Celebrating the completion of yet another memoir-writing class last June, the students and their teacher, Sara Bloom, gathered to enjoy a buffet and swap stories about why they chose the dishes they brought. The moment sparked the idea for a class project that was something different: a memoir-centered cookbook.
Together, 18 members of the “Who I Am” memoir workshop, offered twice a year through the Southold Town Recreation Department, racked their brains to come up with recipes that evoked the best memories: a spaghetti sauce made by a friend’s mother, an apple pie served every holiday season or a pea soup that strengthened a relationship, to name a few.
“We talk about foods being a good trigger for memory, because foods appeal to all the senses,” said Ms. Bloom, of Southold. “The aroma of food and the taste of food and, if you’re preparing food, the touch of it and what you hear sizzling in the pan. It’s just a wonderful memory trigger.”
Ms. Bloom, who has taught the memoir class for 11 years, is a former feature editor and special sections editor of The Scarsdale Inquirer — a weekly newspaper out of Westchester County. She’s currently president of Blazer Books Inc., her family’s publishing and public relations firm, and has self-published a collection of personal essays.
The class spent the recent spring and fall class sessions deciding which recipes they would share and then writing, critiquing and rewriting their contributions to the cookbook.
“I thought a memoir cookbook sounded like a fun idea,” said Judi Mogul, who wrote up a blond brownie recipe. “Another creative but slightly different way to exercise our memoir-writing skills.”
Ms. Bloom contributed a liver recipe, saying she chose it because it’s one of her strongest food memories. Ellen Williams of Orient said she chose hers — a former neighbor’s spaghetti sauce — for a similar reason.
“It was the nicest memory I had, ever, concerning food,” Ms. Williams said. “I never gave it a thought until Sara said ‘Let’s do recipes.’ I thought, ‘Recipes? Why are we doing recipes?’ Then I thought of it and I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how blessed I was to have that memory.’ ”
Don Wilson, who’s been in the class since 2006, had a plethora of memories to choose from because he spent years in the restaurant business. Instead, however, he went with a more personal recipe that recalled times with his mother and children.
Ms. Bloom explained that writing an effective memoir starts in the present with a trigger — something connected to one of the five senses — that evokes a memory that leads to sharing that story.
“Then you bring it forward, back to the present, and you then reflect on the experience,” she said. “And that to me is where the author is revealed. You know, why is this important.”
Rita Sepenoski of Peconic, who’s taken the class since its second session in 2004, described writing as “so important and uplifting” and said it has helped her remember trips she’s taken to more than 100 countries with her husband, John.
“I encourage people to write,” she said. “Put it down. It will stay on paper and you can hand it to other people … It’s so important to write. It’s a living legacy.”
In addition to contributing stories and recipes, members of the class created artwork for each section of the book. Ms. Bloom said she asked Lauren Krug Grant, Audrey Raebeck, Joel Reitman and Mr. Wilson to contribute art because they’d mentioned they were artists during past projects.
“It’s so amazing, the diversity of talent and experiences of this group,” said Ruth Eilenberg of Southold, who’s been in the class for about five years. “It’s so enlightening to learn about other people’s experiences.”
Seeing the finished project, which was bound and printed earlier this month at The Ink Spot in Southold, brought smiles and a sense of pride to everyone involved.
Ms. Bloom originally ordered 35 copies of the cookbook, which is being sold only to class members, but high demand forced her to return to The Ink Spot for more. As of last Thursday, she’d ordered around 100 copies, which people are proudly giving to family and friends.
“I was thrilled, are you kidding?” Ms. Bloom said. “I thought it looked terrific. I was happy for all the people in the class to have that written record and they want to give it as gifts and I think it’ll make a really nice gift.”
This is the first time some members of the class, which is open to all ages but comprises mostly seniors, have seen their memoirs published. After seeing the finished cookbook, many expressed a desire to publish books of essays in the future. Others, like Mr. Reitman, have seen their names in print before.
“It was very, very nice,” he said of the completed book, to which he contributed an apple pie recipe and story. “I enjoyed seeing it. I published a book of my own stories last year, but [the cookbook] was the icing on the cake, or frosting on the pie, if you will.”
CORRECTION: Ruth Eilenberg’s name was originally misspelled in this article, including the Dec. 17 print version.