It should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of food memoirs. Personal journey and growth paired with a love for food and cooking?! I’m there.
That’s why I picked up From Scratch, a Reese Witherspoon book club pick written by actress Tembi Locke. After Locke loses her husband Saro, an Italian chef, she spends her summers as a new widow in the Sicilian countryside with their daughter Zoela and her late husband’s family. There, she discovers the healing power of family and food.
It was difficult to begin this book without high expectations. I mean, it’s a Reese Witherspoon book club pick about Italian food after all. I’ve been wanting to read Locke’s memoirs for years and was glad to finally pick it up. However, this book did not live up these expectations.
The first 50 pages or so, I was admittedly enamoured by Locke’s retelling of the beginnings of her love story with Saro. This is where Locke’s talent as a writer shines the most, her lyrical prose lending itself perfectly to romance.
After their initial meet cute (involving a bicycle), we dive straight into Saro’s death, which is where the problems in this memoir begin. There is no break from the melancholic tone throughout the rest of the book. Of course, a memoir about widowhood and grief is bound to be a tearjerker. Still, reading this without reprieve became exhausting. Chapters would have benefited from more scenes of the joyful moments with Saro, his family, and Locke’s daughter Zoela.
Despite the promises of food this book makes, it doesn’t quite deliver. Is food a presence in this book? Certainly. Nonetheless, the food is merely mentioned. “We ate this, we cooked this.” It is not used as a tool to explore the grieving and healing processes and it does not reveal anything new about Locke or her world.
That being said, reading about eating freshly made pasta in Italy is never not enjoyable, even if it could have been used more effectively.
Locke provides a handful of family recipes in the back of the book so you can recreate your own Sicilian summer meals. Below is the recipe for the honey vinaigrette dressing used in “Insalata di Rucola con Pomodori e Ricotta Salata,” or “Arugula Salad with Tomatoes and Ricotta Salata,” a recipe Saro intended as an antipasto in a menu he created entitled “Summer Dinner on a Sicilian Terrace.”
HONEY VINAIGRETTE DRESSING
From Tembi Locke’s From Scratch, pairs well with tomatoes, red onions, and ricotta salata on a bed of arugula.
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey (or more, if you prefer things on the sweeter side like me…)
- Pinch of salt
- Whisk ingredients together.
- Serve with salad.