Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet; edited and with an Introduction by Ruth Reichl
416 pages, The Modern Library, 2003
Gourmet Magazine was published in print form from January 1941 to November 2009. In its 58-year existence it set the standard for articles on “eating and what to eat and people who eat.” As Ruth Reichl says in her introduction to Endless Feasts, “this [left the magazine’s contributors] an enormous amount of room to turn around in.”
Endless Feasts is an anthology of 41 articles that appeared in Gourmet over the course of its existence. The articles are divided into five sections: Gourmet Travels (11 articles), The American Scene (14 articles), Personalities of Gourmet (6 articles), Matters of Taste (5 articles) and On Foods and Cooking (5 articles).
Conde Nast, the former publishers of Gourmet, kept the brand alive and in 2012 founded a website version. Once you’ve had your appetite whetted by reading through this anthology, you’ll be able to savor dozens more articles from every decade of Gourmet’s half-century-long oeuvre at the archive section of its website: http://www.gourmet.com/magazine.html. (This section isn’t as easy to use as it might be. The “front page” of the Archives section has links to each decade. At that link, there are anywhere from 13 to 20 pages of titles, linked to the appropriate article. You need to click on the Archives button to go back to the “front page” to be able to access the next decade’s-worth of articles.)
Thirty-four writers crafted the 41 articles featured in this delight of a book – from “America’s greatest writer on the subject of food,” M.F.K. Fisher sharing her memories of three Swiss inns (published in September 1941) to science fiction author Ray Bradbury’s childhood reminiscence of dandelion wine (June 1953) to Pat Conroy (author of Prince of Tides and The Great Santini) writing eloquently of his honeymoon in Umbria, Italy, and the people and the food he found there.
Anita Loos (she who wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) writes of “Cocktail Parties in the Twenties.” George Plimpton, of “participatory journalism” fame, contributed “I, Bon Vivant, Who, Me?” Then there are the recipes. Oh, the recipes – detailed and mouth-watering, such as “Pueblo Indian Breads” by Caroline Bates, “The Gumbo Cult” by Eugene Walter, and “Cooking with James Beard: Pasta” by James Beard.
If you’re new to the “foodie” scene (and how the authors of these essays would have despised that term) be sure to go to the back of the book and read the Notes on Conributors so you’re familiar with each author, as it will enhance your enjoyment of reading their prose.
And what prose it is. These aren’t quick reviews of a restaurant, but passionate descriptions of food, the people who prepare the food, and the enjoyment of those who love to taste everything from simple fare to the most gourmet feasts.
Ray Bradbury: “The wine was summer in a bottle. It was all the warm afternoons and cloudless skies, stoppered right; to be opened said the label, on a January day with snow falling fast.”
Joseph Wechsberg: “At Demel’s the pastry is the quintessence of a sweet (Demelish) way of life. Some people (such as this writer) occasionally go there without ordering anything, just to walk between the shelves and tables laden with Salzgeback, Torten, petits fours and cremes, and to know thatDemel’s is still there. [Demel’s, “the world’s greatest pastry shop,” founded in Vienna in 1799, is still there to this day!].
Naomi Barry: “The man [Escoffier] whom Cesar Ritz, founder of the world-famous Ritz hotels, proclaimed the finest cook he had ever met was a pint-sized thirteen-year-old when apprenticed to his uncle, who owned Le Restaurant Francais in Nice. The year was 1859, a time when restaurant cook was at the bottom of the social pile.”
Whether you enjoy reading about cuisine or the people who create it or those who consume it or those who bring its sights and smells to life for others, Endless Feasts is just that – a feast.