This post originally appeared on Food Riot, where I write regularly about food, culture, writing, and literature.
Everyone has their book thing: some people are into vampire novels, some love Jane Austen fan fiction, and some have well-worn copies of bodice-ripper romance novels. My thing? Food love stories. True food love stories.
Throw two people together, give them some cozy romance, some road bumps along the way, and ultimately end with their happy union, and you’ve got a textbook love story. But throw in food, and you add an extra layer. Think about it. Our first dates are usually over dinner. What a person orders says a lot about them. My wife ordered a sloppy Joe on our first date; that told me she was brave, indulgent, and capable of handling messiness. And I am messy.
Food is sensory. It’s sensual. It’s about nourishing people, providing for them. It requires trust and submission. It asks for thoughtfulness. It’s the natural setting for a love story. And luckily, there are some truly great true food love stories out there – some conventional, and some surprising.
Apron Anxiety is the tale of a romance between writer Alyssa Shelasky, and her boyfriend, Chef, a former contestant of Bravo’s Top Chef. When Alyssa takes the big leap and leaves New York to follow her boyfriend to Washington, D.C., she embarks not only on her romance, but on a journey that will ultimately bring her to a new knowledge of herself and her owns strength. In a last ditch effort to “rise up” above the loneliness, homesickness, and isolation that comes in her move to D.C., Alyssa turns to cooking, which proves to be her salvation and her new love. This true food love story comes with thirty recipes (I highly recommend the banana bread).
This is not your usual romp through Europe, experiencing the cities one mouthful of food at a time. Rather, Keeping the Feast is a story of tragedy, healing, and hope. Twenty-three days after their wedding, Paula Butturini’s husband is shot and nearly killed, and though he goes on to recover from his physical injuries, it is the emotional aftermath that takes its toll on him, her, and their new marriage. This memoir is about the ways that they find healing, through food and peace, through life changes and faith. Keeping the Feast is a book I highly recommend, with the caveat to keep a box of tissues close at hand; it is a surprising, difficult, but ultimately uplifting and inspirational story of how food and love can carry us through.
The compendium of years of blogging at Orangette, A Homemade Life is Molly Wizenberg’s debut memoir, the story of her journey to Orangette, to her husband, and to her life as a cook and writer. With recipes to go along with the chapters, A Homemade Life takes us on an emotional journey through loss, homesickness, a search for identity, and ultimately through love, both love of self and love for another person.
One of the original true food love stories, Amanda Hesser’s memoir of falling in love with her husband, Tad Friend, takes readers on a personal journey of food, writing, and courtship. Amanda Hesser was a long-time writer for The New York Times and currently is the co-founder of Food52, so while the love story in this memoir is wonderful, her food writing is equally astounding. I found myself dazzled by the romance but also by the food and the recipes, which left me inspired, bookmarking every few pages so I could go back and try the recipes later. In this way, Cooking with Mr. Latte is a story not only of romance, but also of one writer’s love of her subject.
Julia Child’s memoir was written close to the end of her life, and it starts with her move to France with her husband, Paul. This book is not your textbook love story; rather it is the story of Julia falling in love with food, a love story that would ultimately bring her into the homes of so many readers and home cooks. It is the love story that keeps her in our present-day conversation about food. My Life in France is one of my favorite true food love stories because it’s the story of a woman falling in love with her work and finding a new passion in life.
Warning: you might want to have a farm when you first start reading this book. The romance of growing things, of cooking them simply and eating them with rustic homemade bread and a bottle of wine, can quickly pull you in. But read on, and Kristin Kimball will paint a truthful picture of how difficult (though ultimately, rewarding) it is to work the earth, to start a working farm. The Dirty Life is the story of Kimball falling in love with the farmer who would ultimately become her husband; it’s also the story of her falling in love with farming and food, with work and sweat and animals, and with the community she now feeds.
Spoon Fed is a non-traditional true food love story, but since love is what it ultimately hinges on, it deserves a place in this list. Though Kim Severson does meet her wife and ultimately marry her and experience the birth of their daughter throughout the course of the book, her encounters with women cooks – her mother, Edna Lewis, Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, among others – are what this book revolves around. And in her interactions with these women, Kim Severson learns lessons about the kitchen, about food and cooking, and about life and herself. In experiencing how each woman cooks, how she approaches food, Kim learns about love: love of yourself, love of the people around you. As she points out, “cooking for the people whom you wake up with and go to sleep with is the best thing ever,” and if that’s not the makings of a love story, I don’t know what is.
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