Revealing our ten Edible Nonfiction finalists
Today we reveal the final two names and true food stories of the ten people on our Edible Nonfiction Challenge shortlist.
The latest two entries to make the shortlist are Yorkshire Puddings and Saran Wrap
by Dawn Ruddick and Filet-o-Fired by Maggie Panko. Read them below.
by Dawn Ruddick
I was reared on TV dinners, and Twinkies. Once, my mom even sent me to school with a cheese sandwich; featuring a Kraft Single, with the plastic wrapper left on.
So at the age of seven, when I felt the first surges of culinary interest, I turned my back on my mother and her plastic fetish and wandered into my paternal grandmother's kitchen instead. Together we set ourselves a challenge: to pay homage to Britain's national edible muse, the Yorkshire Pudding.
The recipe is simple: flour, eggs, milk, water and a dash of salt: that is all. But to make a perfect pudding, one that rises high on the sides yet dips low in the center, that is both crispy on the outside and slightly dense on the inside, is an art form that can't be gleaned from a cookbook - what you need is a well-aged British grandmother. And the only thing better than one of them is five.
When my grandmother moved into an assisted living home in Northeast England, I attended a secret meeting. On the agenda? Yorkshire Puddings. Despite one Zimmer frame, two sets of false teeth, one hearing aid, and an incontinence problem, the room was as charged as a presidential campaign. Several decrees were passed on that day: Set the oven to a dangerously high setting; let the batter sit in the fridge for two hours; make sure the batter runs (not drips) from the whisk; and never, ever, open the oven door while the Yorkshires are rising.
My grandmother died in September, so at Thanksgiving, there was only my mother sitting across from me for the post-pudding debrief. But it was no use. Before I could begin she was gone. I found her in the kitchen, happily wrapping the leftover Yorkshires in Saran Wrap.
by Maggie Panko
Like many teenaged Canadians, my first job was at McDonald's. Unlike the majority of those same Canadians, I got fired.
Back then I wouldn't talk about it. McDonald's was the youth employment catch-all, a factory for start-up resumes and grey meat. My best childhood friend worked her way up to Assistant Manager. Everyone would do it. Anyone could do it.
Unless you had a problem with the Fish.
Truthfully, it wasn't the Fish alone. The Fish Incident followed a couple of crucial screw-ups: locking the cash by accident after inserting a hundred dollar bill, helpfully explaining to a customer that she could "take the pickles off" instead of waiting for a plain hamburger, or telling a man it was a "bummer" when I showed up with a caramel sundae instead of chocolate. I was a little off. Then a lot.
This was years ago, before automated fast-food cash registers beamed orders directly to the kitchen. If you wanted something other than hamburger variants, you had to call it back to the cooks.
A man in neat clothes ordered a Filet-O-Fish.
I faced the kitchen and hollered: "Fish sandwich!"
There was only one fish item on the menu. Who would actually yell Filet-O-Fish? Ridiculous! What was with the gaping O? There wasn't even an apostrophe, as if execs were too lazy to brand it a faux-Irish staple.
My manager was apoplectic. He instructed me to pronounce the title fully. I refused. Again, he demanded. No.
Some people are not team players, he said.
The next summer, I knew my record wouldn't snag the high paying full-time job I wanted to save for university.
Oh well, I thought, talking to the burly reserves recruiter who stopped by our high school. The army it is.
By Tiffany Morris
I've known people who can cook. My roommate would whip up the best soups I've ever eaten, going from sink to chopping board to stove with hummingbird intensity. One soup was made using only cilantro, egg noodles and a dictionary's worth of brightly-coloured spices. When I finished the bowl they sat on the rim like abbreviated sentences. I admired them in awe.
I didn't understand how these acts of creation were possible. Among my friends, there were fundraising banana breads, Thanksgiving boiled dinners and prized bowls of chili scrawled onto recipe cards and exchanged like secret handshakes. I would feign interest, embarrassed by my cupboard full of boxes that promised quick and easy solutions. My friends were passing the test of adulthood with ribbons in hand, while I got a photocopied certificate of participation.
My ex-boyfriend never forgave my dried chicken cuts, seasoned incorrectly on our fat-draining grill. We both knew I couldn't rival his mother's Philippino food. Once prodded with a fork, her golden-crusted empanadas revealed entire hidden worlds of vegetable. He looked with dismay at our panini press and the thin frost of dust that gathered on its metal lid. Both frustrated, we would get takeout Japanese barbecue. Every bite of that teriyaki steak, perfectly seared, tasted of failure. And deliciousness. If the conversation was terse, the savoury meat would be partly to blame.
He eventually fell for a vegan, and I fell in love with a more forgiving foodie, whose love of cooking took me by the hand and back into the kitchen. Now, my experiments with photogenic internet recipes are met with patience and encouragement. From stuffed peppers to cookie-stuffed brownies, I am free to navigate this laboratory, table spoons and paring knives in hand. With composure and love, I decipher the hieroglyphics of the delectable.
by Paul Mitchell
The mangoes glistened like gold bullion in the African sun on this desolate stretch of no man's land in Ethiopia. Weary, parched, hungry, in the waning afternoon we had not seen any place to eat since we left in early morning. The driver stopped when we spotted the mangoes, all of us thinking the same thing: African take-away.
He stood on the hood of the land cruiser mining the tree for us. Piled on the hood of the vehicle they sat like some newly discovered golden hoard. We used our utility knives we to slice them in half. Discarding the seed we notched crisscrossing hatch marks on the yellow flesh, inverting them until they resembled a tribe of hedge hogs. This is the only way to eat mango in the bush without the niceties of table, plate, napkins, knives and forks or Ms Manners.
Hungrily we started devouring them. Bending over we resembled ostriches sticking our heads and necks far out and bending down so the juice would not get our clothes. But it was a lost cause. Juice sprayed everywhere as we stripped the golden flesh from the skin dropping the finished ones to join a growing pool of liquid turned reddish gold by the earth.
Giving up we took off our shirts. The juice ran like twin rivers flowing out the sides of our mouths trailing down our naked tanned chests. If only it were more hidden we could have stripped naked and bathed in the sweetness of the juice.
We ate until we could lift no more. We sat filled and unmoving. Our senses still alive with the sweet tang of mango, bodies glistened with dried juice mingled with earth and sun transforming us into a new golden fruit.
By Vance McPherson
When making Pad Thai, like organizing a cocktail party, one must invite interesting guests who will engage each other in conversation. Let the shrimp arrive first to be inspired by the coconut oil. Red pepper slivers follow, aloof and contemplative. Snow peas might show up then, but do not allow them to imbibe for long. Let them dance with egg scrambling about their steps.
Noodles are the boring majority. Their rigid dry humour sets the wrong mood; let them pre-drink in hot water until they are loose-lipped enough to be pleasant.
When the sauce pours in, it is already deep in dialogue with itself, coriander seed calming egotistical yogurt, tamarind and garlic clamouring for attention, peanut butter singing to soothe them. Let in the sauce to meet the others briefly.
The latecomers are the most memorable. First, onions caramelized slowly over an hour arrive with beach-bum arrogance. Then rollick in the mushrooms, once sautéed and then slaked with a glass of wine, then a second, then a fifth.
As the party starts, bean sprouts and cilantro duck in all cold and wet, and freshly ground peanuts arrive unexpectedly. Invite the guests to proceed to your palette. There, the peas and sprouts compare crunchy notes and the pepper shares sweetness with the onions. The tamarind interrupts with a cynical tang, but the coriander placates it kindly. The shrimp shout to tell you what they learned from the coconut, and the cilantro struts in proud evangelical sobriety. The drunken mushrooms stumble into you, and the egg smiles unspeaking to remind you of its presence. The noodles simply are; the room would be empty without them. The peanut butter and yogurt serenade in harmony, the peanuts keep rhythm, and the whole party dances with every bite.
by Signe Langford
I gave up meat at 13 as an act of hero worship. George Harrison was vegetarian, so I would be too.
Dinner that night was Mother's boiled chicken - something I absolutely loved, but for George, I would forgo the tender meat and rich broth.
At 34 I came limping back - after much pleading from my doctor - heavy with guilt, weak and pasty from lack of iron and completely exhausted for want of B12.
"Will you eat some chicken?" She asked.
"No!" I would be sick. Horrified. Committing an evil for which there would be no forgiveness, only endless guilt.
"Will you at least have some broth?"
That I could do.
Walking home with my bird, I hatched a plan. I would toss it in the oven and once it was roasted I would simmer it into soup, passing the meat along to someone less righteous - the dog, perhaps. So with the bird in the oven I left to run errands.
Arriving home, I was greeted by an aroma so welcoming, so nourishing. In the kitchen - my winter mittens still on - I pulled the bird from the oven. It was golden and crispy-skinned and tiny rivulets of clear juice and fat sputtered forth here and there.
Half a bird later, in front of my own internal judge and jury, I explained how I was overcome with a cavewoman-like carnivorous hunger so strong, so undeniable, so primal, that, dropping one mitten to the counter I tore off a succulent, juicy leg. Oh, and it gave so easily. Bone slipping from joint, meat falling from bone, skin crunching between teeth. It was good. Every cell of my body reached up to meet it in my mouth.
Anyway, I didn't love George anymore. My heart now belonged to Neil Young: poet, Canadian icon, meat-eater.
By Jessica Jørgensen
She told me once that the best conversations were had over dishes. That was in my youth, before the time-saving dishwasher made its mundane appearance in homes across the western front, and Grandma's dishwashing skills became obsolete, the mechanical murmur quelling whatever conversations there might have been.
She has never been a great talker and more apt to criticism and pessimism when she does pipe up. She never hugged, never said she loved me, never caressed. And yet, I have early memories of actually enjoying her company in post-dinner togetherness, as we scraped plates and rinsed and sorted and scrubbed and dried. She was somehow different. She was in her element and happy and open. I think I even once vocally longed for her presence when relegated to doing dishes while she was away.
She was one of ten white-trash children and I realize now that dishes must have been a respite from the madness. She did dishes while her father lashed out with switches and belts and scarring words. She did dishes as older brothers disappeared to far-off lands to fight battles in places that were so far beyond her comprehension and that kitchen sink and those soapy suds.
She made meals and she did their requisite dishes - and had her meditations and her intimate conversations.
She simply rinses her plates now and puts them in the dishwasher. She lives off one-plate sandwiches and microwave dinners, with their disposable packaging. She never says much. We often sit in silence, with the television perennially tuned in to reruns of Gunsmoke or Bonanza or Maude and the dishwasher droning, while she crochets pot scrubber after pot scrubber out of every shade of tulle imaginable, dreaming, I imagine, of meals devoured, dirty pots, sudsy water and the dialogues that could vibrantly flow.
by Ayesha Husain
When I think of Karachi, I think of dinner at my grandparents and I think of the naan. Mealtimes were intricate and elaborate events, when fresh kachoomar, a finely chopped salad, and a cooling yogurt raita were always made fresh. But my favourite part was always to go the market with my mamoon (uncle) and pick up the naan.
My sister, Fatima, and I would hop into Mamoon's tiny white Suzuki 800 and putter to the market known as chotee nursery to pick up fresh naan for dinner. Under the fierce Karachi sun, we would approach the naan-walla, rolling out white balls of dough and slapping them inside the hot, clay tandoor.
Mamoon would always ask for twelve naans, though ten would likely suffice for dinner. It's because he knew why his greedy little nieces had chosen to join him, instead of staying back to set the table or warm the food. We were there for the naan.
Within moments, the naan-walla would expertly pull out twelve piping-hot naans, and wrap them face-up with the fluffy white side that would rise up in bubbles, in old newspapers. He would then tie them up in a plastic bag. Fatima and I would leap back to the car, excited for the kind of joy that only fresh naan could bring.
We would tear into the plastic bag and grab one, steaming naan. Fatima preferred the crispy brown side, but I always went for the soft spots. To sink my greedy little fingers into the bubble of warm naan was happiness. Mamoon would eat his with one hand while driving.
Returning home, we would rush to the dining room, giddy with our tiny adventure to the market and the secret naan that we had shared between us.
by Crystal Chan
I was hunter and gatherer in one. I snarled as I pushed the screwdriver in and down with the weight of my ten-year-old body, from 90 degree-legs to squatting so that my bum skimmed the rocks.
The hinge to my lever was the stubborn crack in an oyster shell. Four pushes was usually what it took. I spooned the meat out and down my throat and it was like not-quite-set jello, fish flavoured. The sand bucket was nearly full. My parents wouldn't notice. I allowed myself one after I got three in the bucket. Or if I hurt myself - another chipped nail, another raw fingerpad stung by salt water - I ate one in return.
Mom explained we left the shells so that baby oysters would find a home. Dad said he wasn't sure that's how it worked. We left them just in case, and the torn-apart shells dotted the sand and rocks that went all the way to the tide-receded ocean and the sky, everything grey and brown and green like the oyster shells. When you ate the oysters it was like you were eating the view.
Back at the motel everyone had so many oysters that we had to throw some away. We stewed the big ones in ginger and green onions. The smaller, more delicate ones lay raw on a pretty plate for the grown-ups. Everyone sucked greedily, shouting as their insides flooded with saltwater and zinc. "Remember the oysters I got us at the Hyatt?" said my uncle, cheeks red. My grandmother said we were lucky because catching edible seafood was now impossible in Hong Kong, so that, ironically, what started as a fishing village was now a place where fish were imported.
We went back next year, but there was a sign: "Taking of Shellfish Prohibited."
by Melissa Benner
It's the beginning of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebrations. Gathering in the tiny kitchen, we prepare for the kitchen god's arrival. Even the fanciest lady from the office squats on her haunches, black high heels on terracotta tiles, to chop the vegetables.
Greens lay in fresh bundles on the floor, looking like the morning glories from my garden back home. Wild-growing here, they are harvested beside the Bay, in the creamy stillness of mid-morning.
The greens, I can manage. Dice and tear, their flavour infuses my fingers. The nuoc cham is another story: every day, I douse springrolls in its salty, fishy sweetness, but preparing the sauce is a rite of passage. Nuoc cham, the family I'm boarding with explains, is as important as rice.
So when Huong, the maid, gestures for me to come and try, the other women stop to watch. Squatting awkwardly, I shred, cube, sprinkle, splash; mix it all together in a ridiculously small bowl.
In the living room, the men drink and play mah jong; their voices filling the now-quiet kitchen. The late afternoon sun reaches in through the back door, and brings the scent of sea with it.
"Con gái tôi." The mother of the house introduces me as we sit down to eat at the long teak table. My daughter. She has tears in her eyes from the whisky she's been sipping throughout the day.
Months later, at the airport, Huong presents me with two large glass jars of nuoc cham to take home to Canada. The jars are swaddled in Danang's daily newspaper. My family waves goodbye as I pass through the glass doors, and I smile back resolutely.
It's only at Customs, when they confiscate my fish sauce, that I cry long and hard about leaving.