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Why You Should Read Ruth Reichl’s Food Writings

Ruth Reichl writes poems about food. In prose.

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Ruth Reichl is the author of Delicious! a novel published by Random House in May 2014. She was Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine from 1999 to 2009.  Before that she was the restaurant critic of  both The New York Times(1993-1999) and the Los Angeles Times (1984-1993), where she was also named food editor. As co-owner of The Swallow Restaurant from 1974 to 1977, she played a part in the culinary revolution that took place in Berkeley, California. In the years that followed, she served as restaurant critic for New West and California magazines. She has written several books and won numerous awards.

And this is a condensed introduction, because we don’t have the page-count to devote to her achievements, much as we would like to. Suffice it to say that you should read Ruth Reichl if you aspire to be a food writer. Or are one. You should read her if you love food, and love the written word. You should read her. Period.

Reichl’s Writings (from her journal):

Walking down the Rue Mouffetard in the early Paris morning is a completely sensual experience.  This time of year the street is perfumed with strawberries and the fat white asparagus are everywhere, poking up with a curiously aggressive air. Meanwhile the cauliflower curl shyly into their protective green leaves, as if reluctant to emerge and face the sassy herbs in their bold bunches.

Lemons make me happy; they always have. I may run out of milk, eggs and coffee, but I am never without lemons. When I am feeling sad I’ll open the refrigerator, reach for a lemon and run my fingers across the peel for the pure pleasure of the scent. It always improves my mood.

Straight off the tree, an apricot is a shy and retiring fruit, reluctant to display its charms. Add a little heat, however, and its true character is revealed.  This is a flirtatious fruit, teasing you with sweetness before turning on you with a sour smile. By turns sweet, acid and sour, a cooked apricot is a juicy and endlessly fascinating companion that likes to keep you guessing.

Basket with juicy fruits

The surprise of finding wild blackberries creeping along the edges of the woods is one of the great pleasures of these deep summer days. Even the mean wild vines, stretching out their vicious thorns to scratch you, cannot dim the pleasure. The purple juice stains your fingers for days, a trophy, a tattoo.

In my dreams, sometimes, I walk down a New York sidestreet and find a simple, sunlit trattoria, the tables a bit rickety, the door open wide. The chef beckons me inside.  He sets bread, cheese, and salume on the table, picks up a plate and fills it with hand-made pasta topped with the simplest tomato sauce. 

Music washes through the air. There is grilled meat, sautéed spinach, a splash of wine. One tiny cup of espresso. I go dancing out the door.

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