The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat
edited by Caroline M. Grant and Lisa Catherine Harper
Roost Books, 2013
How do you decide which books to read? I mean, how much research about the book do you do beforehand? Do you read author profiles? Scour Goodreads for reviews?
I picked up The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage because it is a collection of food-themed essays about food and family. Which is totally something that I love. The works of various writers (mostly food writers but a few more traditional journalists, novelists, and screenwriters) are divided into three sections: food, family and “how we learn to eat”. The first two sections touch on the topics of family recipes, an obsession with candy, and trying to find local, seasonal food in a place that should have plenty of it but doesn’t. However the third section is all about children, specifically kids learning to like different foods… learning to eat, as it were.
There is a logical step for the two editors who both specialize in writing about parenting issues (Grant and Harper met while working on a site called Literary Mama and ran a site together called Learning to Eat). And if you have kids, perhaps it’s a reasonable section to include in a book of essays (mostly) about family food traditions. For the unsuspecting child-free reader, however, especially one who doesn’t really care if your kid likes foie gras or not, it’s a bit of a turn off. I don’t want to listen to people talk about their kids’ eating habits in real life, and I really don’t want to read about them either.
So to be totally honest, I only read the first two sections. And in all fairness, those sections were full of great, honest, witty, intriguing essays that offered both familiar and unique perspectives of food and eating, both within and outside of the family dynamic. Lobster Lessons by Alexsandra Crapanzano tells the story of honouring a great-aunt and her food traditions while also getting her to try new things. Kosher. Or Not by Barbara Rushkoff explains the anxiety most non-Orthodox Jews feel when they don’t keep kosher. Chris Malcomb’s essay about his Italian restaurant-owning family and the evolution of their red sauce is sharp and poignant. And Lisa McNamara’s story about learning to bake pies to catch a husband calls up mid-century mores and how they play out in a modern context.
Readers with kids might well enjoy the third section as relatable and representative of their own experiences. This bit really wasn’t for me, however, so I’ll offer no critique of these works. YMMV as we say on the internet.
A nice touch throughout the collection is that every essay is accompanied by a related recipe which is fun and charming. Sadly the essay about red sauce does not include the recipe in question but one for eggplant Parmesan. Some things have to remain a family secret.