“Save Me the Plums” is a TREASURE! I tore through it in a few days and loved every minute of reading Reichl’s memoir which is not only about food and her tenure as the trail-blazing editor of Gourmet magazine but also about stepping out of your comfort zone to accept challenges and adversity in your career.
Bottom line: Reichl was and is a pioneer.
Her story begins in New York City. Eight-year-old Ruth is perusing a used-book store with her father, a book designer. She stumbles upon an old copy of Gourmet and from that moment a light turns on. She immediately recognizes this magazine is not like the ones her mother favors, which include recipes recommending the liberal use of ketchup as a sauce and cans of condensed soup as a key ingredient. By age ten, she’s scouring The Gourmet Cookbook to learn how to roast a suckling pig. Ruth quickly becomes the cook of her small family despite her mother referring to Gourmet as “that ridiculous magazine”.
Fast forward: Ruth moves to California and becomes a food writer and editor of New West magazine, then to the LA Times as a restaurant editor, food editor, and critic. She returns to New York to accept a position as a restaurant critic for the esteemed New York Times and is eventually sought out to become the editor of her beloved Gourmet. It’s worth noting that she did not feel “ready” to accept this PLUM position and struggled with many doubts before reluctantly proceeding.
Reichl revamped Gourmet from a magazine which historically catered to readers with an actual cook preparing meals, to “regular” home cook and food enthusiasts. The publication transformed from a stuffy, pretentious magazine to one which tested boundaries by featuring innovative articles about street food, ethical issues such as GMOs, disappearing fish and the loss of farmland. As the editor, Reichl lost sleep over publishing controversial and edgy articles.
“I had nightmares over every one of those pieces. But in those sleepless nights while we were editing the David Foster Wallace piece, I’d learned an important lesson: When something frightens me, it is definitely worth doing.”Ruth Reichl “Save Me the Plums”
I’ve never purchased or even read a copy of “Gourmet” magazine but after reading Reichl’s “Save Me the Plums” I’ve been scouring my favorite used bookstores for back issues. Her tales of putting together a monthly magazine, describing how her staff responded during the aftermath of 9/11, traveling to exotic locations and recruiting award-winning talent like Pat Conroy and Ann Patchett to write for Gourmet made this book a real winner for me. Bonus: Reichl includes some favorite recipes!
Wanna hear more? Or just see some incredible food pics? Check out her website which also has a summary of her other wonderful food-ish books. A few years ago I read “My Kitchen Year”, a memoir about how Reichl dealt with the devastating blow of Gourmet shutting down by doing what she does to process confusion and grief, cooking! “Delicious!” a 2014 fiction novel set in the NY food scene is also thoroughly enjoyable.