Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Family Cooking

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So many of the books I am drawn to, whether to read a first time or over again, have an element of family and food. This month our staff share favorites on the topic of Family Cooking, a focus of discussion for many households this month. Because most of the books I think of on this subject are nonfiction, I am glad our first selection is fictional, particularly as the novel has long been on my list.

Profiles Editor Christina Consolino writes, "When I think of Family Cooking and fiction, my mind immediately jumps to Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies, by Laura Esquivel. Set against the backdrop of early twentieth century Mexico, the story spans the life of Tita de la Garza, who lives on a ranch with her mother and two older sisters. At 15 years old, she falls in love with the neighbor, Pedro. He asks for Tita's hand in marriage, but her mother says no: she subscribes to the tradition that Tita will remain single for life and care for her as she ages. Instead, Pedro marries Tita's sister, Rosaura, in an attempt to stay close to Tita. Over the course of the book, the reader is taken on a both a culinary and literary journey. Each chapter introduces a new recipe that Tita prepares and infuses with her emotions. Her cooking becomes the language through which she and Pedro communicate over the ensuing years. The beauty of the book comes from Esquivel's brilliant and vivid imagery to tell both a love story as well as the story of a woman on a quest for freedom and individuality."

Fiction Editor Suzanne Kamata recommends essays that will get you thinking: "What's Cooking, Mom?: Narratives about Food and Family, edited by Florence Pasche Guignard and Tanya M. Cassidy, serves up 17 perspectives on menus and meaning. For instance, Meredith Stephens, an Australian expat professor in perfectionist Japan, reflects upon her slapdash approach to mothering in 'The Rebellious Bento Box,' while in 'The Cooking Lesson,' Dorothy Abram reflects upon identity and spirituality in the lives of Hindu refugees in America. According to the publisher's description, this book includes 'auto-ethno-graphic discussions of representations, discourses and practices about and by mothers regarding food and families.' As you can guess, there is plenty of food for thought (pun intended), but these essays are also a pleasure to read."

Creative Nonfiction Editor Rae Pagliarulo shares a book I loved so much I read it twice in a row: "Lately I've been thinking about legacies—what we leave behind for future generations, what we pass on to our friends and family. Recipes are a huge part of that. Even though it's a strange concoction of all the wrong foods, I will always love my mother's 'cherries 'n noodles,' a cloyingly sweet unbaked kugel of sorts that no one outside the Jewish enclaves of Northeast Philadelphia seems to be able to stomach. One of my favorite writers, Molly Wizenberg, wrote eloquently about the family legacy of food in her 2010 masterpiece, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Molly writes with grace, gumption, and gusto about the way food reflects life. Each recipe in the book is paired with its own carefully woven tale that connects family, identity, and memory. Her mother's pound cake recipe comes with nostalgic stories about midwestern pot luck picnics. Simple directions for bouchons au thon (little tuna cakes which I have made maybe a hundred times in the last few years) come with lovely tales of Molly's time in Paris, and her charming host family. In a way, Molly's recipes and stories are something that she has passed on to me, too. I might never live in France or lay out a picnic blanket under the Oklahoma sun, but I can, in my own small way, continue these distant family legacies in my very own kitchen."

Where does this subject lead you? You can share your recommendations in the comments below or chat with us on Twitter (@LiteraryMama), #AmReading.

Justine Uhlenbrock is a writer and doula. She writes about motherhood and heritage on her blog, Heirloom Mothering. Her work has also appeared on Mamalode, The Good Men Project, and The Mid. Justine lives with her family in Decatur, Georgia. She is a former editorial assistant for Literary Mama.

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