Monday, September 28, 2015

Back in the Day Gourmet

The first magazine I subscribed to was Gourmet.  Like so many, I was dazzled by the combination of education and inspiration to be found in Gourmet's pages.  It was a window into an elegant and beautiful world.  The abrupt ending of Gourmet has been attributed to many things: the crumbling economy, therefore the (then) plummet of the luxury market, and the death of print publication.  I don't think anyone will confirm or deny exactly what happened that caused Gourmet to be axed, and wonder if there is a concrete reason at all. 

I wonder if it was felt Gourmet was too out of touch for our modern climate.  Gourmet was nonchalant about including a $30 mail-order only ingredient in their recipes.  Though I wouldn't usually end up ordering said ingredient, I was happy to know about it and where to find it.  But in that time, especially, there was such a backlash against luxury and wealth.  In three short years (2006-2009), fashion went from logo head to toe to rustic and unassuming
Her John Deere must have been in the shop 

My theory is that Instagram saved the luxury market.  Or at least turbocharged its revival.  Instagram is a rabbit hole, down which any object of desire can be found on beautiful display.  As Instagram began bulking up in 2010, those banished luxury items were to be seen in the background.  Not even mentioned, but there.  Suggesting while flash may be gauche, wealth certainly is good.  Tactics like taking a photograph of your free-trade hand woven artisinal free range organic cruelty free thrifted buy one donate one bracelet with the top quadrant of your BMW logo peeking through took hold, and with that, luxury was back.  I am acutely aware of those douchebag moves, because I was a pioneer of the movement. 
Before I did society a favor and banned myself from social media, my favorite person to follow on Twitter was Ruth Reichl, influential editor of Gourmet from 1999 to its end in 2009.  Her tweets were all in the moment.  The way the steam rose from her coffee, the zing in the air when you squeeze a grapefruit, or the way snow swirled in the breeze.  Microscopic, meditative moments.  Things Gourmet wasn't really about.  Ruth Reichl seems particularly uninterested in the decadence of luxury nowadays.  I enjoyed reading this article about her, and watching the accompanying video. She has a new book coming out about the recovery from the shock following the end of Gourmet.  I can't help but think the resurrection of the luxury market has created a nostalgia for Gourmet.  Making it the perfect time to release this book.  I hope it does well for her.  
Interestingly, Gourmet has been at the front of my mind for a few months.  In July, I was sifting through one of my favorite vintage/antique stores.  A shelf of cookbooks caught my eye.  I never pay much attention to stacks of old books; as the last thing I need are more books.  On this day, I had time to kill before the farmers' market started.  So I tilted my head and read the titles lining the shelves.  I saw Best of Gourmet 1996 and was hit with a wave of memory.  I remembered wanting those books as they were released.  Likely searching for a bit of that old feeling I'd get reading Gourmet monthly, I bought it.  At $2.50, why not? Plus it made the antique store owner a little less annoyed at my habit of cutting through her store on my way to the farmers' market. 

How can one keep track? The Sicily trips run together.

Great idea! I'll have the staff ready the bedrooms.

I'll admit this is dated, but I love it nonetheless

For a short time in the 1980s,
whole squash was considered a finger food

I don't expect to see this again

pom poms have certainly fallen out of favor

Though most of the features are timeless

It was a pleasure seeing that now unpopular style of grand photography, meticulous plating, and lavish matching sets of china, crystal, and silver.  I realized just how influential Gourmet had been for me.  Well, you can imagine what happened next.  I wonder how many editions of Best of there are...
I've always been a collector.  Unlike many collectors who enjoy a slow and steady pace of collecting, I like to skip right to collected.  I'd like to thank eBay and OCD.  At around $2-4 each with free shipping, this collection wasn't a budget buster.  Plus, it's recycling...right? So over the past many weeks, volume by volume have been showing up in my mailbox (at work, my USPS carrier at home is horrible).  I still have a few to source.  Some of them arrive kind of grimy, so they all get a quick cleaning treatment.  A little hand sanitizer on a paper towel, rub down the dust jacket, and then the covers.  I'm sure there's something awful about this method, but I feel it works well.  If you buy old books, how do you clean them? 
I love seeing the subtle changes year to year in the books.  It's a great way to assess what holds up and what doesn't. 

Before this, I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to source expensive books on eBay.  It's a way to pick up cookbooks and expensive lifestyle/design books at deep discount.  With the upcoming holidays, keep this in mind.  A stack of lovely books is a great gift, for yourself or others. 

A few eBay sellers I've bought from to get you started: 1 , 2 ,  3