Ruth Reichl, legendary food critic, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, and author of several really interesting and absorbing books about food and its influence in her own life (Comfort Me with Apples, Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires), has written a novel called Delicious. I have to admit I wasn’t sure when I started as the plot didn’t grab me but actually, it worked.
This is the blurb from the book:
“Billie Breslin has just landed her dream at Delicious!, the most iconic food magazine in New York. In an unfortunate turn of events Billie’s career barely gets started before the magazine is shut down and what looks like an interim job to tidy up as the doors close turns out to be an amazing journey to a magical, life-changing discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old who corresponded with the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu’s letters inspire Billie to come to terms with her own truths – about herself, her adored big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.”
Which makes it seem slight and chick-littish and sort of samey, much like many other food/love/growing up concoctions BUT it isn’t – it is very good, complex and richly textured and somehow very real about human nature, the big lurve interest is merely a side serving to the main action of Lulu’s letters which are hidden in various folders in the magazine’s library.
To find the next letter Billie has to look at the library’s encyclopedic catalogue cards for the various ingredients that have been mentioned in the previous letter. In this manner you come across all sorts of snippets of fascinating information about food and ingredients, including the information that Anzac Biscuits (an oaty, golden syrupy biscuit commemorating Australian and NZ soldiers) were first so named in a St Andrews Cookery Book, published here in Dunedin in the very early twentieth century by a local church, which was exciting as I knew that one of our customers is the person who tracked that information down. Helen Leach is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Otago, her research interests include the evolution of human diet, prehistoric horticulture, and the material culture and history of recipes and cooking. She has a unique collection of historical and community cookbooks (including most of those St Andrew’s ones). When I saw her in the shop last week I pounced upon her, in a booksellery way, to tell her about the Anzac Biscuit connection – she took the book, I do hope she is enjoying it…