How to Write a Food Memoir
If the idea of writing a memoir is a daunting one, here’s a great way to start. The concrete nature of our memories about experiences we’ve had with foods makes for easy writing. On the other hand, if you’re a real foodie, you may want to write an entire memoir consisting of nothing but eating adventures.
Start by brainstorming; think of holiday treats you remember, dishes served on special occasions, outstanding restaurant meals you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy, childhood favorites, etc. Jot these down in no particular order.
Choose just one of your brainstorming ideas from Step 1 to begin with. On another sheet of paper, write down that one idea and then jot down a bare-bones minimum of words to answer the “5 W’s” about this food or meal. --What was it? (be specific) --When did you eat it? (on what occasion(s) and at what age) --Where did you eat it? (home, grandma’s, school, restaurant—city, country, etc.) --Who was you with? (Give yourself a helping hand by asking people who shared this experience with you to give their input) --Why did you especially like or dislike this food?
Expand on the “what” above by using all of your senses. --What did it look like? (colors, size, shape) --What did it sound like? (did it crunch?) --What did it feel like? (what was the texture?) --What did it smell like? --And, of course, what did it taste like? To describe taste, start with the “salty, sweet, sour, and bitter "categories, and then go on to comparing it to other foods, and then add any original ideas you have to describe the taste.
Use the information from Steps 2 and 3 above to put together a little essay—or just a couple of paragraphs. Start with a sentence that names the food. Then try to get in as much of the information from Steps 2 and 3 that comfortably fits. Here is an example: On Father's Day, we had barbecue ribs at the in-laws' house. The whole family was there and it was great fun with all the kids running around and having fun.
The food is another story, Brian burned the ribs beyond recognition, taking out a family room window and his new grill in the process. So we had to get take-out. The ribs we got from Howard's Bar-B-Cue were terrific. They were tender with a smell of smoked cherry wood, and I stuffed myself beyond capacity.
Repeat the process with several more of your ideas from Step 1. You might write a short introduction, put the memories in chronological order—and there you have it.
At Thanksgiving everybody in my family looks forward to sweet potato pie. When I was a kid in the 50’s, visiting my grandparents in their country home in Kansas, my cousins and I always used to have a contest. As soon as those golden brown pies came out of the oven, we’d start cutting them up and betting who could eat the most slices. The first slice was always the best. The creamy filling smelled like pure nutmeg and cinnamon.