Recipes are an interesting form of writing. At their butt end, they’re nothing more than a perfunctory list of ingredients and dot-point rules of construction. I don’t like them. I don’t want to be told what to do in my kitchen. At their best, however, recipes can be rich repositories of cultural history, family lore and wisdom. They can invite you into a household, a place, a sense of spirit and creativity. A good recipe tells a story of which you can then become a part. To be honest, a well-written recipe of this variety feeds my soul.
It’s the recipes I love most about Susan Muto’s book Table of Plenty: Good Food for Body and Spirit. While this is not technically a recipe book, it’s the retelling of her Italian-American mother’s recipes included in its pages that makes the book sing. Her description of her mother’s eggplant parmigiana is akin to poetry, and her brief retelling of the family recipe for meatloaf makes me want to gather the clan with haste: ‘Once you taste it … there is no room left for sadness.’
Of course, this book is about much more than recipes. Muto is a writer of breadth and has previously provided the theological groundwork for Christian formation with the classics of spiritual writing at the fore. In this book she calls us to pay attention to the most rudimentary aspects of our lives, more especially the routines of the table. It is indifference to food, she argues, and the daily rituals surrounding it that leads us to a dehumanized and disconnected place, one in which God’s presence is so much more challenging to know.
Table of Plenty is not a difficult read. It is brief, gentle in its argument and simple in its focus. That said, it is a book of considerable depth. If you allow it to, it will challenge your eating routines and might even add a recipe or two to the weekly repertoire.
I recommend it.
Susan Muto, Table of Plenty: Good Food for Body and Spirit, Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014.