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I've already mentioned Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food, edited by Peggy Wolff, but I never did get around to reviewing it. My principal stumbling block has been grappling with how to review a collection of 30 short essays/memoirs from a broad range of writers. Clearly, I couldn't discuss each piece separately.
Instead, I offer you some brief thoughts and a handful of quotes. The bottom line is that I loved every single one of the personal stories in this collection. Yes, some struck a stronger chord than others, but the displaced Midwesterner in me could relate to much of what these authors shared.
The topics range from fast-food to fair food, from local diners to home-cooked farm food, and from college town food carts to the global flavors of immigrant families. The authors are just as varied and include novelists, such as Jacquelyn Mitchard; food writers and editors, like Carol Mighton Haddix, and even radio stars, like NPR's Peter Sagal. A fondness for the Midwest and a deep connection with the power of food link these evocative essays.
Some of the stories were funny and some were nostalgic, but almost all of them recalled family and friends and the centrality of food in the rhythm of life. Here are four passages to give you a taste.
Elizabeth Berg, novelist:
I believe that cooking is about more than taking care of a certain unrelenting biological need. I believe it is spiritual, and calming, and centering. I believe that making something with your own hands and feeding it to the ones you love is communicating something that can't be communicated any other way. (p. 6)Peggy Wolff, filmmaker and food writer:
Here it is, the real deal, the culinary destiny of the local Montmorency [sour] cherry, baked in a show-stopping, irresistible, flaky double crust. This is a party worth going after, saving for, putting all your eggs in one basket for. The top is smooth as a confectioner's toffee candy, the edges are perfectly pinched. (p. 126)Douglas Bauer, writer and professor:
Our farmhouse sat atop a slight rise in the middle of the acreage. The land, as lawn, sloped away from the foundation and flattened out in all directions until it reached the surrounding corn and soybean fields, then continued extremely into the four distances. A wide, pillared porch wrapped around the north and east sides of the house. As a boy, during the summer months, I sometimes sat for a time on the east porch railing and, if my father and grandfather Bauer happened to be working in the field that was my view, I looked out to watch the two of them on their tractors moving the day's tending implements along the Iowa horizon. (p. 185)Robin Mather, writer and journalist:
Of all the glories that autumn has to offer, however, the biggest and foremost in my mind is apples. I'm in love with apples, in love especially with names of the older varieties: Sheepnose, Wolf River, Macoun, Seek-No-Further, Cox's Orange Pippin--poetical names that whisper of older times and simpler values. Hundreds of apple varieties still grow all over the country--apples meant for sauce, or pies, or eating out of hand; apples meant for long-keeping or for making into cider; apples meant for drying or for pairing with cheeses. (p. 210)Keep Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie on your nightstand and vow to read an essay a night. I guarantee you'll have a month of sweet dreams. You might even be tempted to try one of the recipes. The buttermilk doughnuts with cider glaze are calling to me.
Published by University of Nebraska Press, 2013
Source: Review (see review policy)
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