A few months ago, I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to a website called Zester Daily.
The site is a collection of stories, essays, reviews and all forms of food journalism and writing. Some of the people who have written for the site include wine expert Terry Thiese and James Beard award winning cookbook author Clifford A. Wright.
The first piece I did for them was a holiday story, centred around nutmeg as the star ingredient in a family recipe for christmas cookies.
But I wanted to tell a story that wasn't my own. Although there is a place for first person pieces, I am more interested and would rather give place to the people who contribute to Nova Scotia's and Atlantic Canada's food scene.
Enter Marie Nightingale and her book, "Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens."
I had recently written about old cookbooks and old recipes for East Coast Living, and had included Nightingale's book in the piece, but felt that she and the book deserved more attention.
So I contacted Nightingale and asked her if we could talk about her book and how it came to be. She agreed to do the interview via email, and I sent a few introductory questions for her to ponder. She admitted that at times it was a bit tiring, due to health issues. "I'm not even getting my laundry done these days," she joked. But she always ended her emails on a positive note. "I am so happy that you are – if you are – interested in all I have said so far," she wrote. "I have been blessed."
As was I, as I continued to send more questions and she sent me more answers, more details, more anecdotes, and more jokes. At one point I wrote to her saying, "I think it's important to value the recipes, the ideas and the people who share and spread them. So thank you again." She replied, in all caps, "GOOD. AT LEAST YOUR HEAD IS ON STRAIGHT. HOW CAN ONE WRITE OR UNDERSTAND ABOUT FOOD WITHOUT KNOWING THEIR OWN ROOT VEGETABLES?"
By the time I got done with the story, it was over my word count limit. But I knew that if I cut out too much, readers may lose out on some of the background of the story which was what this was all about. So I pitched the idea to my editor to post the story in two parts. They agreed, and the first part of the story about Marie and "Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens" was published on March 1st. The second part, which deals with the influence that the book has had, was published a few days later on March 6th.
A few days later, I got an email from Marie, with the subject line, "Wow! You really know me!" In it she wrote. "I like the Marie you know even without having met her face to face."
It's nice to know when you get the story right.
Just yesterday I got another email from Marie. "Nobody has ever captured 'Kitchens' the way you have done," she wrote. "Hopefully it will go on encouraging Nova Scotians to continue reading – and learning from it. It’s the reason I wrote it in the first place – to make Nova Scotians proud of their heritage. I thank you for being so thorough and inclusive with your story."
Looks like being thorough, inclusive, and fighting for the right word length is worth it. Not just because the subject likes the story, but because you know you did the story justice. And I hope I did.