For better or for worse, almost all of us grow up at the table. It is in this setting that Ruth Reichl's brilliantly written memoir takes its form. For, at a very early age, Reichl discovered that food could be a way of making sense of the world...if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they are. Tender at the Bone is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by unforgettable people, the love of tales well-told, and a passion for food. In other words, the stuff of the best literature. The journey begins with Reichl's mother, the notorious food-poisoner known forevermore as the Queen of Mold, and moves on to the fabled Mrs. Peavey, one-time Baltimore socialite millionairess, and, for a brief poignant moment, retained as the Reichls' maid. Then we are introduced to Monsieur du Croix, the gourmand, who so understood and stood somewhat in awe of this prodigious child at his dinner table that when he introduced Ruth to the souffle, he could only exclaim, What a pleasure to watch a child eat her child eat her first souffle Then, fast forward to the politically correct table set in Berkeley in the 1970s, and the food revolution that Ruth watched and participated in as organic became the norm. But this sampling doesn't do this character-rich work justice. And, after all, this is just a taste. Tender at the Bone is a remembrance of Ruth Reichl's childhood into young adulthood, redolent with the atmosphere, good humor, and angst of a sensualist coming of age.
This is a delightful read and it will make you smile, re-think your own cooking, and for many of us, be generally be thankful for the mother’s cooking that sustained us as we grew up. I heartily recommend this book.
The only parts I enjoyed were Ms Reichl's experiences in French school, and the accompanying weekends with Beatrice's family. Mrs Peavey, Alice, Aunt Birdie. The recipes, if they work - which I'm sure they do.
Ms Reichl's constant references to being colorblind, having a black best friend, boyfriend, etc. in comparison with her mildly racist mother and The Rest of America made me roll my eyes. While I'm sure they were written with the best of intentions, it seemed to come across a little heavyhanded.
It was a very pleasant read, and there was much more to it than just reading about food. It was interesting to see how Reichl had an enormous interest in food since childhood, and how lucky she was to stumble on great mentors: her nanny from Bermuda who happened to be a gourmet cook, her French school friend’s father who was a great connoisseur, and a collection of colourful food experts in really good restaurants she worked for. On the other hand, an ordinary child/adolescent/person wouldn’t probably have picked up on those chances, wouldn’t have even noticed them. She was also very focused and persistent, and despite her mother creating constant havoc in her life and her upbringing which was pointing elsewhere, she managed to persevere in what interested her.
The author's anecdotes, though, don't always strike me as particularly funny, or engaging, or even, at times, plausible.
Tender at the Bone is a collection of stories from throughout Reichl's life, each showing a step in her development as a "foodie" and as a storyteller. From learning how to cook her father's favorite German dishes as a young girl to an elite French boarding school, through communal living in San Francisco to an extended trip to North Africa, the reader is able travel along with Reichl as she begins to discover her passion.
Each story is able to stand alone, but a few threads run through them all--culinary discoveries, the individual's search for identity, and the power of family. Reichl's interactions with her mother help to define her as well as thrust her into new possibilities, and the result is a book that explains how one can find one's calling without knowing that a search has begun.
Also, for those who are more interested in the food, most chapters are augmented with a recipe from that time in Reichl's life. Each recipe is simple and stripped down to the basics, which I appreciate greatly as a beginning cook. I'm looking forward to my first attempt at Wiener Schnitzel. Cross your fingers!
This book is more a collection of memories than a plot-driven autobiography, but it does paint a picture of the author's life. She is a good writer with a keen knack of finding humour in trying circustances. And, I baked the raspberry pie which is delicious!