Imagine a plate, white – waiting to be filled with seared scallops, or stuffed zucchini flowers, or Salad Caprese. Imagine a page, just as white, waiting to be filled with rich descriptions of these foods…The image is delicious, no?

Julie&JuliaThere has been a proliferation of books recently that divide their attentions between memoir, travel and food writing. Of course the most prominent at the moment is Julie&Julia, the book that is now a film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. If you love a bit of humour, soul searching and are interested in Julie Powell’s relentless personal challenge to cook her way through a Julia Child cookbook, this is a great book to check out before/after you’ve seen the movie. Julie documented her journey at her blog, which you can check out here:

Under the Tuscan Sun BookI’m currently reading an old, dog-earred copy of Under the Tuscan Sun, which I ‘borrowed’ from a gorgeous farm-stay in New Zealand, and even more than the heady descriptions of drowsy bees in olive groves, and Catholic churches, I love the simple descriptions of food. I’ve always preferred to cook ‘around’ a recipe, changing an ingredient here, and there, until I end up with something very different and not always delicious, but mine. This is why I am enjoying this style of writing so much at the moment. Instead of lists of ingredients, I am presented with a description of the deliciousness of a tomato paired with a local mozzarella, and I can visualize exactly where in Frances Mayes Tuscan Garden the vast basil bushes grow. I seem to learn so much more from these slow nibbles on food literature than I do from prescriptive cookbooks.


Food is so evocative of place and time – certainly this is true of Anna Del Conte’s ‘Memoir with Food’ Risotto with Nettles. Born in pre-war Italy, she enjoyed the table delights of her mother and her family cook’s invention. When war came to Italy, her life turned upside down, until finally, she was able to escape to England. Her memories of the tiem are vividly, hilariously preserved – from the joys of unrationed horse-meat to tomato soup at Lyons Corner House. Her Italian cook books were hugely influential in bringing Mediterranean food to Britain.  I love the way Anna’s passion for food comes through in her writing, “Myriam’s favourite pasta dish, pici alla senese, a Tuscan tagliatelle with a palate-shooting chilli sauce”. What a delicious phrase, ‘palate-shooting’!

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Another brilliant food-writing book that’s come out this month is Cravat-a-Licious by food journalist and judge of MasterChef Australia, Matt Preston. He takes in the history of food, pokes fun at his contemporaries (and himself) in his chapter on ‘Foodie Tribes’, revels in descriptions of unusual delicacies (toffee covered crabs and cow’s foot jelly), and unravels anecdotes like they’re spaghetti and he’s a fork. Though I find it irritating that he features both on the front and back cover of the book, it really is worth checking out – Preston knows what he’s doing, both in the kitchen and on the page, and he does it with wit and panache.

Armed with such wonderful food-writers, what other prospect is there for us all to spend a good wadge of summer consuming their books, and experimenting in the kitchen?


  Even though I tend to grind my teeth at the mention of literary theorists, I secretly enjoy everything about them; their mulish stubborness to engage with reality; their longwinded unreadable essays employing words that have been out of vogue for centuries; their amusing, unpronounceable names, (my highschool English teacher used to sing ‘Fish, Fish, jump into my dish’ whenever we were discussing Stanley Fish’s reader-response theory). And my favourite litty guy is good old morbid Barthes, who proposed that once an author publishes his/her work, it’s gone, poof, out of their hands and into the public’s sweaty little fists to do with as they will. Hence: the author is dead. I love this idea so much, but not for reasons Barthes would like. You see, the ‘author god’ as Barthes proposed that authors are, is not dead to me but alive and well. When I read a book, I don’t flip to the back to see the picture of the author. Until I started working in a bookstore where memorisation of titles, cover colours, vague descriptions and author names is a useful, nay, mandatory skill, I often didn’t even pay attention to the names of those hallowed ones who wrote my reading material.

  My problem is this: I can love a book. Take, for example, A Million Little Pieces, the ‘autobiography’ of James Frey, and have such a complete picture in my mind of who and what the author is that when I actually meet said author, and my visions are skewed by reality, it sends me into an existential crisis which ends up with me not liking the book so much anymore.

  But I have taken heart! Chris Cleave, author of ‘The Other Hand’ was so wonderfully nice, and such a talented and subtle authorial voice, that when I met him it just drove me to want to read his backlist, and one of my co-workers to consider polygamy.

  And there is one author who I would give a lot to meet. I wouldn’t speak to him – it would take much more courage and ego than I have to do so – but would bow at his feet, and simply bask. Oh, author god Gabriel Garcia Marquez, don’t ever die.

(check out the new biography on Gabriel Garcia Marquez by Gerald Martin, beautiful photos and all- )


The Wordgardener