria Poggio Alloro by Sarah Fioroni and translated by Natalie Danford. Including traditional family recipes and colorful photography throughout, this is a story about three generations of one family and how their inherited and shared love offarming and food as an expression of culture and caring evolved into the current eco-tourist destination and sustainable farm it is today. Our meeting is planned for January 27th, 2014 at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City. Please email us if you are interested in attending our family style dinner and conversation at the restaurant and Happy New Year to All!!
We read 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. In October, we met at a member’s home in Palo Alto to talk about the book and savored one of our typical potluck feasts, including dishes that reflected the book’s theme.
Our previous selection, Michael Moss‘s book, Salt, Sugar, Fat, was discussed at our July 22, 2013 gathering and BBQ potluck in Los Altos. Everyone gave this book great reviews and we all agreed that we learned so much about how the food industry makes choices about the products they create and sell on our grocery shelves. A ‘must-read’ for anyone who peruses labels before purchasing a food product. This book will help you navigate choices at the market!
Good Food Reads: Past Selections
The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher
Twain’s Feast by Andrew Beahrs
Farm City by Novella Carpenter
Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Gourmet by Ruth Reichl, Ed.
Four Fish by Paul Greenberg
Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The United States of Arugula by David Kamp
The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin
Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer Lee
The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball
Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan (a local author and chef!)
Reading Between the Wines byTerry Theise
Climbing the Mango Tree by Madhur Jaffrey
Death by Pad Thai by Douglas Bauer
Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss
~ Reviews: A Few Past Books ~
Tuesday, March 29, 2011: Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet, edited by Ruth Reichl
Summary submitted by Linda Collery;Slow Food South Bay’s Food Literature Group ventured forth on its first field trip to attend Ruth Reichl’s recent talk “The Intersection of Food, Culture and History” at Stanford University. As the title suggests, Reichl’s presentation was wide-ranging and eclectic in scope. She began and ended her talk by reading from two very different female food writers whose books span a sixty-four year period – first from MFK Fisher’s bookThe Gastronomical Me (the first selection to be read by SFSB’s food literature group) and then concluding with a passage from chef/writer Gabrielle Hamilton’s new book, Blood, Bones and Butter. In between, Reichl’s lecture touched on Apicius, Allen Ginsburg, the Ming Dynasty, Chef Antonin Careme, the first edition of theJoy of Cooking, writers AJ. Leibling and Joseph Mitchell and the wonderful poem by William Carlos Williams, “This is Just to Say.” Reichl stated that food is a reflection of its time and when one reads about food, one learns about the history and culture of a place.
She observed that there currently seems to be a voracious appetite for food writing. She believes that the less we cook as a culture, the more we desire to read and watch television about food instead. During the question/answer segment at the end of her presentation, Reichl touched on some fascinating topics. She stated that “it is important and an act of bravery” to invite people into your home for meals. She believes people get to know you in a way that they never will elsewhere. Reichl was asked about Ruth Bourdain, the tweeter who was recently nominated for a James Beard Award in humor. Ruth Bourdain is a mash-up between Reichl and Anthony Bourdain – Reichl’s tweets are rewritten in the voice of Anthony Bourdain. No one knows who this individual is, but given the hilarity of Ruth Bourdain’s tweets, Reichl hopes he or she will win.
Reichl just happened to be speaking at Stanford the very same evening the food lit group was slated to discuss Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet, edited by Ms. Reichl. The group decided this fortuitous coincidence was just too good to pass up.
Afterward, we met at Siam Orchid in Palo Alto for a light meal to discuss Endless Feasts. The general consensus was that this collection of essays from Gourmet was an excellent introduction to many impressive food writers. The quality of writing revealed what a true gem Gourmet was over the many decades of its publication.
Monday, September 27, 2010: Twain’s Feast by Andrew Beahrs
Summary submitted by Linda Collery
Berkeley author Andy Beahrs joined the second meeting of Slow Food South Bay’s new food literature group in September. Andy is the author of Twain’s Feast, a book about America’s lost wild foods as seen through the eyes of a homesick Mark Twain. In 1879, Twain was more than a year into a tour of Europe that was described in his book A Tramp Abroad. Twain found that he detested European hotel cooking. He missed his native cuisine so much that he created a fantasy menu of American foods. It was comprised of approximately eighty regional specialties, revealing the incredible wealth of local and fresh American foods in the 1800s. Twain’s menu included Lake Trout from Tahoe, Hot Biscuits, Southern Style, Black Bass from the Mississippi, Roast Wild Turkey, Hot Buckwheat Cakes, Clear Maple Syrup, Peach Cobbler and Pumpkin Pie. The eighty-item menu alone is worth the price of the book! Each of Andy’s chapters delves into one of the foods on Twain’s menu in depth, such as cranberries, oysters and mussels from San Francisco and prairie hens.
Andy gave a wonderful reading from his chapter on maple syrup. He then led us in a maple syrup tasting. The syrup was predominantly from River’s Edge Sugar House, a small, artisanal producer located in Connecticut, a state where Twain lived during one of the happiest periods in his life. We tasted several River’s Edge Grade A syrups, ranging from Light to Dark Amber as well as their Grade B syrup. We also tasted one of Trader Joe’s house syrups. The difference in quality was truly astonishing.
Reviewed by Peter Ruddock
Like most Americans, I’ve read some of Mark Twain’s books. I’ve read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huck Finn, of course. And I’ve read some of Twain’s travel writing, including Innocents Abroad. I never would have thought of Twain as a food writer.
Fortunately, author and Slow Food Berkeley member Andrew Beahrs thinks differently. Then again, he has apparently read more of Mark Twain’s writing than most and he knows that Twain was serious about food. He illustrates this most explicitly with a quote from Twain, using a line that he attached to a letter from his wife to a friend of hers as a postscript: “Dear Mrs. H – If I have a talent it is for contributing valuable matter to works upon cookery.”
In the Introduction to Twain’s Feast, his third book and first work of non-fiction, Andy tells us about a list that Mark Twain made while living in Germany and missing home. It described a meal, a “modest, private affair” just for himself. This meal included about eighty items of American food, from things as simple as radishes and new potatoes, to more substantial fare, like “Blue points, on the half shell” and “Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.” Many of the foods were prepared “Southern style.” The meal finished with apple pie, pumpkin pie and other American sweets, of course.
Out of this list for a meal sprung Andy’s idea for a book. He pared his literary feast to eight items, some of which are no longer eaten much in America: prairie hens, raccoon, Sheep-head (a fish common in Louisiana) and terrapin (a kind of turtle from the east coast); others of which are still common: trout, cranberries and maple syrup. And probably of most interest to readers in the Bay Area: San Francisco Bay oysters. Substitute Tomales Bay for San Francisco Bay in the twenty-first century and you know, pretty much, what he’s talking about.
For each food, Andy takes us on a tour, showing us the food as Twain would have known it, telling us about its geography and culinary uses at the end of the nineteenth century. With a mixture of history, biography and natural science we are introduced to the plant or animal as an American would have recognized it after the Civil War. Using recipes, similarly to the way that Mark Kurlansky does in his books, we are also introduced to how the food would have been prepared and served in an American house, such as Mark Twain’s.
Andy then brings us into the present, contrasting the foods as they are now known with how they were known in Twain’s era. The differences can be shocking – while we don’t eat raccoon mostly based on sensibility, we would likely eat prairie chicken if there were enough of them to eat. In the twenty-first century, the tale often becomes one of the environment, illustrating what we’ve lost in the last century and a half and why we’ve lost it.
But this is a book by a Slow Food member, so the cautionary tale is leavened with celebration. Andy’s love of food and cooking comes through when he talks about his own experiences with food and meals he ate and cooked while writing the book. And he had some wonderful experiences in the process – for each food he traveled somewhere in the United States to meet someone who is working with the plant or animal, often in a sustainable manner, and often with great passion. The descriptions of these individuals and their projects are some of the strongest passages in the book.
The book has just been released, but you ought to be able to find it in your local (independent) bookstore, or in your library. Do look for it. This is a book that all Slow Food members will enjoy reading. Slowly, of course.
Monday, June 28, 2010: The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
Summary submitted by Allison McElwee
We would like to thank Linda Collery for hosting the first meeting of Slow Food South Bay’s quarterly book group at the Mountain View Community Center. The book of the evening was MFK Fisher’s memoir, The Gastronomical Me. It describes her travels and experiences with food as a woman in the early 1900′s. The meeting consisted of a themed potluck and discussion. Attendees all brought food items that were mentioned in the book. Some even used Fisher’s recipes. While munching on treats like gingerbread, the group had a fun discussion about Fisher’s experiences, Fisher herself, as well as their own experiences with food.