The longtime editor and Columbia County resident reflects on the sweet, tangy, and tempting powers of food.
Ruth Reichl and the few who hold her status in the food world live a life of pleasure that is out of reach for most. They hop around the globe, on a lifelong tour of exceptional meals, paying back the universe by sharing their food or their written experiences of food. Those who share well get to keep living that life. Reichl shares well. She offers vivid sensory bursts to her 1.2 million Twitter followers almost daily:
“Sun just came out! Brilliant rain-washed sky. Sitting on bright green grass, bowl of cherries in my lap. Happy.”
She writes memoirs, like her recent Save Me The Plums, detailing her time as editor of Gourmet magazine, that embed family history and recipes all within a fluid narrative (this is especially true of her narration on audio book).
On a cool evening in June we met for dinner at Gaskins in Germantown, and I heard that familiar voice in person. After warming up with a tangy runner bean salad, a wood-fired soft-shell crab entrée, and a couple of glasses of rosé, she began sharing a personal food ritual that began 25 years ago in her Columbia County cottage:
“Have you ever had a sour cherry pie? Let me just say that you have not lived until you have had a sour cherry pie. I remember the first time I made one for a dinner party up here; everyone had their first bite and the room went silent. Then you just heard a quiet, ‘Ohhhh.’ Even my son Nick, who was 8 and a picky eater at the time said, ‘This is good, Mom.’
“While sour cherries are in season I go to the farmers’ market every weekend and buy tons of them. I spend part of an afternoon taking the stones out — a cook at Gourmet showed me the best way to do this is to open up a paperclip and just flip them out. Once they are seeded, I freeze most of them so that I have them all winter; the freezing doesn’t change them. To bake a pie mid-winter, look out at mountains of white, and then taste summer, it is just heaven.”
She gave her thoughts on food and morality (“I won’t eat tortured food. I don’t want to eat an animal whose best day is the day it dies.”); food and cultural appropriation (“We have been appropriating foods and ideas from other places for all of human history.”); and she shared more of the moments of bliss she is famous for recreating on Twitter and in her books. Like the “most perfect meal she ever had” that “changed her idea of what food could be.” It was a simple meal she had in Crete in 1970 of homemade yogurt, fresh-caught fish, homemade wine, and garden-grown onions and tomatoes.
Through her storytelling Reichl allows people into her heaven, and, for us in the Hudson Valley, she reminds us we live there, too.