As I come to the finish line of this next cookbook project on classic French sauces, it’s nice to take the time to reflect on the process. Thank you so much To Jane Kelly at www.eatyourbooks.com for giving me the opportunity!
August 31, 2012 by Susie
For this month’s author profile, we have some lovely insights into the writing and cooking life of Holly Herrick, author most recently of Tart Love. In her piece you’ll find surprising answers to questions like “What’s the hardest part of writing a cookbook?” and “How do you become a food writer?” as well as a charming personal anecdote about Julia Child.
Just underway with researching and writing my 5th and 6th cookbooks, I’ve learned a lot about this unique process over the years. My favorite part is always, at least initially, the recipe testing and development. The entire time I’m doing that, I’m scripting the writing in my head. Once I’m underway with this, I have a lot of fun with the actual writing, but I’ll never love actually writing recipes. It’s difficult work because it is so detailed and the author has to always keep the cooking skills and kitchens of her readers in mind. Consistency is a big part of it, and clarity, too. It’s a real balancing act of offering just enough details and hand-holding, without overwhelming.
The first two cookbooks I’ve ever owned were wedding gifts back in 1990, and they still remain near and dear to my heart, and kitchen. These are The Way to Cook by Julia Child and New Basics. Of the two, the former is by far my favorite and definitely the one I would take with me to a deserted island. My copy is tattered and torn and full of notes, and I love the music of Julia’s style, language and knowledge ringing through every single page. A lot of Julia is in Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet as she is literally and figuratively the reason I went to Le Cordon Bleu. As a child, I was captivated by her television show and eventually met her at a Food and Wine Festival in the late 1980’s. I asked her the best way to get qualified for food writing and her response, in true, to-the-point-fashion, was: “Can you get to Le Cordon Bleu?” Thanks to her, and a lot of other people, I did and in France, I not only fell in love with cooking and France, I also developed a passion for baking tarts, particularly savory tarts, which were a relatively new concept to me at the time. While I love all the recipes I developed for Tart Love, I have two favorites, or what I would consider signature recipes. The Panna Cotta Tart with Roasted Fresh Figs in Balsamic Honey Sauce, is elegant, beautiful and loaded with lovely flavor and texture contrasts. The inspiration? A beautiful bin of fresh figs at the farmers’ market here in Charleston, SC. I’ll never tire of the Vidalia Onion Tart with Bacon, Honey and Fresh Thyme which combines some of my favorite flavors and reminds me of my friend Simone, who is from Alsace, France, and inspired this recipe. Happy cooking, friends!
How sweet that the fabulous Florence Country Library makes a poster of all their visiting authors for their annual Book ‘n Boil Event. Here is yours truly with a Charleston sunset and water-side backdrop. I had such a wonderful time at this event last week. Thank you so much, Florence!
As I’m about to embark on my fifth cookbook writing experience, I find myself reflecting on my past book babies and the journeys each one afforded. Especially now, as I’ve reached the promotion/tour/signing phase of just released Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011), the process is very much on my mind.
There are three very distinct phases in the whole cookbook (or really any book) writing experience. First, there is the gestational period. The time when the idea/concept for the book comes to life and your publisher gives you the green light to run with it via a signed contract. Then, there is the writing part. For a cookbook, this means creating the recipes and sitting down and writing the book. I love this part of the journey. Being in my kitchen, cooking and testing with my dog Tann Mann is my absolute favorite way to spend a day, and I never tire of it. The writing, especially of recipes, is more of a discipline and very much a solitary job. It’s still one I love, however, especially on the rainy, dark grey days of winter. After extensive editing, design and the printing process, the book shows up on your doorstep one day and the needles start raising the hairs on your forearms and the back of your neck just as you open the very first page for the very first time and inhale the heady aroma of fresh ink. It’s one of the most joyful moments I’ve ever experienced. I don’t have children, so I liken my books to what it must be to hold one’s infant for the very first time. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get, so I revel in it. I rushed Tart Love across the street to show my neighbor Lucie the day it arrived. I probably appeared to be delirious or something approaching that, but she’s witnessed the scene before and, I think, understands by now.
I’ve heard mothers talk about how some pregnancies and children were/are more pleasant than others. As much as I love all my book babies, Tart Love was an especially joyful book to write. Coming up with recipe ideas/combinations kept my mind running with a steady stream of creative energy and my house constantly smelled like butter and deliciousness. Also, pairing with Helene Dujardin, who did such a magnificent and seamless job with the photography and styling, made my work dreamily easy and even more inspired. Finally, my editor, Madge Baird and the production/design team at Gibbs Smith really saw the “vision” of the book and carried it out beautifully throughout the pages.
So, since its release last week, the time has come to put Tart Love and me on the road. This is the third and final part of the book journey. And, while it can be exhausting, it is quite possibly the most rewarding. I think that’s because as an author, I have the opportunity to “meet” my readers, hear their stories, see their faces, learn about their lives, and see their smiles as they flip through the pages of their new book.
My fabulous publicist Stephanie Burt of Beehive PR and myself spent much of last week together organizing and executing myriad events/signings for Tart Love. Looking back on the week, it seems like a whirlwind, but it was well worth it.
We kicked things off with a signing in my private garden during The Preservation Society of Charleston’s annual garden tour fund-raiser. It was a magnificent day. Early fall in Charleston was putting on her loveliest kind of show; low humidity, brilliant clear skies, and crisp temperatures. The guests came in droves! I met people from Texas, California, Oregon, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and even England. All were so happy to be
in Charleston. They talked about the fabulous restaurants they’d visited, wanted to know my favorites and recommendations, and generally were having a grand time. I made many friends that day and sold about 50 books, which is a good thing, especially since profits went straight to The Preservation Society, which does so much for beautiful Charleston. Then, it was time to get my little pet Tann Mann out of his crate, have a glass of wine and relax for the following day.
This day began early with an on-air interview with Mike Todd of The Bridge, 105.5 FM here in Charleston. Tann Mann was even invited into the studio for this fun, chatty adventure. Afterward, we were off to Costco to get stocked for the release party which was scheduled to take place at my house on the following day. Armed with roses, Riondo Prosecco, tableware and plenty of elbow grease, we got everything in order for the next day. Sleep came easily.
Day 3 – The Book Release Party
Stephanie and I had decided to go with a “Biscuits and Bubbles” Theme. Callie’s Biscuits delivered the flaky, delicious, buttermilk biscuits and several pounds of their incredible pimento cheese in the morning. I spent the rest of the day baking biscuits and setting up the house. Kristen from Blue Bicycle Books showed up about an hour before the guests to arrange all of the books in the kitchen (the same one where the tarts in the book were created), and then the party flowed, and flowed, and flowed. I spent most of the time like Little Miss Muffet on my little stool tuffet signing my books away, so didn’t really have an opportunity to mingle. But, small matter! It was truly heart-warming to see faces from dear friends from so many “pools” of my acquaintances – tennis, work, neighbors, and organizations, including a big presence from Slow Food. Darling Helene Dujardin jumped in to sign books as well, which made things extra special.
Day 4 – Rest
Hey, even God takes a day off every week.
Day 5 – Heirloom Book Company Book Signing and Thursday Tart Tasting
Co-conceived with the creative power-houses at this charming cookbook boutique store and Bull Street Gourmet & Market across King Street, the idea here was for Bull Street to make and sell tarts from Tart Love, and for me to sign and sell them. It worked wonderfully. The tarts were beautifully prepared and presented and very popular with the guests.
Just being in this wonderful space is a happy experience, but, again, signing books for such kind and enthusiastic Tart Love fans (like those pictured below) was the topper. I went to sleep very tired, but with a very large smile on my face and in my heart.
Day 5 – Dishing it Up at Lambert Gray Gallery
This was an evening event at this lovely gallery. On the menu, beautiful food art by local and international artists, wine, and hors d’ouevres, including some left-over biscuits and cheese. Guests streamed in from the art walk happening on Broad Street outside and many wanted copies of Tart Love, as well as signed copies of my older book babies, Charleston Chef’s Table and Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Another wonderful event, but, by now, this author momma was feeling the fatigue. By 8:30, p.m. I was in bed, nursing sweet dreams of a wonderful week.
Thank you to all of you who participated and helped share the “love”….It means so much to me.
Next stop, Charlotte!
The early reviews of Tart Love are so sweet. This link will bring you to reporter Ann Thrash’s charming article in yesterday’s Charleston Currents. Thank you, Ann and Charleston Currents!
Good press from a new local publication’s blog about Tart Love. The Local Palate’s first edition hits the streets October 1st.