Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir

by Ruth Reichl

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Trailblazing food writer and beloved restaurant critic Ruth Reichl took the job (and the risk) of a lifetime when she entered the high-stakes world of magazine publishing. Now, for the first time, she chronicles her groundbreaking tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet.

“A must for any food lover . . . Reichl is a warm, intimate writer. She peels back the curtain to a glamorous time of magazine-making. You’ll tear through this memoir.”—Refinery29 

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Real Simple Good Housekeeping Town & Country

When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.

Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.

Praise for Save Me the Plums

“Poignant and hilarious . . . simply delicious . . . Each serving of magazine folklore is worth savoring. In fact, Reichl’s story is juicier than a Peter Luger porterhouse. Dig in.”The New York Times Book Review

“In this smart, touching, and dishy memoir . . . Ruth Reichl recalls her years at the helm of Gourmet magazine with clear eyes, a sense of humor, and some very appealing recipes.”Town & Country 

“If you haven’t picked up food writing queen Ruth Reichl’s new book, Save Me the Plums, I highly recommend you fix that problem. . . . Reichl is in top form and ready to dish, with every chapter seeming like a dedicated behind-the-scenes documentary on its own.”—Soleil Ho, San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400069996
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/02/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 35,976
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ruth Reichl is the bestselling author of the memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You, Mom, Finally; the novel Delicious!; and, most recently, the cookbook My Kitchen Year. She was editor in chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years. Previously she was the restaurant critic for The New York Times and served as the food editor and restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has been honored with six James Beard Awards for her journalism, magazine feature writing, and criticism. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two cats.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 16, 1948

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Education:

B.A., University of Michigan, 1968; M.A., University of Michigan, 1970

Read an Excerpt

1

Magic Door

I was eight years old when I first found the magazine, sitting on the dusty wooden floor of a used-­book store. My father was a book designer who enjoyed the company of ancient volumes, and he often took me on book-­hunting expeditions around New York, leaving me with a pile of vintage magazines while he went off to prowl among the dark and crowded shelves. That day I picked up a tattered old issue of Gourmet, enchanted by the cover drawing of a majestic swordfish leaping joyfully from the water. This looked nothing like the ladies’ magazines my mother favored, with their recipes for turkey divan made with cans of mushroom soup, or pot roast topped with ketchup, and I opened it to find the pages filled with tales of food in faraway places. A story called “Night of Lobster” caught my eye, and as I began to read, the walls faded, the shop around me vanishing until I was sprawled on the sands of a small island off the coast of Maine. The tide was coming in, water tickling my feet as it crept across the beach. It was deep night, the sky like velvet, spangled with stars.

Much later I understood how lucky I was to have stumbled on that story. The author, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, was the poet laureate of Maine and a Pulitzer Prize winner with such an extraordinary gift for words that I could hear the hiss of a giant kettle and feel the bonfire burning as the flames leapt into the night. The fine spicy fragrance of lobster was so real to me that I reached for one, imagined tossing it from hand to hand until the shell was cool enough to crack. The meat was tender, briny, rich. Somewhere off in the distance a fish splashed, then swam silently away.

I closed the magazine, and the real world came into focus. I was a little girl leafing through the pages of a magazine printed long before I was born. But I kept turning the pages, enchanted by the writing, devouring tales of long-­lost banquets in Tibet, life in Paris, and golden fruit growing on strange tropical trees. I had always been an avid reader, but this was different: This was not a made-­up story; it was about real life.

I loved the ads for exotic ingredients you could send away for: oysters by the bushel, freshly picked watercress, alligator pears (avocados), and “frogs’ legs from the frogland of America.” Once I actually persuaded my parents to order a clambake in a pot from Saltwater Farm in Damariscotta, Maine. Eight live lobsters and a half peck of clams came swathed in seaweed and packed in ice. It cost $14.95, and all you had to do was poke holes in the top of the container and set it on the stove.

I couldn’t get enough of those old issues, and now when Dad went off exploring bookstores I had a quest of my own. The day I discovered a battered copy of The Gourmet Cookbook among the ancient issues, I begged Dad to buy it for me. “It’s only fifty cents,” I pleaded.

It came in handy the morning I opened the refrigerator in our small kitchen and found myself staring at a suckling pig. I jumped back, startled, and then did what any sensible person would do: reached for the cookbook. I was only ten, and I hoped it would have some advice on how to deal with the thing.

Sure enough, there it was, on page 391: “Roast Suckling Pig Parisienne.” There was even a handy photograph demonstrating how to truss the tiny animal.

I remember that moment, and not just because the recipe insisted on a lot of yucky stuff like putting a block of wood into the pig’s mouth (“to brace it for the apple that will be inserted later”) and boiling the heart for gravy. I remember it mostly because that was the day Mom finally admitted she was glad I’d found a hobby.

My mother’s interest in food was strictly academic. Asked what had possessed her to purchase the pig, she replied, “I’d never seen one before,” as if that was an adequate answer. The same logic had compelled her to bring home a can of fried grasshoppers, a large sea urchin with dangerously sharp spines, and a flashy magenta cactus flower. She had little interest in eating these items, but if I was going to insist on reading what she called “that ridiculous magazine,” she thought it should be put to use.

The fried grasshoppers were not a hit; I suspect the can had been sitting on a shelf for years, awaiting some gullible customer. And while the editors were eager to instruct me in the preparation of eels, bears, woodchucks, and snipe, they were strangely silent on the subject of sea urchins. When I finally managed to pry the creature open, I found the gooey black inside so appalling that nothing would have tempted me to taste it. As for the cactus flower, its great good looks camouflaged a total lack of flavor.

But the suckling pig was a different story. I did everything the cookbook suggested and then hovered anxiously near the oven, hoping it hadn’t led me astray. When the pig emerged all crackling skin and sweet soft meat, Mom was happy. “I’ve never tasted anything so delicious,” she grudgingly admitted. “That magazine might be useful after all.”

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

1 Magic Door 3

2 Tea Party 11

3 Garlic 18

4 Washington Square 24

5 Attire Allowance 32

6 Plan Check 38

7 Adjacencies 47

8 The Yaffy 58

9 Bitter Salad 69

10 Human Resources 79

11 The Downside 88

12 The Florio Potato 95

13 Big Fish 104

14 Birth Day 113

15 Severine 124

16 Why We Cook 133

17 Food People 142

18 Enormous Changes 149

19 Just Say It 155

20 Hello, Cupcake 162

21 Setting the Record Straight 176

22 DFW 181

23 Mene, Mene 191

24 Pull Up a Chair 199

25 Dot Com 207

26 Editor of the Year 215

27 Being Brand Ruth 223

28 Midnight in Paris 235

29 This One's On Me 247

Epilogue 253

Acknowledgments 263

A Book Club Guide 267

Reading Group Guide

1. The book’s epigraph, the William Carlos Williams poem “This Is Just To Say” contains the lines “I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox,” which inspired the title “Save Me the Plums.” Why do you think Reichl chose this as the title for her memoir?

2. When Condé Nast offers Reichl the job of editor-in-chief of Gourmet, she initially says no. What helps her change her mind? Do you relate to her feeling that “it wasn’t the job that frightened me: I was just terrified of change.”? Do you think taking this risk ultimately paid off? If so, in what ways?

3. Early on, Reichl says that her management philosophy, “if I had such a thing,” would be: “Everybody’s good at something. You just have to figure out what that is.” How did she employ this idea with her staff at Gourmet?

4. One of the themes throughout the book is women and work: what it means to love your work and find solace in it, but also what it means to juggle work and family. How does Reichl address this balance? Were you able to relate to her feelings on this? Why, or why not?

5. At Gourmet, Reichl surrounds herself with a colorful cast of characters, like Laurie Ochoa, Larry Karol, Doc Willoughby, and Diana LaGuardia, among others. How do Reichl’s relationships with the members of her staff shape her? What does she learn from them?

6. Often feeling at odds with the glamor and excess of her new company, Reichl ultimately comes to terms with it: “I was just a temporary passenger on the Condé Nast Express, but I might as well enjoy the ride every once in a while.” What brought her to this decision? What did the process of accepting this new life mean for her?

7. Reichl travels to Paris twice in the book: the first time in the lap of luxury, encountering “a face of Paris I have never seen”, and the second on a shoestring budget, rediscovering “the Paris we’d forgotten.” Compare and contrast these two trips. What did they each mean to Reichl and what did she learn from them?

8. In the Epilogue, Reichl writes about mourning Gourmet and her “terrible sense of failure” after the magazine folded. What ingredients in Reichl’s life helped her heal in the wake of Condé Nast closing Gourmet? What did this journey teach her about herself? Can you relate to her feelings? How have you overcome setbacks like this in your own life?

9. How has the food world changed since Gourmet closed in 2009? Do you think the magazine predicted some of those changes? If Gourmet were still around today, what do you think it would be like? What would be different and what would be the same?

10. Reichl includes recipes that were significant to her throughout the book. Why do you think she chose to include these particular recipes? Are there certain dishes or meals that are important to you in a similar way?

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