The Umbrian Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi
Review copy provided by publisher
Allen & Unwin, March 2015
Synopsis- ‘The only sauce is olive oil – green as sun-struck jade – splashed in small lustrous puddles, through which one skates the flesh, the fat, the bones, the potatoes, the bread. In the last, best drops, one skates a finger.’
Luscious and evocative, The Umbrian Supper Club recounts the stories of a small group of Umbrian women who – sometimes with their men and, as often, without them – gather in an old stone house in the hills above Orvieto to cook, to sit down to a beautiful supper, to drink their beloved local wines. And to talk.
During the gathering, the preparation, the cooking and the eating, they recount the memories and experiences of their gastronomic lives and, as much, of their more personal histories. For a period of four years, it was Marlena de Blasi’s task, her pleasure, to cook for the Supper Club – to choose the elements for supper, to plan the menu and, with the help of one or another of the women in the club, to prepare the meal. What she learnt, what they cooked and ate and drank and how they talked is the fundamental stuff of this book.
Including a dozen recipes, drawn from the Supper Club, The Umbrian Supper Club is a delight to read and to taste.
Review- The Umbrian Supper Club is the fifth non-fiction novel based on the experiences of chef and writer, Marlena de Blasi and those who enrich her life within the Italian community she resides. I’ve read the four previous books and I honestly can’t get enough of de Blasi’s lyrical writing style, those scrumptious recipes and how she can fascinate the reader with the most basic of human needs; food. Her writing is visual and descriptive and her intuitive and inquisitive nature draws out the personalities and characters of those around her.
In the Umbrian Supper Club we are introduced to a Thursday evening ritual of gathering, eating and chatting with a group of Umbrians. De Blasi, originally from the U.S, is known as the outsider; it’s her Venetian husband Fernando and their friend Miranda that connects her to the traditionalists in the community. When Miranda announces that she’s too old to continue hosting (and cooking) the dinners, the group of companions are thrown into despair. It is Marlena who offers to continue the ritual with no intention of trying to meet the standards set by Miranda. She will bring her own interpretation to the evenings, assisted by a different Umbrian in the cooking process each week.
The story then pulls away from Marlena’s personal experience with the next four parts of the novel being devoted to one of the women in the Umbrian clan; Miranda, Ninuccia, Paolina and Gilda. Marlena touches on her gift for listening and prompting the life stories from these women who share their experiences over a period of time as though they really were telling the stories of their lives. These women were fascinating, but I must admit I enjoyed the first part of the novel more than the rest, where Marlena is more visible and the story is set in the present.
The Umbrian Supper Club isn’t my favourite de Blasi Italian memoir, but it was still a lovely and enticing read. The recipes included are mouth-watering!
“I really liked this”
The Umbrian Supper Club can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers