Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Umbria, Truffles and the Dogs That Find Them
Guest Post by Chris Manganaro
When someone mentions Italy, we usually think of Rome or Tuscany or Venice. There are not many who would automatically think of Umbria. Most likely there are people that have never even heard of this spectacular region or even a cookbook with traditional dishes from Umbria.
One such cookbook that speaks of Umbrian cuisine also speaks volumes about Umbria itself. The Dog Who Ate the Truffle by Suzanne Carreiro is, as the cover says, “A memoir of stories and recipes from Umbria.” The author wrote the book about her experiences living in Umbria because of the uniqueness of the situation. Admittedly, even she had not originally planned to go to Umbria. It is lucky that she did; however, as she was able to write an intriguing and scrumptious little inside view of what we have all been missing. Umbria seems to be a real treasure.
Carreiro’s book ends up being a hybrid between memoir and cookbook as it can be used as one or the other yet functions best as both. It is hard to describe the book simply because it depends on how you look at it. If one sees it as a cookbook then it lacks organization yet offers stories and anecdotes which tie it together. Viewing it as a novel with recipes is also quite different as the reader is given stories and anecdotes that are linked to recipes in order to recreate the food that is mentioned. Interestingly enough, neither the stories nor recipes are organized in an obvious way, as the stories are not told chronologically, but fit the category of the chapter. These categories are based off people, places and events in order to highlight Umbria.
While this may make it sound as if the book is rather messy, in truth it is not at all. It is quite comprehensive. For instance, the table of contents lists the recipes rather than the stories themselves which makes it quite easy to use as a cookbook. Of course, there is also a trusty index in the back of the book that functions well for the novel side and the cookbook side. The construction is actually rather intuitive.
As far as Carreiro is concerned, she believes her book to be quite accessible. It really is. She does her best to simplify recipes when necessary and explains as much as she can in the recipes as well as in her stories. Whenever necessary, she even includes sections, boxed off in gray, to give more information about both cooking and what the recipes are based on.
While the recipes work well enough for this to be a staple in any kitchen, the stories do their best to become a staple in your library. Carreiro is able to describe the lush landscape of Umbria as well as the people and culture in colorful and endearing ways. The people she met, both acquaintances and close friends, become familiar to the reader to the point of feeling as if you know them. Each person mentioned is important to the author and book as a whole whether it is because of their recipes or companionship or both. You can feel the passage of time in each encounter which makes it feel as if you’ve spent a year there yourself. The inclusion of pictures throughout the book also helps with the reader’s immersion. The reader embraces everything about Umbria because of the warm passion of the author.
The fact that the book has no legitimate ending really fits. We get to experience Carriero’s life in Umbria, but her life goes on after and so does our own. The book makes us want to visit Umbria. It feels as if the story isn’t truly over until we are able to do that for ourselves. Of course, as a cookbook, the story is never over because food is forever.