Food Memoirs Written by Women
Some of the most enriching food memoirs in the world today were written by women.
Memoirs are an incredibly popular genre of late; the best memoirs are accounts of life lived fully and richly, and take you through the writer's memories, allowing you to live life the way they did, and to feel the things they felt. Food memoirs, however, have always enjoyed a certain popularity; there is a fascination with the way that other people view, consume, and otherwise interact with food.
Food memoirs, then, are about growing food (or foraging for it), cooking food, and eating food. Put like that it probably does sound rather restrictive – if you're not utterly and completely mesmerised by food (and people). If you are, however, there can be no greater treasure to delve into than the well-written food memoir.
Some of the most enriching food memoirs in the world today were written by women, and so it was incredibly surprising (and not a little irritating) when I was pontificated to recently by someone who claimed that they had not read a single decent food memoir written by a woman. I icily demanded that they allow me to set them straight, and once I'd finished that conversation I decided that I simply had to sit down and write this piece. Here for your reading pleasure is a selection of the best food memoirs in the world – authored by women.
Love in a Dish... and Other Culinary Delights by M.F.K. Fisher
"I surprised my belle-secur and almost embarrassed myself by letting a small moan escape me when she put a bowl of them beside my chair; they were beautiful--so lumpy, Macadamian, salty, and golden! And I ate one, to save face. Oh, I can still sense its peculiar crispness and its complete Macadamianimity. How fortunate I am!"
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is hailed as one of the most pre-eminent gastronomic writers the world has ever seen, and with good reason, although she was so much more than a food writer. She wrote about life, and love, and food; she encapsulated the world around her into her writing, and she was so passionate and well-travelled, pouring everything around her into her books. She wrote odes to potato chips and oysters and macadamia nuts; she wrote entire theses dedicated to eating well, to living and loving, and she tried to teach us everything she knew about the good life. In this book, she leads us up the path to food, love, and marital bliss, one meal at a time.
Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey
“My grandfather had built his house in what was once a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds, and mangoes. His numerous grandchildren, like hungry flocks of birds, attacked the mangoes while they were still green and sour. As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoons in rooms cooled with weeded, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies, and roasted cumin.”
Madhur Jaffrey grew up in an India that has disappeared; she was raised in a home with an enormous compound in pre-partition Delhi, one of many children who grew up in a home with over 40 family members. Her writing reflects the wealth and privileges she enjoyed as a child, and nearly every page is an assault on the senses as she describes – in vivid, loving detail – the many sights, sounds, and tastes of her childhood.
My Life in France by Julia Child
“...no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
Someone once told me that if there's only one food memoir everyone – food lover or not – must read, it should be Julia Child's account of falling into her calling in her thirties, and discovering her deep love for French food. Julia Child is credited with introducing the American public to the joys of French cooking; in this book, we walk with Julia along her journey of her own discovery; we have ringside seats to the igniting of her passion. Julia Child was energetic, inquisitive, eccentric, and passionate, and these were all the qualities that drove her. This is a book that has now become a comfort read for me; in its well-worn pages, I find both inspiration and joy and hope that you do the same.
The Language of Baklava: A Memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber
“Marry, don't marry," Auntie Aya says as we unfold layers of dough to make an apple strudel.
"Just don't have your babies unless it's absolutely necessary."
"How do I know if it's necessary?"
She stops and stares ahead, her hands gloved in flour. "Ask yourself, do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing." She flickers her fingers in the air by her ear. "For me, almost always, the answer was cake.”
Diana Abu-Jaber grew up in Jordan and in New York with a Jordanian father who loved to cook. She tells us the story of her life – woven around the meals she ate with her family – in a warm compassionate and vibrant memoir that I found difficult to put down. Through the evocative meals she describes, she outlines the two cultures of her birth and explains the challenges she faced trying to embrace both. Her wonderful eccentric family is brought to life, and the book is punctuated with memories and conversations that are both humorous and touching. The pleasures that Diana finds in cooking and eating meals are transferred to her readers via her inimitable style and her redolent prose.
Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan
“People stagger, but they pick up a tattered thread and wind it back onto a spool.”
A richly bittersweet story, Donia Bijan's telling of her journey as a refugee from a war-torn Iran to the cacophonous confusing shores of San Francisco is not the memoir of dreams. Yes, it is about food, but it is also about life, loss, and regret. Donia's story is all too human; in its imperfection, with its jagged edges, I saw glimpses of my own life. Whilst it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is still a powerful story, and the recipes that are included in this book deserve to star in pages of their own.
What is your favourite food memoir? Let me know in the comments!