Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl


Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl

I started buying Gourmet Magazine in 1998 when I moved to New York; the perfect epicurean magazine to match my new life in the big city, I thought, and I have loved it ever since. My first issues turned into a beloved and probably unnecessarily large collection that survived right until a couple of months ago when Marie Kondo ‘moved in’ and enticed me to give away about half.

Gourmet Magazine was the premier food magazine for decades. First published in 1941 it gained notoriety and a huge following with the arrival of Ruth Reichl as its editor in 1996. Ms Reichl had at that point been the food critic of The Los Angeles Times as well as the New York Times but trying her hand at editing a magazine she had loved since she first came across an issue in a used bookstore at the age of eight, turned out to be a very different job, with more ups and downs, joys and sorrows than she could ever have anticipated.

In her latest memoir, Save me the Plums, Ruth Reichl takes the reader on the journey that turned out to be the rise and fall of Gourmet Magazine, a magazine that under her leadership became THE magazine not just for food lovers, but also for travellers, adventurers and lovers of literature. The Paris, Rome, New York etc issues of Gourmet are legendary, as was her genius idea to invite well known authors to contribute in long form to the magazine’s content pages. Writers like David Foster Wallace who set out to write about The Maine Lobster Festival and ended up writing a now epic piece on human beings’ relationship to killing animals, in this case throwing live lobsters into boiling water. A piece that the editors and publisher feared would drive subscribers, readers and advertisers away in droves, but turned out to bring in merely two complaints and hundreds more readers.

The David Foster Wallace example is just one of many great pioneering stories in the book; tales of courage and doubt, of an ever changing and expanding food scene; of bringing together New York restaurants to feed emergency workers in the wake of 9/11. But more than anything Save me the Plums is full of stories of people for whom food, travel and striving for excellence was their guiding light and what made them love going to work every day. 

Save me the Plums also offers a view into Ruth Reichl’s own family history, growing up with a bipolar mother who was the source of much uncertainty in a little girl’s life and who longed for a life of fame and luxury to which she felt she had been born and a doting, and a loving father who designed books for a living and encouraged his daughter to follow her passion wherever that might take her.

Well, it took her to Gourmet and for that we will be forever grateful. As the cashier at the sandwich shop at New York’s JFK airport said when Ruth Reichl tried to pay for a sandwich the day after the magazine was suddenly and shockingly closed down in October of 2009: “This ones on me,” she said. “I loved that magazine. I’m really going to miss it.”

I still do, and I am grateful for the wonderful issues I cherish - and still use.

Happy Reading!

Reviewed by Isabella

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Hannah Gough