Ohio — When Ruth Reichl went searching for a
Midwestern city to set part of her new book in, she
found it in Akron.
city is home to a central character of the noted food
writer’s first novel, "Delicious!," released
Tuesday by Random House. The book tells the story of an
employee at a New York food magazine who stumbles upon
letters written more than half a century earlier by an
Akron girl to James Beard, the legendary chef, food
writer and TV personality.
plot line is fictional, but the setting is not. The
Akron Reichl portrays is real, right down to the street
where her character lived — Lookout Avenue, on the
city’s near north side.
who was editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine for 10 years
and previously restaurant critic for the New York Times
and Los Angeles Times, said she knew early on that she
wanted to make World War II food rationing a theme of
her novel. She’d come across war-era pamphlets in a
used book store that dealt with food-related aspects of
the civilian war effort, and she said she was captivated
by that part of life on the home front.
dreamed up a character named Lulu Swan, who first
appears in the book as a 12-year-old who loves to cook
and is struggling to make palatable meals for herself
and her working mother with the limited foods available
in 1942. She writes to Beard for advice, and the two
embark on a correspondence that touches not just on
food, but on prejudice, loss and the life of a spirited
teenager in Akron during World War II.
said she knew Beard, who died in 1985, and knew that he
was generous with correspondence. So it made sense to
her that a plucky girl like Lulu would have turned to a
major figure like him for help, and that he would have
by phone from her home city of New York, Reichl said she
had some familiarity with Northeast Ohio even before her
research pointed her to Akron. Growing up, she often
came to Cleveland to visit her grandparents, Emil and
Mollie Brudno — he a doctor, she a civic leader and
impresaria. Her grandfather’s last job was as house
physician at Wade Park Manor, and Reichl weaves into her
book a mention of the grand residence hotel, now Judson
Manor retirement community.
said she chose Akron because she wanted a Midwestern
city that was heavily involved in wartime work.
was amazing," she said. Much of the city was
involved in producing goods to aid the war effort, from
synthetic rubber rafts and life preservers to machine
guns and gas masks. In the book, Lulu describes her
mother drawing schematics onto starched linen in her job
building Corsair fighter planes at the Akron Airdock.
references to Akron sites are many: Strickland’s
Frozen Custard, Jennings Middle School, North High, St.
Anthony of Padua Church, Emidio’s Pizza, DeVitis
market. She even mentions the Beacon Journal as the
source of a recipe for cheese souffle.
visited Akron twice in the course of her research —
once about three years ago, when she spent a week in the
area, and again a year ago.
an Italian-American neighborhood was important to her
plot, she said, so she knew she wanted Lulu to live
within walking distance of North Hill. She chose the
Elizabeth Park Valley area after walking through the
neighborhood of tree-lined streets and big front
she found an online listing for a house for sale on
Lookout Avenue and took a virtual tour. She made that
house the model for Lulu’s childhood home, but she
declined to specify the address because she doesn’t
want gawkers bothering the current owners.
Akron Reichl found wasn’t entirely the one she’d
pictured in her research. She remembers being
disappointed when she visited North High School, a
sprawling structure that to her seemed more like a
college campus than an urban school from the 1940s. (The
school was built in 1931 but was later expanded.) North
Hill wasn’t quite the vibrant Italian enclave she’d
imagined, but she figures it has evolved into a more
diverse place in much the same way New York’s Little
sites, however, charmed her. She was particularly
enthralled by St. Anthony of Padua and the story of the
church’s construction by the men of North Hill. Many
of them were out of work during the Great Depression,
and parishioners would donate food so the workers’
wives could cook them a noontime meal each day.
book contains an admiring description of the church’s
interior and a quick a mention of two of its pastors,
Fathers Marino and Trivisonno. It’s a reference to the
Rev. Salvatore Marino, who in 1931 was appointed to
oversee the building of the parish, and the Rev. Angelo
J. Trivisonno, who succeeded Father Marino after his
death in 1943 and retired as Monsignor Trivisonno in
did include one tidbit Akron readers might take
exception to: One of her characters in
"Delicious!" refers to the city as a small
laughed when she was challenged on that.
is more provincial than New Yorkers," she said.