Roy Blount Jr. pays crusty tribute to his favorite dessert in Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations, which sets the groaning board with a bellyful of puns, ditties, and other playful lore about what we eat. “Pie is the highest form of food,” he writes, “One’s room for pie is like one’s capacity for love in this sense: few life-affirming people underestimate their own.” Blount, a Decatur native who now lives in Massachusetts, took a break between bites to talk about his 24th book.
Can you elaborate on what your book title means?
It’s a Zen koan of sorts that can mean different things. For example, if you are stuffing your face with a whole lot of mashed potatoes, you might think to yourself: You dumbhead! Stop eating so much! But you would be kinder to yourself to suggest that you might want to ease up on the taters to save room for pie.
What is your favorite pie?
When I’m asked my “favorite” anything, I tend to rebel. Much depends on circumstances. For Thanksgiving, I love pumpkin pie, and mincemeat pie is another good one, and who could resist an apple pie? Eudora Welty, in her story Kin, celebrates the perfect ending to a pleasant day: “wonderful black, bitter, moist chocolate pie under mountains of meringue.” And Ralph Waldo Emerson would have pie for breakfast. He once offered his guests a piece, and they all declined. Emerson thrust his knife beneath the piece of pie and said, “But…what is pie for?” There you are. That rhetorical question extended across a broad spectrum of good food that gives pleasure. Apple and pumpkin and mince and black bottom/I’ll come to your place every day if you’ve got ‘em.
The subtitle of the book is “Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations.” Can you talk about the connection between food and music?
Well, they’re both bodily and oral. Good music makes you want to move your body, and good food makes you feel your body. You can’t sing and eat at the same time, but, still, food goes better with music than, say, filling out your tax returns.
What is your first food memory?
Oh, homemade, hand-churned peach ice cream. (Note: He says this tenderly and clearly savors the recollection.)
The book contains a number of poems and limericks. What was your most challenging rhyme?
Definitely coming up with a rhyme for okra. So I had this:
Mm is how discerning folks re-/
Spond when they are served some okra
What is the weirdest, most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten?
I had chicken sashimi in Japan—thin slices of raw chicken. Most things are compared in their taste with chicken. In this case, I used a lot of plum sauce. I’ve also eaten armadillo, of course.
What food do you actively dislike?
Well, there aren’t many. But, going back to Japan, they use red beans a lot in their desserts, like ice cream. Not a fan of red beans in this context. I can also eschew with enthusiasm. Nondairy creamer will never pass my lips. Nor Hostess Twinkies, nor Hot Pockets. By the same token, I can also acquire a taste for something. I’m old enough to remember how pizza was marketed first as “pizza pie,” and I didn’t think much of it the first time I ate it, but it grew on me.
What would your last meal on earth be?
Whatever would make the firing squad feel the most guilty.
What Southern foods do you miss up North?
Here’s the thing. Southern food has become so trendy that New York magazines do pieces about the 10 best pimento cheese dishes in the city. You can get collards, fried okra, and deviled eggs in Brooklyn now. I used to miss fried chicken, but I no longer have to.
Where do you like to eat when you return to Atlanta?
Well, when I was growing up there were really no restaurants to speak of in my hometown of Decatur, but it has long since outstripped me in terms of coolness and sophistication. It’s a strange feeling to know your little hometown is suddenly much cooler than you are. Last time, I ate at the Iberian Pig and thought it was wonderful. And, of course, I always, always go to the Varsity. It’s my touchstone.
Bless your heartburn.
Roy Blount Jr. signs his latest book, Save Room For Pie, on Monday, March 21 at Decatur High School. Click here for tickets.