Summer Reading for the Food Obsessed

Summer Reading for the Food Obsessed

Books for the plane, the beach, or just curling up in bed

By Kate Ramos

Everyone knows you can’t read War and Peace while sipping a piña colada on the beach. You want escapism. You want a food book. If you get carried away by lengthy descriptions of perfectly ripe tomatoes or multicourse meals, then these are the reads to take on your summer vacation.

1. Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark. Stark chronicles his metamorphosis from business consultant to tomato guru in this amusing read. After his gardening hobby outgrew his New York brownstone, Stark transferred his plants to his family’s property in Pennsylvania. Today his Eckerton Hill Farm tomatoes are highly sought after at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. Stark details the unexpected obstacles of farming—from never-ending weeds to picking tomatoes late into the night—and the results are phenomenal. He now sells his luscious, thin-skinned beauties to the likes of Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud, proving that managed stress improves tomatoes and people.

2. Backstage with Julia: My Years with Julia Child by Nancy Verde Barr. Since Julia Child’s death in 2004, a flurry of biographies has emerged about America’s culinary hero. Barr, Child’s assistant and travel companion for 24 years, pinpoints details from Child’s time on camera and behind the scenes. It’s an inside look written by a close friend, and it includes the kind of anecdotes typically left out of more detached biographies: Julia playfully conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra or dealing with fans who called her Ms. Childs.

3. The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. This collection of Steingarten’s essays extensively (and, at times, obsessively) delves into what’s on his mind—which seems to include little but food. His voracious pursuit of gastronomic enigmas can sometimes be tiring, such as when he examines which chemicals constitute the perfect mineral water or he justifies the health benefits of alcohol. But his tenacity is addictive, making you wonder what heights he’ll go to next.

4. The Saucier’s Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe by Bob Spitz. If spending four months traveling in France and Italy to learn how to cook sounds like your dream summer, Spitz’s memoir will take you there. A midlife crisis sends Spitz over the edge—and the cure, he resolves, is finding his inner Paul Bocuse. If you can overlook the bravado (and a few inappropriate sexual references), you’ll enjoy this part confessional, part culinary tale.

5. Eat This!: 1,001 Things to Eat Before You Diet by Ian Jackman. More of a straightforward guidebook, this is worth reading whether you just want to learn about local food lore or you are truly in search of the best banana cream pie. Devoted food obsessives will enjoy comparing their favorites against Jackman’s.

6. Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J. B. Mackinnon. A year of eating locally has been a popular topic for many authors recently, but this book, set in the Pacific Northwest, really captures the ups and downs of what it is like to live 12 long months with no sugar, wheat, or coffee—not to mention Cheerios, olive oil, or pizza.

7. Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop. Dunlop has already proven herself a compelling writer of cookbooks with Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. Now she gets on the memoir bandwagon, detailing her mid-’90s life and travels in the Sichuan Province. Her memories of that time are especially relevant considering the tragic earthquake that hit the region in May. And the book beautifully conveys the intricacies of Sichuan cooking, which includes delicacies like eel guts and fried rabbit heads.

8. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. Once a high-paid, fast-paced executive, Flinn lost her job and took the opportunity to fulfill a dream. At 36, she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu. Interspersed with tales of raging chefs and culinary mishaps are some pretty tasty-sounding recipes and a vibrant portrait of Paris, complete with rich details about the city’s street markets and purveyors.

9. Around the World in 80 Dinners: The Ultimate Culinary Adventure by Cheryl and Bill Jamison. Live vicariously through the Jamisons, authors of more than 20 cookbooks and travel guides, as they take us on a journey to discover some of the best dishes the planet has to offer. Highlights include a 15-course banquet dinner of Chiu Chow cuisine in coastal China, featuring stir-fried peanuts with a crackly sugar glaze and goose braised in black vinegar and star anise. And a killer breakfast sandwich made of just-layed eggs, freshly cured bacon, homemade rolls, pickled onions, and chutney at the Barossa Farmers Market in Angaston, Australia.

10. Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim Sunée. If it’s a foodie romance novel you’re searching for, choose this one. Sunée’s many loves—from her strained relationship with her overwhelmed adoptive parents to her passionate romance with a wealthy French businessman—revolve around food. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in her turbulent quest for identity, as she spans the globe from Korea to Louisiana to Sweden to France looking for clues about her past, eating and cooking amazing food along the way.