Hanging up its apron

Henri comes to terms with the end of Gourmet magazine

And now this pale swan in her watery nest
Begins the sad dirge of her certain ending.

–William Shakespeare, “The Rape of Lucrece,” 1594

We regret any inconvenience.
–Editors, Gourmet magazine, November 2009

“Inconvenience”? Henri was devastated. Undone. How could they even imagine such a thing? Somehow it seemed, well, personal—after all those years of loyalty and commitment.

Suddenly, over. Sacre bleu!

Publisher Condé Nast announced last month that Gourmet, “The Magazine of Good Living,” had become another fatality of the digital age, experiencing a 25 percent drop in ad-sales revenue and a similar decline in circulation. After 75 years as the premier food and lifestyle magazine in the English language, Gourmet is shutting off its burners for good. The November issue is its last.

Au revoir, mes amis.

Gourmet magazine was founded in 1941 by Earle A. MacAusland and originally focused on recipes from editors and readers, as well as articles on food. Over the years, the magazine broadened its scope to include travel articles and essays—as well as pieces on wine and cocktails—but almost always with a food angle. While some fault the magazine for being slick and elitist, the editors and writers usually found ways to show the connections between those things that make us all human.

“A Letter From New Orleans: Some Heroes and the Food on Their Tables” (Feb. 2006), by Lolis Eric Elie, is a moving testament to the restaurateurs of the beleaguered city who have had the vision and courage to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “Cooking My Way to Mexican” (June 2006) is author Carolynn Carreno’s memoir of visiting her grandparents’ Tijuana home and joining a three-generation tamales-making assembly line at Christmas and by so doing reconnecting with her Mexican heritage. As Ruth Reichl (editor since 1999) says, “There’s no better way to experience a culture than to stand at the stove with a wonderful cook.”

Henri has subscribed to Gourmet off and on—mostly on—over the last 25 years or so, the magazines finding him in pensiones and apartments and hotel rooms around the world, from Bangkok to Barcelona, to the Village to Chico. Of course, it wasn’t always prudent to take them with me when I left, so I always made sure they found good homes, offering them as gifts to friends, neighbors and favorite chefs. That said, Colette and I share a storage shed in our small Midwestern home town, my side of which is piled nearly to the ceiling with old issues.

Of course, Gourmet will live on, reinventing itself, adjusting to these troubled times. Reichl has just published a new cookbook, Gourmet Today (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), with more than 1,000 recipes from the magazine’s test kitchens, and Gourmet recipes will continue to be available online at epicurious.com. Reichl also last month launched the PBS television show Adventures With Ruth, in which she travels the world with celebrities, including Frances McDormand and Dianne Wiest, in search of ingredients, recipes and menus from a wide range of cultures.

Over the years, the November Gourmet usually highlighted turkey, often from a particular region or culture, with an elaborate assortment of side dishes and suggested wines and other beverages. This final issue is no different, the menu from the American South including crab hushpuppies with tartar sauce, oyster casserole, smoked sausage jambalaya, braised turnip greens, cheddar corn muffins with jalapeño butter and bourbon pumpkin pie. The turkey itself is cooked simply—as it should be—roasted and served with cream gravy. The recipes are in the current issue and online.

An inconvenience? Perhaps. A sad dirge? Not at all. As mon père, the late Etienne Alain Bourride, used to say, “When one oven door closes, another opens.”