Take Five | Five questions for Ruth Reichl


Ruth Reichl: Bestselling author and food writer Ruth Reichl is known for her lyrical tweets about food and her run as editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine from 1999 to 2009. But around the Berkshires, she's known as a local who likes to shop at farm stands, feeding friends and family at her Spencertown, N.Y., home. She has authored four memoirs, and most recently a cookbook, "My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life." Reichl will be speaking at 3 p.m. on Saturday, at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center's 11th annual Festival of Books — a weekendlong free celebration featuring readings, discussions and a giant used book sale. Reichl answered a few foodie-related questions for us:

1. With so many fresh fruits and vegetables in season right now, what is your favorite local ingredient to cook with?: I'm kind of like everyone else; this time of year I'm completely into corn and tomatoes. They've both been superb this year. I love peaches, but there haven't been any local peaches this year, and I'm really sad about the dearth of sour cherries. Most years my freezer is filled with them around now, so I can taste summer when there's snow on the ground. I start stocking up on garlic right about now; stored in a dark, cool places it'll keep until January, which means I won't have to rely on nasty Chinese garlic.

2. What cookbook do you turn to time and again for inspiration in the kitchen?: I really love "The Gourmet Cookbook" and "Gourmet Today." (I should note that although I edited them both, I don't get a penny from them.) They're entirely reliable, tested almost to absurdity. And the truth is that most cookbooks aren't. I'm also a big fan of Marcella Hazan. I love Marion Cunningham's "The Breakfast Book." And Bruce Cost's "Asian Ingredients" is invaluable.

3. How has food writing changed since you published your first book in 1972?: In 1972, people who liked to cook were strange; we had not yet become a food culture. So everything has changed since then.

For the longest time there was no transparency about our food system, which allowed our food to become increasingly industrialized behind our backs. People didn't know about confinement animal facilities, what pesticides were doing to the oceans and our water, didn't know about the horrors of antibiotic use to make animals grow faster, the devastation of the oceans, about the problems faced by both farmers and farm workers. The list of what we didn't know is very long. Today, every thinking eater is aware of the importance of knowing where your food comes from. It's very heartening. The other huge change is that our interest in food has become so diversified. Until about the '80s, Americans had little interest in anything but American and European food. Today, our appetites range across the globe.

4. You're active on Twitter, and have said it helped your writing and cooking skills. What is it about the social-media platform that you enjoy?: There's a real discipline in trying to paint a picture in 140 characters. I like that. I also like being connected to a community of cooks. When I have questions about cooking, someone always supplies an answer. There are people I've never met who I talk to every day.

5. If you could choose your last meal on this earth, what would it be?: Every time I'm asked that question I give a different answer. But here's one for today: Littleneck clams on the half shell with nothing but lemon. An aged, very rare, grilled Porterhouse steak with a big bone to gnaw on. Just dug potatoes, sauteed with onions. White corn, just-picked, lightly steamed, slathered with sweet cultured butter and sprinkled with seasalt. Sliced tomatoes with good olive oil and just a splash of balsamic vinegar. Sauteed lamb's quarters. One perfect peach.

For festival info, visit spencertownacademy.org/events.


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