The Recipe Box
Reading The Recipe Box was like drinking a large, thick milkshake that tasted of nothing but sugar. This book might charitably be described as sweet, perhaps even wholesome, but I found it a cloying one-note read. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, but if so, it’s not one I wish to acquire any time soon.
The heroine is pastry chef Sam Nelson, who works for the demanding and narcissistic star of a reality TV show. When she bakes a pie that’s better than anything her boss comes up with, he fires her. At loose ends, Sam leaves New York and retreats to her family’s farm in Michigan, where her relatives have gathered to celebrate her grandmother’s seventy-fifth birthday.
Although her mother and grandmother welcome her with open arms and several more kinds of pie, Sam isn’t entirely sure that she wants to continue the time-honored tradition of working on the farm. So her mother and grandmother tell her of their history, and of how the women of the family ran the farm and baked their way through the Great Depression.
As a result, there are lots of flashbacks in the story, perhaps to disguise the fact that nothing much was happening in the present. Sam bakes a lot. Then a man she left behind in New York visits her and they flirt in between eating fruit desserts. I usually enjoy foodie stories, but every dish in this one sounded so sweet that my teeth hurt.
The theme of this story is writ large, and Sam’s grandmother sums it up with:
“Your great-great-grandmother and grandfather did the same thing, as did your great-grandma and grandpa.”
Each generation is identical to the one that came before it, conforming to a mold where women grow fruit, bake desserts, and train their daughters to do the same thing. In the end, Sam gets another, better job offer in New York, but she’s realized by then that she belongs on the farm, which I predicted long before reaching that point in the story. And the epilogue is set in 2068, in an unchanged world where Sam’s granddaughter is a carbon copy of herself – farm-oriented, fruit-fixated, and blissfully happy with her family.
Some readers will enjoy this. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them. The ‘big city bad, small town good’ trope doesn’t work for me, and the farm was a Stepford-esque place where even the migrant workers tell Sam that “life is beautiful and family is everything”. But this is far from the only inspirational saying in the book:
“My dad says, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’”
“That’s a Chinese proverb,” Willo said admiringly.
Each time someone makes a profound statement like this, their audience marvels at their homespun Hallmark wisdom.
As for the romance, it barely even registered, because there was no real conflict between Sam and her love interest. He’s an even flatter character than she is. When she thinks of his looks, she decides that “His body might be better than Zac Efron’s… And his dimples are bigger than Mario Lopez’s”.But hey, don’t stop there. Does he have better hair than Kit Harrington, sexier eyes than Jake Gyllenhaal, and more money than Johnny Depp?
The descriptions of rural Michigan’s landscape and weather are far better written, but they couldn’t make up for the flaws in The Recipe Box. If you love baking and want to try out new recipes, this book might be of some use, but I can’t recommend it otherwise.