Readers, save a little room on your plate for Roy Blount Jr.’s toothsome tome, Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations. You may be satiated, but you won’t be sorry.
“The food books I tend to most like are about eating and enjoying—stories about food, rather than analyses of how food is being ruined for us. They’re celebrations of food—food that’s good for you and yum-goody at the same time,” says Blount, who’s inadvertently described Save Room for Pie.
Blount, who divides his time between New Orleans and Massachusetts, is the author of 24 clever and comic books (Alphabet Juice; Alphabetter Juice: Or, the Joy of Text, etc.) and a mainstay on NPR’s news panel gameshow Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me! He’s also an accomplished eater, who was raised in Georgia on homemade mincemeat pies, pimento cheese, and okra—perhaps not all at once. But back then, a big family delighting in a large repast wasn’t a thing of it.
“When I was growing up in Georgia, we ate till we got tired,” Blount writes in “The Way Folks Are Meant To Eat.” “Then we went, ‘Whoo!’ and leaned back and wholeheartedly expressed how much we regretted that we couldn’t summon up the strength, right then, to eat some more.”
“The people I grew up with talked about what they were eating while they were eating,” he explains. “... I believe I could eat a horse! That’s the kind of thing I remember, is people with enormous appetites, with a huge spread in front of them, licking their lips, smacking their lips. If you can preserve that sort of take on food, with being good to the planet and good to your health, then you have achieved something.”
Save Room for Pie achieves its author’s aims in a multi-course manner: entrées include essays on family dining down South; a brief encounter with a baked possum; rumination on ruminants, i.e. the state of steak; who makes the best fried chicken (Mom); the professional fishing derby circuit, and what not to eat in Japan. (“If you must eat a blowfish, I always say, find one that comes without a waiver,” he writes.) Then there are some very fine rhymes for readers to drink in—sumptuous food songs including “Song to Barbecue Sauce” (“Nothing is dross / Under barbecue sauce”) and “Song to Oysters” (“I prefer my oyster fried / Then I’m sure my oyster died”). And the full meal’s garnished by food news stories, in the style of Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me! fabulists.
“I liken [the news items] in the book to bits of onions in meatloaf,” he says. “They’re sort of a nod to short attention spans, which everybody has these days—you can’t just be looking at one page full of beautiful vibrant prose, you have to have little nuggets stuck in there. So when your eye wanders over to up the corner of the page, there’s something else for you, some little nuggets of sweetness—that’s right—little surprise elements, like chewing on your hamburger, open it up and—‘Oh my god! Here’s a grape in my hamburger!’”
If today’s reader demands an eye-catching cover, she will not be disappointed. New Yorker cartoonist Barry Blitt, who also illustrates the Garden & Gun column from which many of Blount’s chapters derive, depicts the author strumming an acoustic guitar in a rowboat-cum-cornucopia, serenading a human-sized ham.
“[Barry] said that it was he was proud as a Jewish person that he was able to draw such a beautiful ham,” Blount says. “It may do more for ham sales than for book sales.”
Is there anything else I might mention about Save Room for Pie, which could do something for book sales?
“Just how available it is in stores,” he says.Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews.