Save Me the Plums or How Reichl Could Not Save Gourmet

I’ve started going through my archive of drafts lately and re-editing, finessing and refining a few that I found there (starting with Pineapple Cake Cookies).

If you’ve been following EE long, you know that I am a Ruth Reichl super fan.   Her latest book, Save Me the Plums, was published almost a year ago.  When I first heard of it’s publication, I pre-ordered my copy.   Here is my review:


One stack of my stash of retro Gourmet magazines.

This might be the Reichl memoir we’ve all been waiting for as she explores and explains just what exactly happened to Gourmet. (Sad face.)

As the last editor of the distinguished culinary institution, she has been maligned and blamed for Gourmet‘s demise. In Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, she doesn’t pull any punches and states she should have seen it coming.

I think it’s obvious that the writing was on the wall even before she accepted the editor-in-chief gig.  You are not to blame, Ruth.

I became a fan of the magazine in the 90s.   As I revisit some of the magazines that I have hoarded (some from Reichl’s reign), I see it through new (or rather older) eyes.   Most of the editions feel like over-the-top Christmas catalogs full of all the things I coveted but would never have. (Read “luxury items” and sometimes ultra-luxury at that—Rolexes, Mikimoto pearls, high end appliances, Jaguars.) I was struck at her comment about wooing advertisers:

…soon I understood that the magazine we were selling depended entirely on the needs of the client. Gourmet might be a lifestyle publication, a humble homemaker’s bible, a travel magazine, or an epicurean pioneer. We might be upscale or strictly down-to-earth. On some days we emphasized the quality of our recipes; on others we acted as if they did not exist.  (88)

How could the magazine find its identity and voice under this bipolar approach. Was its modern inception a lifestyle pub or a cooking magazine? I’m not sure it ever found out.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the big personalities and the politics that was and is Condé Nast. I relished (as with all of Reichl’s writing) her honesty and descriptive writing. As she lives out her dream and passion, the food narratives are imaginative. She eats a “chocolate concoction” and is put in a trance as the flavors of cream, butter, cognac and coffee mixed together in the truffle. “As the carousel of flavors whirled through my brain, I dreamed myself into a painting by Renoir. I was in a Paris restaurant at the turn of the century, gazing int an orange gilt-edged mirror” (167).

My favorite section of the entire book was Chapter 15: “Severine.” She relates an over-the-top business trip to Paris. In an expensive vintage shop, she finds the perfect black dress. It was literally made for her. As she ponders the expensive price tag over dinner, she meets an older man that leads her to some truths. The entire chapter reads like a stand-alone short story.

Later, on a economically-themed Parisian trip, she encounters the same distinguished gentleman who feeds her more perfect bits of wisdom: “Luxury is best appointed in small portions. When it becomes routine it loses its allure” (246). This adage comes just as she starts to review her life at the magazine.

Reichl tries to take the blame and is devastated by the abrupt end, the end of the institution that was Gourmet and the end to the family that she created in her ten-year run as editor. She talks about that emotion and the healing process more in My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life.

I’m glad she followed that work up with Save Me the Plums.  The ending of her current memoir is not dark and dire, it’s uplifting and shows that following a passion may create some heartache but we’re always the better for it.

For all my Ruth gushings, click here.

I am linking up with Foodies Reads.

Stay tuned for some other archived re-edited versions.  I just might be announcing a new theme as well.  We will see…

14 comments to Save Me the Plums or How Reichl Could Not Save Gourmet

  • Nowadays traditional magazines are really having a hard time. Sad that Gourmet had to go through that…Save me the plums seems like a keeper for any food lover!

  • Mae

    Your review takes a very different point of view than I took a few months ago when I read the memoir. I see what you mean about not being able to afford the products that were written up or advertised in Gourmet, but for me it slowly became a negative, and I didn’t read the magazine much by the time she was editor. I read it much more long ago.

    My review:

    best… mae

  • I have one or two of her books at home but haven’t read them yet.

    And I’m still sad, decades later, that I never got my neighbor lady’s collection of Gourmet and Bon Appetite magazines. She had a stroke so I would go over there and help her do her exercises and dust and stuff. She had bookcases in the livingroom that had every issue of those magazines. I don’t know when the magazines started being published but I knew this lady in the 1970s and she was in her 50s or 60s or 70s (any of those ages are “old” to a kid) and grew up in high-society on the East Coast and loved to entertain. She was the first person I ever knew that could afford a Cuisinart! LOL Anyway, she told me I was to have all her “cooking magazines” and collection of teacups and saucers from her travels around the world, but, unfortunately, she didn’t tell her family that. LOL

    Ah well…RIP Mrs. Shiels, and thanks for letting me borrow your magazines and sharing your cheeseball recipe, that we still make to this day, when we can find the little jars of Kraft cheese.

    And thank YOU for reviewing Ruth’s books!

  • I have been a Riechl fan ever since you first introduced me to her at CTB. I will be ordering up this latest book.

  • Pam

    Dang, I’m trying to figure out how I missed this book!!! I’ve always been a fan of hers, and I still miss Gourmet. I learned about her way back when my mother started a subscription in the early ’50’s, and then many years later, I carried on with one over many more years to the end. I saved a few old editions but wish I had more. Thanks so much for your review, Debra!!! Off to Amazon now…

  • Thanks for the review. Loved _Gourmet_ and really miss it. Much as I love Reichl, I think the magazine was better in the 70s and 80s. But then, almost ALL _Condé Nast_ magazines were better back then (that company really lost its way, IMO; not unusual for publishers, though). Fun read — thanks.

    • I don’t remember reading it in the 70s and early 80s. I think it’s just a matter of time before print media goes away. 🙁 Which would be a great travesty, IMO.

  • As I’ve been a long time Reichl fan, I enjoyed this book as well. Love all her food and ambiance descriptions in every book she’s written.