"There's been an explosion in the world of food media," says Peggy Wolff. Wolff, the editor of Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food (U. Nebraska Press) will speak at the next meeting of CHEW (Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin).
"Print, newsletters, the Edible magazines that are all over the country, newspaper food sections, online chat, websites, blogs, radio shows, and of course, television. All of this has come about recently and taken off like a barn fire," Wolff says. She also points to what she identifies as a new kind of food media: "If I had to give this kind of event a name, I'd call it 'pop-up storytelling.'" Over drinks and appetizers in closed-for-Monday-night Chicago restaurant, a crowd of about 60 listened to a Moth-style open mic centered on food narratives. After that event, Wolff came to the conclusion that "the way we tell food stories has completely changed."
Another eye-opener for Wolff has been visits to cookbook author and former New York Times columnist Molly O'Neill's yearly LongHouse Food Revival in upstate New York, that brings together 100-some participants from all over the world of food writing (and ancillary areas like photography, recipe creation and so forth). "It is the most unbelievable event," raves Wolff. "I felt like Molly had sort of tilted all the 48 states toward the East Coast and all the loose foodies ended up on this farm." Wolff hopes to share some of the enthusiasm she's witnessed at the CHEW meeting.
Wolff's own just-published book is a collection of essays about writers' food memories and experiences, specifically of the Midwest.
A journalist who had published articles about food in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications, she was inspired by the multi-volumn collection Cornbread Nation, published by the Southern Foodways Alliance. But those essays were all reprints.
"I wanted original stories, never-before-seen writing, from the best storytellers I could find," says the Chicago-based Wolff. Writers had to be born in the Midwest or live here now -- "They had to be grounded here," Wolff says. One in three of the writers she asked agreed to participate in the project. She also includes an essay of her own about the Door County fish boil, a must-witness tradition she calls "pretty entertaining." You can't go to Door without getting a fish boil, and you can't go to Racine witout eating kringle, vows Wolff.
Other contributors in the stellar lineup include Elizabeth Berg, on meatloaf; Stuart Dybek, on a field trip to the stockyards; Michael Stern on Italian beef sandwiches; Jackie Mitchard on sweet corn; Molly O'Neill on food in Columbus, Ohio; Bonnie Jo Campbell on fudge and Robert Olmstead on Cincinnati five-way chili.
Less well-known names, like Jules Van Dyck-Dobos ( who writes of running his hot dog cart, Le Dog, in Ann Arbor) contribute memorable chapters.
And there are recipes.
Wolff will speak at CHEW at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St.