The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage is a fascinating book that is a joy to read. A collection of short personal essays followed by recipes, written by a variety of people, the book truly does look at food and the place it plays in our lives–how it goes beyond mere sustenance to offer a glimpse into what we value, how our families are formed, how we show love, how we honour our ancestors, and so much more.
“Food is never simply about what you eat,” say editors Caroline Grant and Lisa Harper in the introduction, and they are right. The way we think about food often reflects our own mothers (or occasionally fathers), our own place of origin. And now, as parents we try to pass things along to our children, along with trying to get fussy toddlers to eat or growing teenagers to stop eating quite so much. It’s a way to show honour to guests, to show off our cooking abilities, to bring far-flung family and friends together for an evening.
The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage is divided into three parts. The first, “Food,” dives into our memories. The very first story, of moving cross-country and feeling desolate and alone until you find where to find the foods you like to eat, was really moving to me personally. I well remember the great relief I felt, shortly after moving my family including our 3 toddlers to the desert country of Mauritania, when I found spaghetti, tinned tomatoes and ground beef at a very small and dusty corner store, and I knew I could at least feed my family something familiar until we all got used to sitting on the floor and eating fish and rice with our hands. This section includes a wonderful essay on how, sometimes, a bite of asparagus, poached egg and potato salad can bring hope to an overwhelmed mother. It is about the one taste on your tongue that makes the world come right, that evokes a deep satisfaction that all is right with things at this moment.
Section two, “Family,” looks at how family shapes how we eat and the kinds of foods we value. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of mothers in this section, but there are also some fathers and siblings, including one rather lovely story about a brother who teaches his sister how to make “a food with a name,” Chicken Milanese, and how it connects them, which made me think of my own brother and how he introduced me to the joys of wine-tasting.
The third section, “Learning to Eat,” talks about how we teach children to eat, and how we impart more than simply a desire that they eat more than only white foods, but we impart values, politics and religious traditions, whether that be special foods for special holidays, or how our children make choices when let loose in the dubious realm of the school cafeteria.
The title eassy, “The Cassoulet Saved our Marriage,” is an account of a crumbling marriage that is saved by a yearly tradition of working together for 3 days to prepare a proper cassoulet and inviting others to share it. It’s a wonderful story of how food does so much more than simply sustain physical life–it supports the soul as well.
The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage is a great book. Its collection of essays range from serious to fun, and there’s a fantastic collection of recipes as well. It’s not at all a “foodie” collection, but rather stories how real people eat, and what memories are evoked or created in each mouthful.