Wendy McClure, Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Book Briefing

Meals at Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little house the sets sometimes sounded lavish despite their simplicity. In farmer boy—Laura’s fictional account of the childhood of her husband, Almanzo Wilder – one such dinner included “a plate of simmering head cheese, glass platters of jams, jellies and preserves, and a large pitcher of milk, and a steaming casserole of baked beans with a piece of crispy fatty pork in the crumbling brown crust.Yet after author Wendy McClure began cooking the meals for the series, she surrendered realizes that Laura was partly trying to put some sort of positive spin on her family’s struggles: She wrote these things “about her husband after they had spent so many difficult years together, trying to live off the land , and sometimes not very well.

Writers have long used food to hide or reveal truths about their subject matter and to explore emotional connections. In her short story “Edge of the World”, Souvankham Thammavongsa opens up about a 4-year-old girl watching soap operas with her mother, who laughs loudly, displaying an ease she has with no one else, “a mashed of half-chewed chocolate against the inside of her cheek.During parties, she sits alone with her daughter in the kitchen, among the steaming pots and simmering casseroles, reminiscing about how much better food in Laos tasted .

For other families, “the simple act of eating” can “strengthen the bonds between loved ones”, notes Mayukh Sen. Musician Michelle Zauner, in her memoirs, Crying in H-Mart, illustrates this through nightly digs with his mother in the kitchen. Savoring braised black soybeans, cucumber kimchi and yellow sprouts prepared with sesame oil and scallions not only strengthened their bond, but also Zauner’s connection to his Korean heritage. Poet José Olivarez, too, finds a way to pose as many questions about Mexican identity as descriptions of ways to prepare a staple, in his “Ode to Tortillas.”

For these authors, a plate of tortillas or a glass dish of jams and jellies points to something deeper: As Bill Buford writes in Dirt, “what happens at the table is among the most important activities of civilization. It’s a question of intimacy, conviviality, creativity, appetites, desire, euphoria, culture and joie de vivre.

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What we read

HarperCollins

Food in fiction: how cooking brings you closer to the characters
Paradoxically, says McClure, working her way through the recipes that Laura relied on helped her understand the deprivations Laura suffered… [and] the extent to which the Little house books are a construction.

📚 Wilder life, by Wendy McClure

A person bends over bowls of food placed on newspapers

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty

What does sorrow taste like
“Food is not just an object; it’s a character. It reveals Zauner’s renewed awareness of the cycles of birth and death. Everything she eats is a reminder that she’s still here.


A woman in a white dress is making tortillas

Inge Morath / Magnum

Ode to tortillas
“There are endless ways to eat a tortilla:
old fashioned handcrafted
& warmed up on a comal. made with corn
or with Taco Bell plastic. (what about flour tortillas?)”

📚 “Ode to tortillas”, by José Olivarez

Puzzle pieces of a woman in a blue dress

Oliver Munday / The Atlantic

The end of the world
“My mother’s laughter was loud and wild… She only laughed that way when we were alone. With my father or in the company of other people, she giggled and put her hand over her mouth. I wanted everyone to see what I saw when we were alone.

📚 “Edge of the World”, by Souvankham Thammavongsa

The cover of the book

Vintage

Books to read if you want to be transported to another place
“I’m infatuated with funky, meandering tours through the culinary epicentres of Europe, the more immersive and intemperate the better… Bill Buford went to Lyon to work – and, more specifically, to map out the intricacies of French cuisine and discover what intangible magic chefs absorb when they train in France.

📚 Dirt, by Bill Buford

About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Mary Stachyra Lopez. The book she reads next is The Gardening Life of Emily Dickinson, by Marta McDowell.

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