Through the Kitchen Window:
Women Writers Explore the Intimate Meaning of Food and Cooking

by Arlene Voski Avakian


Beacon Press, 1997. ISBN 0807065099.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 01/08/2001

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Memoir

For the two weeks my grandchildren join their dad at our house every summer, we celebrate: Thanksgiving dinner one evening, an Easter Egg hunt early on a cool morning, and always a Father's Day picnic with fried chicken and potato salad. It's the only time all year we're together, and family memories are more important than the calendar. Food is an important and essential part of the memories. Writing in Through the Kitchen Window, Helen Barolini sees the kitchen as "an embassy of cultural tradition." We are ambassadors of our heritage.

In this fine book, Arlene Voski Avakian presents a collection of American women's essays, poems, and recipes considering the importance of food, cooking, and kitchens in women's lives. These glimpses through kitchen windows provide diverse views: Julie Dash's admonition never to stir Geechee red rice after it comes to a boil appears together with Joan Ormondroyd's wonderful memories of her Russian-Jewish grandmother's beet borsht.

These kitchen memories come sweet and sour. Letty Cottin Pogrebin takes pleasure in holding a cookbook with her mother's handwritten recipes. Maya Angelou recounts with pride how her mother used her kitchen and cooking skills to open new doors for her family. But Marge Piercy sees a burnt meal as "not incompetence, but war," and Helen Barolini says, "growing up I had deliberately stayed as far awaya from my mother's kitchen as I could."

There is great value in Through the Kitchen Window, not only in the glances into other lives and the feeling of togetherness (and sometimes separateness) that the stories evoke, but also in the way they call back memories of our own lives. I started a list of food and kitchen memories while reading the first essay; and by the time I laid the book down, the list was pushing seventy-five entries. Now it lies on my counter, still growing with memories as varied as the tales in this book. A gallery of good taste indeed!

Read this book with your notebook in your hand and a napkin tucked under your chin. And stir up the ginger crinkles on page 63, and be a little girl again.

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