Tasting Home

Coming of Age in the Kitchen

Non-Fiction - Memoir
328 Pages
Reviewed on 02/27/2013
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Author Biography

Judith Newton is Professor Emerita in Women and Gender Studies at U.C. Davis where she directed the Women and Gender Studies program and the Consortium for Women and Research.

Her memoir, Tasting Home, is a Finalist in the Reader's Favorite International Book Awards, the winner of an Independent Publisher Award and of an Honorable Mention in the Hollywood Book Festival. In 2011 and 2012 six chapters of her memoir won prizes in contests sponsored by Women's Memoir.

Follow her at http://tasting-home.com, http://pinterest.com/judithnewton/boards/, Twitter @jlnewton70; and https://www.facebook.com/TastingHomeComingOfAgeInTheKitchen?ref=hl.

She is the author and co-editor of five works of nonfiction on nineteenth-century British women writers, feminist criticism, women's history, and men's movements. Four of these works were reprinted by Routledge and the University of Michigan Press in the fall of 2012.

Her most current work has appeared in The Huffington Post ("A Valentine for My Gay Ex-Husband" "February 8, 2013); The Redwood Coast Review (Winter 2012), and poetalk (Summer, 2011).

She is currently at work on a feminist mystery and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California where she tends her garden and cooks for family and friends.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite

"Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen" was written by author, Judith Newton. I absolutely love this book. Each chapter of this delightful book combines a story from the author's life with a corresponding recipe. This book is divided into five sections, each representing a different era. The chapter titled The Queen of Pies concerns the author’s mother and the fact that she rarely measured anything. She complimented the tale with a recipe for creating her flaky pie crust. Judith Newton’s memories come to life on the pages in delicious detail. The recipe for Shortbread Cookies was one I could not resist trying. The recipe for Cream Scones is next on my list.

Like the author’s mother I rarely measure ingredients. I love the author’s unique way of sharing her memories, and matching them to her recipes was a brilliant idea. While I enjoyed reading the stories I loved the recipes even more. An index is included in the back of the book and a reference to the origin of the recipes. "Tasting Home" is a clever and fun way to try some new delicious recipes, I highly recommend it.

Judith Newton

Review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Judith Newton, Professor Emerita in Women and Gender Studies at U.C. Davis, has written an intriguing memoir combining her love of life, her zest for food and her talent for cooking.

The book is arranged in an unusual and intriguing way: each chapter details a chronological phase of Newton's life, followed by a recipe. Newton grew up in challenging times, when feminism, civil rights, gay rights and personal freedom were all on the table but not yet fully savored. On her personal plate was a spicy mix: a life-long love affair with delicious food, a many years' love affair with a bisexual man, a yearning for motherhood despite relationship chaos, and finally, a return to nurse her aged mother and spend time in her parents' youthful haunts.

The writing is emotive. We feel Newton's pain as she recalls her childhood traumas with cold, self-involved parents and her battles with fat ("I took refuge in eating, which at our house was easy to do, for the cookie jar in our kitchen was always full") ending when she goes to college and starts a desperation diet of stale bread rolls and the occasional apple. Then there is the exhilaration as she realizes she has become an adult when she serves her first gourmet dinner to friends, the intense sorrow and frustration of choosing to love a man who could never totally be hers, and the intense sorrow she endures when he is gone.
We see Newton casting about for fulfillment - professionally, in an era when women's rights and gifts were not yet given parity; personally, when trying so hard to maintain a sensual relationship with the man she adores causes both of them to grow tired and ill; psychologically, as she seeks therapy and deals with her deep-rooted sense of inadequacy; genetically, as she longs for a child but doesn't have the right man to give her one; and physically, as she refines her skills as a cook, entertainer, teacher, leader, communard and lover.
The recipes are unconventional and sometimes surprising -- ranging from Peanut Butter Fudge to Hot Toddy to Petis Pois Frais À La Française - leaving no doubt as to Newton's abilities in the kitchen, as she details not just what to do but how to do it, how it feels to cook. This intelligent cuisine is what we would expect of this woman for all seasons and all seasonings: she has been "born again" as a Christian and later as a feminist; she operates her life through the spirits of Coyote and Frida Kalo; and she fixes supper, it seems, almost every night. Whether she is discovering hippie health foods, testing the rich cuisine of Italy and France, or entertaining grandly at home in the Southwest a la Martha Stewart, Newton is talking the talk and walking the walk, and we are trailing along behind her, happily picking up the crumbs.

Judith Newton

Judith Newton grabbed me on the first page of Tasting Home. She laments the need to give up some of her treasured cookbooks as she moves into a new home. I joined in the mourning, for during my own recent move I did give away many of my own treasures, and now I repent and regret the decision just about every time that I walk by my kitchen bookcase. Fortunately, Newton realized that she must keep the books.

Good for her! For a couple of reasons: she still has those wonderful books and the memories they hold, and she opens up her shelves to us as she shares her turbulent life in this intriguing memoir. Food is home, and most times, home is in the kitchen. "I realized that cookbooks were more to me than a reflection of my past," she writes.

They are indeed, and she uses them, a variety of them, to tell her story. Tasting Home offers a bonus--many of the recipes come directly from familiar books. Some I own (or have owned), like Julia Child and the Moosewood books. Others are totally new-to-me books with recipes that make me start thinking about dinner tonight while I read in the morning.

"A girl who can sew like you, why would you want to go to college?" Newton's aunt's question seemed a natural one in her society of California working folks. Why would she? Fortunately her father and a wise school counselor prevailed. She left her boyfriend and headed for Stanford and an undreamed-of life. She never left school; she simply changed sides of the desk as she built her career in academia. Don't think an ivy-covered, quiet life. While growing and maintaining her career, Newton led a fascinating life marked by love, leaving, and loving again, and yet again. Sometimes turbulent, often sad (especially the saga of Dick, her bisexual first husband--the book is dedicated to his memory), there was always time for the kitchen, the cooking, and the solace of food.
Review by Trilla Pando
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women

As a dedicated cook and cookbook reader and as a contemporary of the author, I found this book a fascinating tour of my times. And often it could have been a tour of my kitchen. I recommend it. I feel better now when I walk by that kitchen bookcase, since Tasting Home has joined the survivors. I've made the peanut butter fudge. Okay, I've made it twice. Date butter is up next. Newton and I are going to get much better acquainted.

Judith Newton

Advance praise by Jeanette Ferrary, author of Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer and Between Friends: M.F.K. Fisher and Me

". . . in this elegantly written work Newton manages to weave in the entire course of the culture, a reflection of her skills as an historian and an accomplished writer as well as a born storyteller."

Judith Newton

Advance Praise by Janet A. Flammang, author of The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society

"In this captivating memoir, Newton draws the reader into a world where major events
are brought to life with poignant food memories. . . . Each vignette is pitch-perfect, lively, and engaging, striking a delicate balance between self-disclosure and universal themes of acceptance, love, community-building, and political engagement."

Judith Newton

Advance praise by Belinda Robnett, author of How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights.

"Tasting Home is more than a food memoir. Influenced by the civil rights struggle, the women's movement, and the AIDS epidemic, it is an odyssey of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Cooking serves as a powerful metaphor for the difficulties and pleasures of relations among mothers and daughters; husbands and wives; gays and heterosexuals; and racial-ethnic groups. Tasting Home, like a grand meal, is a resounding success."

Judith Newton

Review by Independent Publisher

This is a baby-boomer's dream: a book full of anecdotes about coming of age in during the sexual revolution of the sixties -- with recipes! So many of us old hippies have become "foodies," putting the same energy we used to put into our sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll into our dinner, wine 'n' dessert, and this book is a mirror in which many will recognize themselves.

Judith Newton spent her life struggling to overcome a traumatic childhood incident that occurred in her mother's kitchen, and she never felt acceptance in that place where her mother created magical pies, fudge and other sweet concoctions. Ironically, it was those very sweets and fatty foods Judith used to soothe the pain and compound the misery by becoming overweight. She found solace in school, was a high-acheiving student, and finally escaped her unhappy home by leaving for college. It was the first step toward acheiving peace of mind and culinary expertise in her own kitchens and travels around the U.S. and abroad.

From winning the battle against childhood obesity to finding her way into sexuality and motherhood, Judith's evolution as a woman and academian is the quintessential American Girl saga, and the cities and universities of Stanford, Berkeley, Penn, and U.C. Davis play integral roles. The cookbooks she uses to help create a sense of home and family are also featured players: The Art of French Cooking; Time-Life's The Cooking of Italy; Moosewood Cookbook; Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe; and even Martha Stewart's Entertaining -- are all stepping stones on her pathway to becoming a fufilled woman and the first director of a university Women Studies program in the U.S. "Cooking, I realized, could become a thoughtful political practice, a means of instilling a common cause."

Like the butter in one of her mother's pies, the book is dotted with recipes, some sweet and simple, others dramatic and complicated -- this is a woman who takes her cooking very seriously -- and the dishes she describes are a vital part of the storytelling. Here's another quote:

Eating what is cooked and served with goodwill evokes one of our first experiences of being fed by another being. That is one reason that cooking and eating with others can heal the adult self, one reason that it can so easily make us feel connected to another person, a family, a culture, a political community.

Yes, she takes her politics seriously, too. Her alter ego is Frida Kahlo, the emotive Mexican artist and communist known for creating rich dishes and lavish table settings. The final chapter describes Judith and her seventeen year-old daughter together in the kitchen, preparing a huge, Kahlo-inspired dinner party, "cooking in the service of politics and love." The story finally comes full circle, with mother and daughter sharing the joy of cooking the way Judith and her own mother were never able to do.

This is an ingeniously conceived, tightly written, and beautifully packaged memoir, a vibrant portrait of the American fememine cultural experience from the 1950s forward.