Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
Ruth Reichl (Adult Biography)
I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story.
Ruth Reichl knows how to tell a good story and her storytelling skills are likely the product of having parents who could transform the most mundane event into an exotic adventure. Her cooking skills however, were born from sheer survival judging from the title of her first chapter: “The Queen of Mold”. Most mothers teach their daughters to be wary of strangers or always carry enough money to cover a taxi ride home. In Miriam Reichl’s case, she taught her daughter that food could be dangerous.
Tender at the Bone delights readers with Ruth Reichl’s memories of growing up in a New York City apartment, spending summers in Connecticut, going to college, working in a collectively-owned restaurant, and living in a commune. She talks about interracial friendships during the 60s, marriage, trying to please an impossible-to-please mother, and her journey to becoming a food critic. Most of all, Reichl teases us with stories about food, food, and more food. The only (small) complaint I had with her book was that she failed to provide any details about her wedding whereas she is very open about other details in her life. Although she included three photos of her nuptials at the end of her book, I was left with many questions: where and how did Doug propose, who cooked on her special day, what was served, and—most importantly—did her mother poison anyone? Although this omission was disappointing, Reichl more than made up for it by sharing such recipes as Claritha’s Fried Chicken, Coconut Bread, Oléro Berry Tart, and Artpark Brownies. I forgive you, Ruth.
Near the end of her book, Reichl wrote about meeting renowned chef, author, and TV host James Beard. Their brief encounter was far from memorable (at least for Beard) and even Reichl admitted that she was clearly out of her depth, but little did she know that she and Beard were more alike than she realized. Beard once wrote, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Food is remarkable in that it can manage to overcome religious, cultural, or political differences while forming a bridge that connects us through aroma, flavor, and texture. Food welcomes and comforts and unites us. Our memories are often formed around food and it is food that we seek in times of mourning, celebration, friendship, and love. With that, I’ll end this review with the Reichl customary toast as I raise an imaginary glass to Ernst, Miriam, and Ruth and say, “Cheerio and have a nice day.”
* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com