The debut of a planned annual collection, this stellar selection of mostly American food writing has everything but the unexpected.
Among the top-drawer usual suspects featured here, R.W. Apple Jr. delves into bacon; Jeffrey Steingarten spends a whole lot of pages on his quest for pig’s blood; Calvin Trillin tries to tempt his daughter home with bagels; and James Villas goes on about pimento cheese. No doubt M.F.K. Fisher, Jane Grigson, and Waverly Root would be here too if they hadn’t died before Y2K. Less trafficked names still recognizable to those who read food magazines comprise the remainder. Highlights include John Thorne, who is not only a deep thinker and lovely writer but actually seems to be living his material rather than simply remembering it; Ann Hodgman, who as always provides an intelligent, comic breath of fresh air; and wild Jim Leff, the chowhound, in whose heart a fire for authentic food burns bright. English cuisine is resurrected by playwright Jonathan Reynolds, who recently subbed for and upstaged the dreary Molly O’Neill in the New York Times Magazine, and novelist Jhumpa Lahiri offers an elegant, fragile food memory. But former Fodor’s editor Hughes didn’t extend her reach much beyond the New Yorker, the New York Times, the food glossies, and a few heavily publicized books. It would have enhanced this collection if she’d made an effort to include some of the fresh, surprising writing that appears in letters distributed by wine shops and single-malt societies, newspapers issued by such stores as the Vinegar Factory and Zingermann’s, the rogue material on the Internet, or anything at all from the Slow Food movement, whose magazine Slow is in a class by itself.
Plenty of satisfying entrees here, but next year the editor should try to provide some more adventurous fare as well.