“A must for any food lover . . . Reichl is a warm, intimate writer. She peels back the curtain to a glamorous time of magazine-making. You’ll tear through this memoir.”—Refinery29 (The Best New Books of April 2019)
When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?
This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.
Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.
Praise for Save Me the Plums
“Poignant and hilarious . . . simply delicious . . . Each serving of magazine folklore is worth savoring. In fact, Reichl’s story is juicier than a Peter Luger porterhouse. Dig in.”—The New York Times Book Review
“In this smart, touching, and dishy memoir . . . Ruth Reichl recalls her years at the helm of Gourmet magazine with clear eyes, a sense of humor, and some very appealing recipes.”—Town & Country (The Must-Read Books of Spring 2019)
“If you haven’t picked up food writing queen Ruth Reichl’s new book, Save Me the Plums, I highly recommend you fix that problem. . . . Reichl is in top form and ready to dish, with every chapter seeming like a dedicated behind-the-scenes documentary on its own.”—Soleil Ho, San Francisco Chronicle
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About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 16, 1948
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., University of Michigan, 1968; M.A., University of Michigan, 1970
Read an Excerpt
I was eight years old when I first found the magazine, sitting on the dusty wooden floor of a used-book store. My father was a book designer who enjoyed the company of ancient volumes, and he often took me on book-hunting expeditions around New York, leaving me with a pile of vintage magazines while he went off to prowl among the dark and crowded shelves. That day I picked up a tattered old issue of Gourmet, enchanted by the cover drawing of a majestic swordfish leaping joyfully from the water. This looked nothing like the ladies’ magazines my mother favored, with their recipes for turkey divan made with cans of mushroom soup, or pot roast topped with ketchup, and I opened it to find the pages filled with tales of food in faraway places. A story called “Night of Lobster” caught my eye, and as I began to read, the walls faded, the shop around me vanishing until I was sprawled on the sands of a small island off the coast of Maine. The tide was coming in, water tickling my feet as it crept across the beach. It was deep night, the sky like velvet, spangled with stars.
Much later I understood how lucky I was to have stumbled on that story. The author, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, was the poet laureate of Maine and a Pulitzer Prize winner with such an extraordinary gift for words that I could hear the hiss of a giant kettle and feel the bonfire burning as the flames leapt into the night. The fine spicy fragrance of lobster was so real to me that I reached for one, imagined tossing it from hand to hand until the shell was cool enough to crack. The meat was tender, briny, rich. Somewhere off in the distance a fish splashed, then swam silently away.
I closed the magazine, and the real world came into focus. I was a little girl leafing through the pages of a magazine printed long before I was born. But I kept turning the pages, enchanted by the writing, devouring tales of long-lost banquets in Tibet, life in Paris, and golden fruit growing on strange tropical trees. I had always been an avid reader, but this was different: This was not a made-up story; it was about real life.
I loved the ads for exotic ingredients you could send away for: oysters by the bushel, freshly picked watercress, alligator pears (avocados), and “frogs’ legs from the frogland of America.” Once I actually persuaded my parents to order a clambake in a pot from Saltwater Farm in Damariscotta, Maine. Eight live lobsters and a half peck of clams came swathed in seaweed and packed in ice. It cost $14.95, and all you had to do was poke holes in the top of the container and set it on the stove.
I couldn’t get enough of those old issues, and now when Dad went off exploring bookstores I had a quest of my own. The day I discovered a battered copy of The Gourmet Cookbook among the ancient issues, I begged Dad to buy it for me. “It’s only fifty cents,” I pleaded.
It came in handy the morning I opened the refrigerator in our small kitchen and found myself staring at a suckling pig. I jumped back, startled, and then did what any sensible person would do: reached for the cookbook. I was only ten, and I hoped it would have some advice on how to deal with the thing.
Sure enough, there it was, on page 391: “Roast Suckling Pig Parisienne.” There was even a handy photograph demonstrating how to truss the tiny animal.
I remember that moment, and not just because the recipe insisted on a lot of yucky stuff like putting a block of wood into the pig’s mouth (“to brace it for the apple that will be inserted later”) and boiling the heart for gravy. I remember it mostly because that was the day Mom finally admitted she was glad I’d found a hobby.
My mother’s interest in food was strictly academic. Asked what had possessed her to purchase the pig, she replied, “I’d never seen one before,” as if that was an adequate answer. The same logic had compelled her to bring home a can of fried grasshoppers, a large sea urchin with dangerously sharp spines, and a flashy magenta cactus flower. She had little interest in eating these items, but if I was going to insist on reading what she called “that ridiculous magazine,” she thought it should be put to use.
The fried grasshoppers were not a hit; I suspect the can had been sitting on a shelf for years, awaiting some gullible customer. And while the editors were eager to instruct me in the preparation of eels, bears, woodchucks, and snipe, they were strangely silent on the subject of sea urchins. When I finally managed to pry the creature open, I found the gooey black inside so appalling that nothing would have tempted me to taste it. As for the cactus flower, its great good looks camouflaged a total lack of flavor.
But the suckling pig was a different story. I did everything the cookbook suggested and then hovered anxiously near the oven, hoping it hadn’t led me astray. When the pig emerged all crackling skin and sweet soft meat, Mom was happy. “I’ve never tasted anything so delicious,” she grudgingly admitted. “That magazine might be useful after all.”
Table of Contents
Author's Note xiii
1 Magic Door 3
2 Tea Party 11
3 Garlic 18
4 Washington Square 24
5 Attire Allowance 32
6 Plan Check 38
7 Adjacencies 47
8 The Yaffy 58
9 Bitter Salad 69
10 Human Resources 79
11 The Down Side 88
12 The Florio Potato 95
13 Big Fish 104
14 Birth Day 113
15 Severine 124
16 Why We Cook 133
17 Food People 142
18 Enormous Changes 149
19 Just Say It 155
20 Hello, Cupcake 162
21 Setting the Record Straight 176
22 DFW 181
23 Mene, Mene 191
24 Pull Up a Chair 199
25 Dot Com 207
26 Editor of the Year 215
27 Being Brand Ruth 223
28 Midnight in Paris 235
29 This One's on Me 247
Reading Group Guide
1. The book’s epigraph, the William Carlos Williams poem “This Is Just To Say” contains the lines “I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox,” which inspired the title “Save Me the Plums.” Why do you think Reichl chose this as the title for her memoir?
2. When Condé Nast offers Reichl the job of editor-in-chief of Gourmet, she initially says no. What helps her change her mind? Do you relate to her feeling that “it wasn’t the job that frightened me: I was just terrified of change.”? Do you think taking this risk ultimately paid off? If so, in what ways?
3. Early on, Reichl says that her management philosophy, “if I had such a thing,” would be: “Everybody’s good at something. You just have to figure out what that is.” How did she employ this idea with her staff at Gourmet?
4. One of the themes throughout the book is women and work: what it means to love your work and find solace in it, but also what it means to juggle work and family. How does Reichl address this balance? Were you able to relate to her feelings on this? Why, or why not?
5. At Gourmet, Reichl surrounds herself with a colorful cast of characters, like Laurie Ochoa, Larry Karol, Doc Willoughby, and Diana LaGuardia, among others. How do Reichl’s relationships with the members of her staff shape her? What does she learn from them?
6. Often feeling at odds with the glamor and excess of her new company, Reichl ultimately comes to terms with it: “I was just a temporary passenger on the Condé Nast Express, but I might as well enjoy the ride every once in a while.” What brought her to this decision? What did the process of accepting this new life mean for her?
7. Reichl travels to Paris twice in the book: the first time in the lap of luxury, encountering “a face of Paris I have never seen”, and the second on a shoestring budget, rediscovering “the Paris we’d forgotten.” Compare and contrast these two trips. What did they each mean to Reichl and what did she learn from them?
8. In the Epilogue, Reichl writes about mourning Gourmet and her “terrible sense of failure” after the magazine folded. What ingredients in Reichl’s life helped her heal in the wake of Condé Nast closing Gourmet? What did this journey teach her about herself? Can you relate to her feelings? How have you overcome setbacks like this in your own life?
9. How has the food world changed since Gourmet closed in 2009? Do you think the magazine predicted some of those changes? If Gourmet were still around today, what do you think it would be like? What would be different and what would be the same?
10. Reichl includes recipes that were significant to her throughout the book. Why do you think she chose to include these particular recipes? Are there certain dishes or meals that are important to you in a similar way?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
*Dreadful & Forgettable* As a long-time fan of Ruth Reichl’s food writing, it pains me to say that her new memoir, Save Me the Plums, is pretty dreadful. I’ve come to expect warmth and intimacy and fantastic story-telling in Ruth’s writing and there is none in Save Me the Plums to be found. I am halfway through Save Me the Plums and it’s utterly forgettable. Skip this book and pick up one of her other food memoirs.
If they had 1/2 stars this would be 3.5 stars. I had previously read “Tender to the Bone” by Ms. Reichl which I found touching and really enjoyed. As such, I had great hope for “Save me the Plums”. For me however, this wasn’t as captivating as the prior book. It was hard for me to reconcile the portrait Ms. Reichl created of herself in “Tender to the Bone” with this book. There she was captured as a reflective, down to earth person steeped in the counter culture of Berkeley, CA. In this more recent book where she lands at Gourmet Magazine, she is now a highly paid executive, flying and traveling the world first class, using a limousine and driver, having a clothing allowance and staff to meet every need. While by the Epilogue it seemed she was trying to convince herself that the job hadn’t changed her and she didn’t need the shiny objects Gourmet trapped her with, she certainly didn’t convince me! Additionally, I didn’t find her work at Gourmet Magazine very earth-shaking, that interesting, or really even very meaningful. Her characterization of who Gourmet Magazine readers were and what they demanded made me cringe. She portrayed them as a special class above whose fine sensibilities had to be nurtured and protected. I did cheer her on as she challenged those readers by pulling the curtain back on some of the practices of the food industry. But that was short lived and most of the book to me seemed to me to focus on the interworking of a failed business that would have had little value for the Ruth Reichl seen in her prior book. Accordingly, this book ended up for me being disjointed and conflicted. So who was is the real Ruth Reichl, the Berkeley hippie gal that had been on the edge of a food revolution and didn’t buy into society trappings or the sophisticated New Yorker carefully navigating those trappings who thrived on everything Gourmet threw her way? Actually, like most of us, she is probably both. But she didn’t seem comfortable with that answer nor did the book reconcile this in a way that honored how complicated the issue is. Rather, her protests that the trappings didn’t matter or her brief examples of such seemed lacking in substance and unconvincing. Thus for me, the book didn’t seem to have the authenticity or courageous honesty that captured me in her prior book. I was privileged to receive a free advance copy of this book by NetGalley and the Publisher, Random House in exchange for an honest review.
In her latest memoir, Reichl shares her journey from hippie foodie in San Francisco where she hung out with Alice Waters and others to New York Times food critic to final editor of Gourmet Magazine in a casual and humorous voice readers have come to know and love. After having had the pleasure of sitting in on a cookbook author panel in Los Angeles recently, I can confirm that the voice is authentically hers. It’s fascinating to read about her battle to stay true to herself, her family and her ideals when taking the helm of an unapologetically high-brow magazine where perks such as a full-time driver were the norm. In the ten years she was editor of Gourmet, she totally remade it into a publication that was more relatable to household cooks without sacrificing quality. Yes, she lost some long-time readers, but with the help of people like revered LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold, she vastly increased readership until the internet spelled its demise. Aren’t we lucky that, as unfortunate as this is, it freed up Reichl’s time to share her story and some delicious recipes as well? I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Random House through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are completely my own.
As a child, a chance encounter with an old issue of Gourmet Magazine ignited a passion for food in Ruth Reichl. After a career as a food writer for the LA Times and a food critic for the New York Times, Ruth finds herself with the job opportunity of a lifetime: as editor of Gourmet. Now a stuffy magazine, she works to transform it into a modern and edgy publication just as the world of cooking and eating was giving rise to a revolution. Reichl’s endearing memoir is a fascinating behind the scenes look at Gourmet magazine and the inner workings of Condé Nast. This is a sensual and passionate portrayal of the food world and all that surrounds it. From sumptuous meals at famous restaurants and luxury filled explorations of Paris and New York, Save Me the Plums portrays a world of deliciousness. Whether she is describing a late-night snack with her son at home, or a gala event with a food table winding from floor to floor; Reichl’s recollections of her tenure at Gourmet will make you nostalgic for the age of thick, beautiful, glossy magazines. You will soon find yourself craving pâté and foie gras, with some sliced pig intestines thrown in for good measure. This is a must read for fans of Ruth Reichl and food lovers in general. When you’re done let’s meet for dinner! Thank you to Random House for the Advanced Reader’s Copy.
Ruth Reichl’s books are among my favorite food memoirs. I regularly give away copies of Tender At The Bone but Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic And Sapphires are right up there too. After finishing Garlic And Sapphires, which goes into her experiences as the New York Times food critic, I fervently hoped her next book would be about her time as the editor in chief at the now shuttered Gourmet magazine. Save Me The Plums was worth the weight. Reichl gives a no-holds-barred account of her transition from food critic to EIC, her coworkers, the triumphs, and how it all came to an end. She was a very unconventional choice for EIC and we get to see very clearly how it played out. It made me a little bummed I never read Gourmet, at least not that I can recall. But given her account of what the magazine was like before she took over, I can understand why I would have written it off as “not for me” and never taken another look. Reichl changed the culture of the staff and that in turn led to vibrant years together. I really enjoyed hearing about the risks they took, the way various people left their imprint on it, and the various writers they hired for articles, including David Foster Wallace. The behind-the-scenes on his piece Consider The Lobster was especially fascinating. She also admits where she messed up and what about the role worked for her and didn’t. She also shares luminously about 9/11, both the personal impact and how the magazine staff came together to feed the rescue workers. It made me tear up, thinking back to where I was that fateful day and how we’ve changed as a nation since then. Several recipes are included and I’ve bookmarked a few, including Spicy Chinese Noodles and Thanksgiving Turkey Chili. The love of food permeates the pages and while Reichl has a more adventurous palate than I do, she excels at making her readers love the journey as much as she did. Save Me The Plums is a marvelous addition to the food memoir canon. Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Random House in exchange for an honest review.
The author as a young girl finds an old Gourmet Magazine in a used bookstore while accompanying her father on errands. She opens it up and begins reading. Just 8 years old, she nonetheless is transported by its descriptions of other lands, different foods and ingredients. She begins to collect the magazines and develops a new hobby, cooking, as a result. Her hobby opens new horizons for her: as her mother brings home strange new foods to cook and her father takes her through different ethnic neighborhoods as they search for novel ingredients. Fast forward 40 years and the opportunity of her life presents itself, would she like to be the editor of Gourmet Magazine? With warmth, candor, humor and humility author Ruth Reichl shares her decade at the helm of Gourmet. We meet her family, her work crew and learn something about the joys and frustrations of her job. We share in her frustration at the ending we know is coming. This is such a wonderful book for lovers of publishing tales, foodies and women-succeeding-at-work. It is fast and impossible to put down. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
Ruth Reichl was a top food critic when she decided to take a job as the editor-in-chief at Gourmet Magazine, the culinary food magazine of its time. But in her new memoir we see she is so much more than the 10 year editor of Gourmet who sadly was their last as they shockingly closed in 2009. When she was just 8 years old, coming from humble beginnings with a mother who was bipolar and spent hours and days and months in deep depression, and a father who not only adored Ruth, but adored his wife none the less, she read her first issue of Gourmet Magazine and she was hooked. It was then she made the decision to pursue something in the food industry, so when offered the job at the magazine she was frightened, honored and excited. Feeling as if everyday would be her last, Reichl went on to change the magazine's direction into the popular bibliophile it became under her tenure. She tells stories in the book of making a bet of $100 that they would not lose subscribers if they put a dead fish on the cover (they did not), to writer David Foster Wallace's travel piece about a Maine Lobster Festival and the killing of lobsters. We also meet many of the eccentric personalities who graced the halls during her tenure. We see how her immediate family, her son Nick, a young child when she took the job and her husband Michael supported her and gave her sage feedback and advice. She also describes the aftermath of 9/11 and how the New York food industry bonded together to assist the first responders. There are mouthwatering descriptions of meals she has had the pleasure of experiencing which make the reader wish they had been there to witness and taste. And if that is not enough, she even includes a few of her favorite recipes. As a fan of Reichl, I loved her novel Delicious and her travel show on television, I ravenously ate up her stories and her life during her time at Gourmet.