Dec 052019

Today is the birthday (1935) of Calvin Trillin who is one of my favorite food writers. He is noted for other writing including memoirs and general journalism, but I have always been amused by his tales of food exploits.  He has such a shrewd eye.  I have chosen to focus on Trillin even though he is still alive – which goes against my normal rule – because I want to post something today, and his mode of writing appeals to me.  This will mostly be a string of favorite quotes plus a recipe.  For fun, if you do not know Trillin’s food writing, take a look at his collections: American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings.

Trillin was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1935 to Edythe and Abe Trillin. In his book, Messages from My Father, he notes that his parents called him “Buddy.” He attended public schools in Kansas City and went on to Yale University, where he was the roommate and friend of Peter M. Wolf, (for whose 2013 memoir, My New Orleans, Gone Away, he wrote a humorous foreword) and where he served as chairman of the Yale Daily News and was a member of the Pundits and Scroll and Key before graduating in 1957. He later served as a Fellow of the University.

After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked as a reporter for Time magazine before joining the staff of The New Yorker in 1963. His reporting for The New Yorker on the racial integration of the University of Georgia was published in his first book, An Education in Georgia. He wrote the magazine’s U.S. Journal series from 1967 to 1982, covering local events both serious and quirky throughout the United States. From 1975 to 1987, Trillin contributed articles to Moment Magazine, an independent magazine which focuses on the life of the American Jewish community. He has also written for The Nation magazine. He began in 1978 with a column called “Variations,” which was eventually renamed “Uncivil Liberties” and ran through 1985.

Here is a sampling of quotes:

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.

Health food makes me sick

“Daddy, how come in Kansas City the bagels taste like just round bread?”

I never did very well in math – I could never seem to persuade the teacher that I hadn’t meant my answers literally.

Although I grew up in Kansas City I have always kept more or less au courant of Texas barbecue, like a sports fan who is almost monomaniacally obsessed with basketball but glances over at the N.H.L. standings now and then.

It happens to be a matter of record that I was first in print with the discovery that the tastelessness of the food offered in American clubs varies in direct proportion to the exclusiveness of the club.

I like chili, but not enough to discuss it with someone from Texas.

We’ll segue to the recipe of the day here:

Last summer, I was in Tuscany, near Siena, with my family, and I don’t think I failed at any meal to order ribollita or pappa al pomodoro—Tuscan bread soups that I don’t find often enough on the menus of Italian restaurants in my neighborhood. A bowl of either of those soups is pretty much a meal in itself, so I left it to others in our party to test my rule of thumb in ordering pasta: a pasta dish is likely to be satisfying in inverse proportion to the number of ingredients that the menu lists as being in it.

This video shows how to make papa al pomodoro (which translates as “mush with tomatoes”) but it is in Italian. It seems easy enough Italian once you actually get into the recipe, but I’m not a great judge because I speak some Italian.


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