The School of Essential Ingredients

On my main blog I mentioned Cook the Books and what a great site it is for participating in an online book club and a foodie blog. The best of both worlds.

First off, if you have not read this book and you plan to, don’t read my post. Email me and I’ll send you the recipe for my “representative dish” ……but let’s not have any spoilers out there if this one is on your summer reading list. That being said, I am not divulging all of the plot…….but still.

Selecting one recipe or meal to represent this book was not easy. The images of several delectable dishes crossed my imagination as I read. But in the end, it came down to the humble apple. Not as the star and centerpiece, but as an important component that interacted with all ingredients. The dish I would like to submit will be at the end of this post. Well, here is a photo…it’s a pork tenderloin….loaded with apples.

Lets get to the book. Erica Bauermeister has landed a spot in my favorite authors list.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each chapter focuses on a particular student, alternating between the cooking class and the other students, then taking you into their background and previous experiences. I loved the interactions with the students in class and the way Lillian could select the perfect recipe for each one, the foods and spices playing into solutions for their own issues.

You could see the point of view of most of the students – Claire as a young mother who feels she is someone’s mom/wife/daughter and no longer…Claire.
Antonia – The beautiful Italian, struggling yet simultaneously enjoying trying to fit in to a foreign culture. Carl and Helen, an older married couple – each getting their own chapter, one having a surprising past, and how the other spouse dealt with it.

Chloe is trying to find her own place in life, her own identity, yet bends to her boyfriend’s wishes until she figures things out. Ian wanting everything so precise, the mind of a black and white perspective person.

Tom. Oh my. His back story made me well up with tears. Perhaps because I have personally experienced the life threatening repercussions of cancer. A dangerous beast tamed early or not at all, or so it seems.

Isabelle – whose story touched my heart more; hers or Tom’s? That’s a toss up and for very different reasons. Clearly she is courting Alzheimer’s disease and is aware she is losing her memories. I wanted to bring Isabelle home and help her remember her life. Lillian did an excellent job with that, awakening Isabelle’s memories.

“Salmon, thick, dense against her teeth, a beach of smooth white beans underneath. Isabelle at six years old, throwing thin flat rocks sideways, watching them sink and disappear while her father’s floated across the surface, dipping then spinning up, like birds looking for food.”

Something would open a door in her mind to a time in her past. As I read about Isabelle’s previous life I could empathize how she may feel about reviving a particular scene, the memory tangible for a few clear moments, feel her experiencing it again yet despairing that it too would recede forever.

And how does the teacher tie everyone together?

As a child, Lillian discovered the magic of food. Not just the taste, but the aromas and textures on the senses and in the mind, evoking memories of both good and sorrowful experiences.

Lillian’s father abandoned his family when she was a little girl. In response to this desertion, Lillian’s mother retreats into a world of books rather than stepping up to fill the void in their lives. So, Lillian decides to “cook her out” – to prepare a dish which will bring her mother back into their lives.

In the beginning chapter there was a reference to Lillian’s favorite orchard and the sweet crisp apples it produced. Now it wasn’t the apple that was all important but what the taste and smell of this apple evoked when shared with Lillian’s mother. Lillian waited all year for the apples to ripen and for the smile of the old man who shared the fruit with her.

“Here,” he said, handing them to her. “A taste of the new season.”

When Lillian arrived home with the two apples, her mother was, as usual, curled up in a chair with a book in her hands.

I have something for you, Mom,” Lillian said, and placed one of the apples in her mother’s hand. Lillian’s mother took the apple and absentmindedly pressed its smooth, cold surface against her cheek.

It feels like Fall”, she commented, and bit into it. The sharp, sweet sound of the crunch filled the air like a sudden burst of applause and Lillian laughed at the noise. Her mother looked up, smiling at the sound, and her eyes met her daughter’s.

Why Lillian,” she said, her voice rippling with surprise, “look how you’ve grown.”

In the final chapter, the last few paragraphs to be precise, there is a moment when you know Lillian is wistful about her last cooking class and feeling very defined in her role as teacher; the role also keeps her outside the connections made by the students, keeping her from being part of the continuing friendships and relationships.

The teacher fits in the kitchen, of course. Shaking her head at herself, Lillian walked to the back door.”

“Tom appeared at the bottom of the stairs, his collar pulled up against the cool of the evening air. In a garden full of cherry trees, she smelled apples.”

In my opinion, I think Lillian was remembering the old man in the apple orchard as he said, “A taste of the new season.” While she breathed in the aroma of apples, Tom suggested they take a walk so he could tell her a story. A new season for them both, wouldn’t you say?

So apples are my choice in which to build a dish, in tribute of Lillian. And for Tom. Whether they end up together as a romantic couple or in a quiet friendship………..this is for Tom and Lillian.

Please visit the Cook the Books website and check out the book selections and recipes. You’l be in for a treat!


One thought on “The School of Essential Ingredients

  1. Pingback: Nonfiction November: Book Pairings | Novel Meals

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