Years ago, I stumbled upon Ruth Reichl's essay, "The Queen of Mold," in a college textbook I taught from. It was the perfect example of a personal essay: humorous, thoughtful, vividly described. So why did it take me so long to read the whole collection...Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table? Hell if I know. I'm kind of a slacker that way!
"The Queen of Mold" in particular is about Reichl's first inclinations that it's her calling in life to save people from her mother's cooking. Mom has an iron stomach and isn't afraid of eating the decaying leftovers of a turkey...or anything else other people would willingly pass up.
In a larger sense, this collection of personal stories is about Reichl's experiences falling in love with food and the relationships she and her family had with food throughout her childhood and into adulthood. She eventually went on to become a food critic for the New York Times and editor of Gourmet magazine.
While Tender at the Bone is quite funny and ridiculous in spots, there was a darker side. It's revealed that Ruth's mother is bipolar, and their relationship is rocky at best. Her mother lack's boundaries and her erratic behavior damage their relationship in the long term.
In one such instance, Ruth's mother decides to haul her off to France to boarding school. QUITE LITERALLY. With not a stitch of French in her vocabulary, Ruth is flung into life with her peers and is quite clueless and emotionally disturbed by it all. Luckily, she finds her place and finds French cuisine, thanks to weekend visits to a peer's parents' estate where the father schools the girls in the finer points of foie gras and souffles.
In another essays, Reichl gets a job at a day camp in France for the summer. One day, with not much else to do, she and a friend decide to hitchhike and end up entangled with a foodie couple at a farm that makes cheese. Terrified that they won't make it back to camp in time and might lose their cushy jobs, the girls have to scramble to figure out a solution. And they happen to stumble upon the best berry pie ever in the land.
I picked this book up when I was slumping, and it was the perfect, quick-reading non-fiction to move my reading mojo right along. If you're into food, family, and the funny, pick it up!
Pub. Date: March 1999
Publisher: Broadway Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: Bought it!