Home Blog Would you like some poached eel with your tarragon testicles?

Would you like some poached eel with your tarragon testicles?

April 5, 2017
Who wouldn’t want to read about testicles in a pool of tarragon butter?

Now that I have your attention – I am seeing soooo many great reviews about a new (late March 2017) collection of essays by late food writer Jim Harrison, whom The Wall Street Journal called ‘the Henry Miller of food writing’ and The Dallas Morning News termed ‘the poet laureate of appetite.’ He looks like a wild man. And a handful. Or a big forkful.

jimharrison grovepress

Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch

Harrison’s food writings were published in Esquire, The New Yorker, The New York Times and Men’s Journal. Sadly, Jim died last year, age 78. ‘A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand’ came out in late March, 2017, about one year after his death.

Publisher, Grove Atlantic, says: “New York Times bestselling author Jim Harrison was one of this country’s most beloved writers, a muscular, brilliantly economic stylist with a salty wisdom.”

With an introduction from his friend, chef Mario Batali, ‘A Really Big Lunch’ is a “compilation of 47 of the novelist and poet’s essays on food and drink, published between 1981 and 2015,” says Food52 staff writer, Mayukh Sen.

Why would we want to read Harrison’s book? Well, look at this excerpt from Publisher’s Weekly

Harrison writes of a vast range of meals and foodstuffs in disparate settings: fresh-caught rattlesnakes; a dinner of “artisanal salamis, lamb and duck prosciutto” flown in for a fishing trip; innumerable sojourns through France eating at bistros… the title feast, an 11-hour, 37-course, 19-wine lunch featuring three centuries of French delicacies including poached eel with chicken wing tips and testicles in a pool of tarragon butter.

I told you. Who wouldn’t want to read about testicles in a pool of tarragon butter?

Burning question?

Must Harrison have been friends with Anthony Bourdain? It seemed likely to me and, in fact, a 2009 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ did feature an appearance by Harrison during the Montana shoot.

food writing

Jim Harrison, from an interview with The Paris Review

Top four best reviews and features on ‘A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand’

Harrison’s writing is pungent. He’s often a hoot, though frequently exhausting, too.

He manages to convince, with nearly every sentence, that the worst sin and most offensive crime is to leave anything left on the plate when it is time to leave the table.

He was a yo-yo dieter by choice. He derided weight loss as an offense to the money (and meals) that went into the creation of his impressive gut. His friend, the novelist Tom McGuane once told him that according to their lifelong correspondence, he’d lost some 1,800 pounds, so he must really be “getting down there.” As he himself remarked, in later years: “Everything is going fairly well except for my health and behavior.”

I liked his voice best when he wrote about food, most of his essays appearing in the pages of Esquire and Men’s Journal. Lately, though, I’ve found that a lot of people—especially young food writers I know—have never even heard his name.

I’m wracking my brain but I don’t recall ever having a truly stellar day of fishing, catching-wise, with Jim. Still, he always managed to eke something out. As a fishing guide, for some reason, it seems important to make that clear for the record — I don’t think Jim Harrison ever got skunked in my boat. One working eye or not, the man could fish.

Earlier interviews

The New Yorker interview is the story that started it  all, and was the inspiration for Harrison’s posthumous collection of food writing published in March, 2017.

The New Yorker, A Really Big Lunch (Annals of Eating), Sept. 2004, by Jim Harrison (sadly, you need a subscription to read this from the NY archives)

“Is there an interior logic to overeating, or does gluttony, like sex, wander around in a messy void, utterly resistant to our attempts to make sense of it?”

The Literary Hub, How to Eat a Really Big Lunch with Jim Harrison, by Peter Nowogrodzki, March 2017

Harrison arrived around noon at Marc Meneau’s L’Esperance, translation: “The Hope,” a storied Michelin three-star in the village of Saint-Père-sous-Vézelay. He had a seat among 11 others. A day later, after consuming 37 courses drawn from 17 cookbooks published between 1654 and 1823, plus 14 bottles of wine, all of which “likely cost as much as a new Volvo station wagon,” he took a bath, wandered around Paris, then went to Thoumieux for a few bottles of Gigondas, two vegetable courses, and a duck confit.

Men’s Journal, A Man’s Guide to Drinking, by Jim Harrison

Ultimately writers aren’t anecdotally all that interesting. The truly bad behavior is a convenience, a permissive indulgence with a superstructure of shabby myth.

Food & Wine, The Hungry Crowd: Mario Batali Interviews Jim Harrison

Q. How do you find great meals when you’re on the road?

A. When you’re traveling, the whole struggle is to get something to eat that doesn’t semi-poison you. One of the funniest experiences I ever had was at a restaurant in Kansas. The special was fish—$3.95, you know? I said, “What kind of fish is that?” The waitress said,“It’s just fish-fish.” And I said, “Well, the ocean has many kinds of fish.” And she said, “This is Kansas.” This apparent food revolution, it hasn’t reached everywhere.

The Essential Jim Harrison: A Reading List, Men’s Journal, by Tobias Carroll, March 2016

Other books by Jim Harrison (yes, he wrote Legends of the Fall)

  • The Ancient Minstrel, Grove/Atlantic, 2016
ancient minstrel

The Ancient Minstrel

  • Legends of the Fall, Random House Publishing, 2009 (yes, the title novella was the basis for the movie of the same name)

  • The Raw & the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand, Grove/Atlantic, 2001

  • Off to the Side, A Memoir, Grove Press, 2003


ISBN-13:9780802126467. Publisher: Grove Atlantic. Publication date:03/24/2017. Pages:272. Sales rank (as of April 5, 2017): Barnes & Noble, 19,756; Amazon.com, 749 in Books.

Amazon author’s bio

“Jim Harrison (1937 – 2016), one of America’s most versatile and celebrated writers, was the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction–including Legends of the Fall, the acclaimed trilogy of novellas, and The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems. His books have been translated into two dozen languages, and in 2007 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. With a fondness for open space and anonymous thickets, he divided his time between Montana and southern Arizona.”

P.S. The world is full of good writing about food by some pretty great food writers. I’m kind of a nerd about these things, so I dig around a lot, looking for features, interviews and reviews about books by or about food writers. Have I lost you yet?
This Skeptical Cook category (obviously a work in progress) is the result of that obsession. I plan to post a regular little roundup of the best reviews about food writers that I can find. I know. It’s nerdy.

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