Virago Reading Week: Heartburn

Author: Nora Ephron

Publisher: Originally published in 1983, the Virago Press edition was published in 2008

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Heartburn is the story of Rachel, a cookbook author, wife and mother living in Washington, D.C. Rachel is not a trained chef, just a woman who loves to cook, do food demonstrations, and write chatty cookbooks.

Everything in Rachel’s life is going pretty good. Her husband is a respected political columnist, her cookbooks are selling well, she has a sweet two-year-old boy, and she’s seven-months pregnant.

And then her world falls apart. She learns that her husband has been having an affair with someone in their social circle. He says he’s in love with her.

This story of a marriage falling apart is told in the first person from Rachel’s point of view. I was completely sympathetic to Rachel. I could remember how it felt to be seven months pregnant and feeling fat and moody and tired. I had the urge to do something evil to Rachel’s husband and the other woman. I would have cried along with Rachel but the way she told the story was so funny that I primarily laughed throughout the book.

Rachel talked a lot about food during her tale of woe. At one point she worried that her husband cheated on her because she cooked too much. (Really? Most men would be thrilled.) During the course of her story she gave the recipes for fifteen different things – literally from soup (sorrel) to nuts (toasted almonds).

The recipes are all told in a casual, chatty style. There is no listing of ingredients or a numbered set of directions as we use today. It occurred to me that the way Rachel (Nora Ephron) wrote the recipes is the same way a friend would tell me how to make a dish. I liked her style.

I want to share one of the recipes with you. It’s for a cheesecake that is exactly like the cheesecake I used to make. She said, and I believe she’s right, that the recipe came off the package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Here’s Rachel’s telling of the recipe.

Make a nice graham cracker crust and pack it into a 9-inch pie pan. Then mix 12 ounces cream cheese with 4 well-beaten eggs, 1 cup sugar and a teaspoon vanilla. Pour into the pie shell and bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and cool 15 minutes. Then spread gently with 2 cups sour cream mixed with 1/2 cup sugar and bake 10 minutes more. Cool and refrigerate several hours before serving.

As I said, I’ve made this cheesecake many times. It’s delicious and extremely easy to make. I often put a little cherry pie filling on the top and serve it on Valentines Day.

About the author:

Most of us know Nora Ephron from all the movies she has written, directed and/or produced: Silkwood, Sleepless In Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Julie and Julia, and the movie from this book, Heartburn (starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep). Heartburn was her first novel.

I’m not being gossipy when I tell you that Heartburn is a “thinly disguised” memoir of Nora Ephron’s experience when she was married to Carl Bernstein. The facts were well known at the time. “Writing the book is Ephron’s roman-à-clef. It is the amusing revenge of a woman scorned: ‘I always thought during the pain of the marriage that one day it would make a funny book,’ she once said – and it is.” (from the publisher’s profile.)

I’m linking this book review to the Virago Reading Week and to Weekend Cooking. Click the titles to link to those sites.

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21 Responses to Virago Reading Week: Heartburn

  1. Louise says:

    I’ve only read one Nora Ephron book- I Feel Bad About My Neck- and that was a few years ago. I enjoyed it, and remember it being a quick read. Certainly her movies are very entertaining. I’ve always wanted to get to more of her writing. Thanks for the review- and cheese cake recipe! I love cheesecake, but don’t think I’ve ever made one.

  2. Beth F says:

    That’s the cheesecake recipe I’ve used a hundred times myself! Yummmmmmy.

    I read Heartburn in the 1980s and I remember loving it and talking about it with my friends. Now you have me interested in a reread.

  3. I too remember reading the book and loving it. She’s such a witty writer!

  4. Rural View says:

    Nora Ephron is a very funny lady. I always thought Carl Bernstein would be awful to live with and she confirmed that.

    The interesting thing is that in this Virago challenge I’m learning a whole new side of you. I hadn’t thought you would be so much of a feminist, but I’m pleased to learn that you are very close to my views.

  5. That is a very easy recipe. I think I need to try this… 🙂

  6. JoAnn says:

    Another one for my list… and I love the cover! The only one of her books I’ve read (well, actually listened to) was I Feel Bad About My Neck and it was fantastic.

  7. caite says:

    i love cheesecake…but have never made one. easy sounds good.

  8. michelle says:

    Nora is a very funny writer! I might have to read this one. The cheesecake looks delicious and easy…might have to make it for a Valentine’s Treat.

  9. Vasilly says:

    This sounds like an excellent read! I haven’t read anything by Ephron before but I love her movies.

  10. Thsi sounds like a fun read – I think I would enjoy it.

  11. candice says:

    Great review! I think Nora is a very funny writer/woman! I saw part of an interview with her & Meryl Streep after Julie & Julia came out.They talked about MS playing Rachel in Heartburn & how it was a little hard for her (NE) to watch because MS did a very good job of playing NE/Rachel in the movie. Love to read the book, I’ll add it to the list. I too love reading recipes written in a casual chatty way, that’s how i cook & think about food. Most cooking allows for the wiggle-room of improvisation and making it your own…

  12. I think that’s the cheesecake my mother made — thanks! Sounds like a great book.

  13. Staci says:

    This sounds like a fun read. I loved the way that you told us about it…you have a special way about you Margot!!!

  14. Chinoiseries says:

    Sounds like a lovely read, I love the novels (er, the movie versions anyway :D) that she wrote! This book suddenly reminded me of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate: it’s about time I read another book that features food 🙂 That cheesecake… *runs off to the store to buy Philadelphia*

  15. Marie says:

    Very nice review. The book sounds great. I’ve seen that recipe for cheesecake a number of times, but I haven’t made it yet. Thanks for posting.

  16. stacybuckeye says:

    That cheesecake looks easy enough for me to make! I like the idea that the recipes are told in a casual way. I’ve never heard of this one so thanks for the heads up!

  17. Martha says:

    I don’t think there is ever a bad cheesecake and you’ve to to love an easy recipe. I read Heartburn ages ago when the movie came out and remember loving both (how do you not love Maryl Streep?). I think I’ll have to give both another look.

  18. I read this years ago when it was new and I didn’t even know it was a roman a’ clef (heck I didn’t even know what a roman a’ clef was) — but now I’ve read her two memoirs and now I know. (Somewhere along the line I learned what a roman a clef was too ;>) )…..so, now I want to read this book again. Soon.

  19. I want to make the cheesecake again too!

  20. Heather says:

    Rachel sounds like a cool character that I could relate to .(not the pregnant part)

  21. Nan says:

    I enjoyed this and wrote out a few recipes from the book. I just love her writing.

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