Title: The Recipe ClubAuthor: Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel
Publisher: Harper Collins
As I have mentioned before, I have started collecting and reading food related books. I started with the China Bayles mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert which focused on herbs. Then I discovered a slew of mystery books with main characters who are involved in food-related businesses or hobbies. The Recipe Club isn't technically a mystery, but the first 50 pages sets up a mysterious secret that drove the two main characters, Lilly and Val, apart for decades. The story is told in series of emails (modern times) and letters (1960-1970s) as the two girls grow up as best friends who evolve in different directions and are eventually driven apart.
Like the cliche, opposites attract, Val and Lilly couldn't be more different. Lilly is an extrovert and risk-taker, Val is book-smart and reflective. But both are drawn together because of their difficult family lives. Lilly's mother is an Broadway actress and her father a psychiatrist. Val's mother is s recluse (being treated by Lilly's father) and her father is an unsuccessful inventor. Both feel neglected and misunderstood by their parents. However, Lilly's father gains some fame from writing up his treatment of Val's mother, and he takes Val under his advisement and grooms her to go to medical school.
Through the course of ten years, Val and Lilly write each other letters and include recipes to express their current dilemmas. For example, Cupid's Chocolate Cake for a romantic dinner early in a relationship or Warm Amaretto Milk for homesickness. Each recipe is tied to the topic in the letter and titled appropriately. According to the end-notes to the book, the recipes were either developed by a chef for the book or drawn from the authors' childhood favorites. As I was reading, I took notes on several recipes I'd like to attempt. At the end of the story, many of the Recipe Club's recipes are incorporated into a very special menu.
I enjoyed the unusual format of reading a narrative through letters. I know there are a few other books out there like this, but I haven't read one in a while. The authors clearly embodied their characters' voices as they grew up and showed that, although the language and topics may have gotten more complicated over time, the essence of Val and Lilly stayed the same. A coming of age story for both girls is set in the turbulent times of the sixties and seventies, which exasperates the search for identity and independence. Yet, as each girl grows older, they grow further apart until innocent actions turn into betrayal. But, as another cliche states, time heals all wounds, and the grown women learn many secrets of their childhood and re-connect and re-make their friendship.
Many ideas and issues resonant with me as I read. I think we have all experienced the distancing of a special relationship and wonder what went wrong. Good intentions are mis-interpreted. Personalities grow in different directions. At the same time, the book reminisces about wanting to be older, the first kiss, the first crush, and the first break up. The bitter and the sweet together.
There is an out of date website for the book that includes a quiz (Who are you?), more recipes, and suggestions on how to form your own recipe club. Since the book was published years ago, there hasn't been any recent activity on the site.