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Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir


Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir

I remember reading TENDER AT THE BONE as a teenager, trying to imagine myself in Ruth Reichl’s shoes as she described her childhood with a mother who at best had little attention to spare for cooking and at worst poisoned guests with her culinary inattention.

In SAVE ME THE PLUMS, Reichl’s most recent memoir, I assumed I would find similarly vivid anecdotes, lively portraits of people she’s encountered, and, of course, the continuation of a lifelong romance with food. All of these qualities are found here, which makes for a fun read. However, despite the structure of following the author from her offer to editor in chief at Gourmet to Condé Nast’s decision to shutter the glossy magazine, the narrative didn’t have much natural swing.

Reichl’s snappy sketches --- “…a tall, thin stork of a man who stalked into my office, disapproval etched into every line of his body”, “[He] dripped across the office, brushed back his long black hair, and joined me at the table”, “She turned to a slim, startlingly pretty blonde” --- make the reader believe that literally everyone she meets has at least one memorable quality. Many are gorgeous, genius or electric, others merely unforgettably distinctive. These descriptions do help populate the world into which Reichl brings the reader, but there are so many that it begins to feel crowded --- at times a who’s who of the food and magazine world rather than anchoring the action.

"[T]he book really picked up for me in the final third, in which Reichl discusses the more outré and literary direction Gourmet pursued during its final years."

It seems like an unnecessary precaution as there is a fair amount of action. Reichl makes a significant leap at the beginning --- leaving behind her success and tenure as a New York Times food critic to jump into an editorial role (the editorial role) at a magazine that had gotten a reputation as being a bit irrelevant. She smartens up the whole operation: bringing a creative, lively team into existence and then managing to keep the ball rolling. And the book ends with a snap --- the magazine’s unexpected sunset.

Obviously Reichl’s view of food extends beyond nourishment. Her books suggest that her devotion to the subject comes from her delight and interest in the experiences one can have with food, and the feelings it can evoke. It’s evidently important for her to highlight those experiences that she and others have had --- and I suspect that is what she is trying to do by including anecdotes followed by the recipes mentioned in the sketch. However, I found that most were abrupt, and tended to take one out of the story rather than insert the act of making food into it. The exception was her descriptions of making and eating food with her son, which ran from mundane to profound.

I think that’s why the book really picked up for me in the final third, in which Reichl discusses the more outré and literary direction Gourmet pursued during its final years. I found this to be a much more compelling angle from which to dissect the intersection between food and lived experience.

Reichl describes agonizing over a David Foster Wallace article on lobster, concerned that her readers might not be ready for his assault on the morality of eating other living creatures, a question that remains salient. I loved digging into her stories of trying to open up the world of Gourmet’s readers, most of whom proved more willing to engage in challenging topics than she initially had given them credit for. Reading about her growing desires to engage readers by content more literary than culinary is a significantly more satisfying way to reveal that food is about much more than nutrition --- a fact that I’m sure no one picking up SAVE ME THE PLUMS would doubt.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on April 19, 2019

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
by Ruth Reichl

  • Publication Date: May 5, 2020
  • Genres: Food, Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 081298238X
  • ISBN-13: 9780812982381