October 08, 2011
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
I love all things food and usually any books written about food. Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir was a great book for me because of this. While it had some faults it was a largely outstanding book and really expressed her desire and love of food.
There are three parts, named after the title as Blood, Bones, and Butter. In Blood we are shown Gabrielle's earlier years that involved her mother and father throwing wonderful parties where they would roast lambs over an open pit and make simple sides. She also describes how in an effort to be frugal her mother would cook the foods that today are actually high end (marrow bones, etc.). Then it turns darker as her family is split up by divorce and she wanders from restaurant to restaurant working to get money for drugs and just to survive before finally going back to live with her father for awhile. Bones goes over the later part of her life when she is working for catering companies, being a camp chef in the summers, and spending time in Michigan with her girlfriend and obtaining a Master's degree. The most poignant part of this section however is when she discovers the restaurant she is to open and names it Prune, wanting to cook good food and express the hospitality she learned while traveling in Europe and other places during her twenties. She also goes over her relationships with her mother, and the man she marries and has two sons with. The last section, Butter, describes her trips to Italy with her husband and the connection she has with her mother-in-law over food despite not really being able to speak to her. The trips always make her examine food in a different way because the Italians treat it as a different way.
Hamilton likes to jump around in her writing and because of this, a clear timeline is not easily gathered from the book. It isn't confusing though and she uses to the different times of her life to describe how she feels about food. And the areas where she talks about food is where this book really stands out. Her descriptions leave you salivating and wanting to try so many new things as she illustrates serving them in her restaurant or to her husband's family in Italy. However, she can also leave you disappointed in food when she describes her experience in the catering industry as well and the behind the scenes look that it gives. The overall tone of the novel is actually pretty angry. I felt myself cringing a couple times as she described her disdain (or at least that's the emotion I read from her words) of foodies, farmer's markets and so many other things that I associate myself with. I'm not angry with her for criticizing these things, but they are near and dear to my heart and its hard to see her point of view on them despite how well she writes it. She also feels a lot of anger toward her mother that we're never really given a deep look into. There's a period of twenty years where she doesn't see her and I never really understood why from the views she gives in the book. The same thing happens with her relationship with her husband Michele and I'm still not quite certain why she decided to marry him other than perhaps wanting children. Their relationship certainly is unconventional, especially since she left her girlfriend to marry him. Snippets like these make me ask questions and want to know answers that are not given in the book.
It is a well written book though and I have a new appreciation for certain aspects of food. Hamilton writes beautifully and its easy to see that she is a great chef in her own right and not just because she's female. It was an enjoyable read and I would be interested in reading more of her works.
Blood Bones and Butter