Ruth Reichl

Books: Food | Biography

Tender at the Bone (1998)

Tender at the Bone (1998)

Tender at the BoneI've heard Ruth Reichl interviewed several times, and I'd heard her relate stories that were excerpts of the book, so I eventually picked up the book, but then it languished on the shelf for an embarrassingly long time.

Here's the bit I heard that first drew my attention to Ruth Reichl. Her mother is awake and in the kitchen, and has just awakened her father and drug him into the kitchen:

My father, a sweet and accommodating person, shuffles sleepily down the hall. He is wearing loose pajamas, and the strange of hair he combs over his bald spot stands straight up. He leans against the sink, holding onto it a little, and obediently opens his mouth when my mother says, "Try this."

Later, when he told the story, he attempted to convey the awfulness of what she had given him. The first time he said that he tasted like cat toes and rotted barley, but over the years the description got better. Two years later it had turned into pigs' snouts and mud and five years later he had refined the flavor into a mixture of antique anchovies and moldy chocolate.

Whatever it tasted like, he said it was the worst thing he had ever had in his month. So terrible that it was impossible to swallow, so terrible that he leaned over and spit it into the sink and then grabbed the coffeepot, put the spout into his mouth, and tried to eradicate the flavor.

My mother stood there watching all of this. When my father finally put the coffeepot down, she smiled and said, "Just as I thought. Spoiled!"

When I heard that story, I knew I would have to read this book. If only it hadn't taken me so long to get to it.

From such horrific beginnings, including an incident where her mother actually poisoned her step-brother's entire family with food gone bad, came an astounding cook, gourmand, and the eventual editor of Gourmet magazine.

Although her mother's bi-polar illness plays a large part in the story, her discovery of food–good food, Real food–was entirely her own.

Her palate came from spending time with her Auntie Birdie and her cook. From being sent away to school and befriending a girl whose father was delighted by Ruth's joy in the food she was trying.

It wasn't necessarily the best book to read before bed, because it made me hungry (not the first bits, with her mom serving rotten food, but the later bits when she discovers that food is more than something you have to eat to keep going.

There are also recipes in each chapter, though I have to admit that I tended to gloss over them to continue to the story. Because it is a fascinating, well-written story.

Rating: 8/10