One afternoon, I was chatting on the phone with one of my oldest friends, Melissa Clark, the novelist, not the food writer. As we were about to hang up she said, “I’m going over to Max & Michelle’s to go shopping this afternoon.”
“Huh?” She hadn’t said, I need to borrow a cup of sugar or two eggs. I imagined a storehouse stocked with tins of protein powder, a walk-in pantry full of cartons of ramen…Melissa laughed. “In their garden. They have an amazing garden.” I knew that Max and Melissa had been friends from childhood, but I’d never heard anything about a garden. Then I remembered his books.
“Is that a zombie apocalypse thing?”
“No,” she said, laughing. “Actually, I think it’s an Anne thing.”
I was silent, imagining his mother in a garden. I just couldn’t do it.
“She always had a garden. It was huge part of her life. After she died, Max took it over. You can’t imagine it. They grow everything. And strange things, too: tobacco, sugar cane…it’s hard to explain. Last week I went over and got the most amazing eggplant…”
I did a few quick calculations. Cassoulet was already at the publishers. But Max was a writer. True, he was a very busy, best-selling writer. But maybe, just maybe, he would write his story for us. And maybe he could write it on a tight deadline. I asked Melissa, and Melissa, known among her friends as Connections Clark, put us in touch. Max generously agreed to write “From The Land,” and to give us his family recipe for Homemade Yonkers, New York Tomato Sauce.
If you know Max Brooks’s work, you know he’s the best-selling author of The Zombie Survival Guide, ZSG: Recorded Attacks, and World War Z, which is about to be released as a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt. He’s also an Emmy-award winning writer for Saturday Night Live.
Which is to say: “From the Land” is something of a departure. But it’s exactly the kind of departure we wanted for the book. More than offering manifestos and guidance from experts, Cassoulet takes readers behind the scenes into the real lives of real families and the food they eat every day. And while Max’s mother was one of the most public figures of her time, she also had a profound private life. “From the Land” gives us a candid glimpse of that life, and reminds us of how families can gather, over generations, and how traditions continue. It’s also reminds us that the people we think we know have lives beyond us. Max’s story is a deeply personal one about his mother, her garden, and the private legacy she planted for her family. It’s full of insight and good humor, and it shows us exactly what—and how—people are fed by the people they love.