When I turned over the last page of Gabrielle Hunter’s debut memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, I was genuinely devastated. I had thought I had a few pages left. I wasn’t ready for it to end. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
This is not to say that the book does not end well or just as it should, rather I had grown accustomed to Hunter’s company and I knew that when the book was finished I was going to miss her. Yeah, she’s not perfect. In fact, she can even be sort of an asshole sometimes, but from page one of this gorgeously written book, filled with honesty and life, I knew that I would love her forever. And I do.
To me there should be another subtitle: motherhood lost and found for within motherhood and food and feeding are intertwined just as they are (or can be) in life. Even when my own mother was emotionally lost to me, she always fed me. In fact, the smells of my own kitchen now are what remind me the most about her. Just as Hamilton describes her relationship with food: all returning back to that first kitchen.
The book begins when Hamilton’s mother and father divorcing, and with Hamilton’s mother moving to Vermont leaving Hamilton rootless and motherless. From there Hamilton rebels, she screws up, until eventually learning to nurture and mother herself and put herself on a path to find her way. In the years before she opens Prune, she works as a caterer and enters an MFA program in Michigan, where she takes a second job working with a woman who will become her cooking mentor. In short, she finds a stand-in mother for a time. And like Hamilton’s own mother, the relationship circles around the cooking, the food.
Finally, it is through her sad marriage that Hamilton meets the uber mother stand in: the Italian matriarch. Though she and her Italian mother-in-law don’t speak the same language, they learn to communicate with each other through cooking. And in the end as Hamilton’s marriage more fully dissolves and as her mother-in-law’s life winds down, Hamilton and her mother-in-law very nearly become one–just as one does with a child in the womb–as finally Hamilton is passed the torch to be the next Mamma.
As for the food: Hamilton should not be mistaken for a foodie. In fact, she would like (paraphrasing) people to just eat and shut up about it. She’s equally ambivalent about celebrity chefdom, even though she sends herself farther down that path with the release of this book.
It’s a terrific book. Filled with humor and exotic locations and hard work and sad times. There’s also a lot of love.