The smell of mac and cheese, slow barbecued grills, and the special simmering greens you will only eat if “she” made them; conjure up family memories, and well stomach growls too. Grandma’s kitchen is normally everyone’s first favorite restaurant and summer cookouts and get-togethers mean that during this season Grandma’s kitchen is open to the neighborhood too. But while the food is usually shared by many, family recipes are just that, for family only. June is National Soul Food month and a great time to connect with the best cooks in town (of course mom, aunts and grandmas) to make sure their legacy of delectable eats remain.
The evolution of soul food, now an American staple, has a compelling story on its own beginning with the 14th century slave trade and evolving in the Civil War years where it earned the title “soul food.” Yes soul food has a communal story. But what soul-stirring stories does food tell in your own family? Summer is synonymous with family reunions and celebrations. With all the kin together, get the family traditions and secrets down. How did your great granny’s recipes come to be and what adjustments have been made since? Does food have an underlying theme in your family?
Getting your family’s soul food story bounded may be the start of a best-selling food memoir. As you already have your angle (food!), get on paper the life stories it tells within your family. Here’s how to get started:
Open your Senses: As you may have heard, the devil is in the details; especially with food stories. Write down smells, sight, tastes and all; readers should be able to imagine the dinner table just as you experienced it. But also, what emotions are tied to these meals? Can you tell your coming-of-age story based on certain foods you experienced growing up?
Open up for Questions & Inspiration: Go to the best and oldest cook is your family, since they’ll be the main chefs anyway and while in the kitchen or at the grill, ask away. Get your best interview tactics going and while at the next cookout learn the history of your family’s food staples. Be sure to let the children in on these talks or even make a game of it. Maybe your next charades game ends with that person telling their family most desired meal.
Get Online: Starting a food blog is a great way to log your experiences and stories. As well as gain a new audience. Food blogs have risen in popularity and many have turned into best-sellers. Don’t forget to share pictures. Check out Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table—a book that began with Molly’s food blog.
More food memoirs to draw inspiration from:
• Tender At the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet Magazine.
• Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West
• The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher.
Regina Brooks is co-author of You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your Memoir. She is also the founder of Serendipity Literary Agency. Follow her at @serendipitylit