Best Food Writing 2013 – Holly Hughes, Editor [Feature Review]

December 6, 2013

 

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0738217166″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41BL%2BUjlr6L._SL160_.jpg” width=”108″]Page 2: Best Food Writing 2013

 
While not a recipe book in any sense, nor is it touted as one, a handful of the essays do include a recipe, which are helpfully indexed in the back. There’s a recipe for marinara sauce that comes after the writer discovers the importance of supporting the farmer who sold her the tomatoes.  There’s the triumphant delight of Tim Carman’s tale of reclaiming and rediscovering a family recipe that for 35 years had “not one speck of – wait for it, waaaaait for it – ginger.” (241)  I’ll avoid the one for poached eggs, though I’m sure it’s delicious; Elissa Altman has already given me a taste of the love and comfort represented on the pages and plate.

 

Perhaps the most difficult part of any collection, be it of essays or recipes or hymns or poetry, is that some of them shine on their own, and others don’t. To pick them apart individually doesn’t really work, because honestly if you don’t connect with one when you start reading it, simply move on to the next one. These essays and stories aren’t ingredients in a dish or even courses in a meal; in the way that editor Holly Hughes has bound them together they are more like an expansive buffet. You can begin in the middle or the end, and return several times, filling your plate to try new things or going back for the familiar and loved.

 

Maybe you’re wondering why a review of The Best Food Writing 2013 appears here. What, pray tell, you might ask, does a review of a 50-course dinner have to do with God’s kingdom? Part of the mission of The Englewood Review of Books is to review books that are seen as “valuable resources for the people of God.” I personally haven’t worked much in the food industry – a couple of summers waiting tables and a high school stint in my small-town grocery store deli. I like to cook, and eat. My son tells me my potato soup is the best. My day job is as a pastor in a tradition where we gather around the table together as a community every week. The food offered there is (really) cheap wine and (hopefully not-too-stale) bread or wafers. I honestly hope no one ever writes a review of their “dining experience” at our church – and if they do, please focus on the hospitality rather than the food.

 

I appreciate the Best Food Writing collections for a few reasons. I’ll never eat at all of the restaurants mentioned – in fact, I get excited when I’ve even heard of some of them. To that end, reading a book like this is escapism at its finest, another table at which I can virtually pull up a chair. But the essays bound together in this book also speak to the universal experience and desires we have as people to be in community with each other – and how often we do strive to make those connections around food. Given that reading can then be a rather solitary activity, I’d highly recommend reading this book in public – in the midst of family gatherings, on the bus, to the doctor’s office. And when someone asks what it’s about, be prepared with a passage to share, like a tenderly prepared offering at a potluck.