Chemistry in Life

“I make brownies on my bad days,” Elizabeth confessed. “I’m not going to pretend that sucrose is an essential ingredient required for well-being, but I personally feel better when I eat it. Now let’s get started.” – Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

It is exciting to review a recent best-selling novel, Lessons in Chemistry, written by Bonnie Garmus. It’s a fun, clever novel that appeals to feminist sensibility. It is about the chemistry of food and chemistry in life.

The main character, Elizabeth Zott, abruptly gets fired from her position at the prestigious Hastings Research Institute for being unwed and pregnant. The setting is the late 1950s and early 1960s and unwed pregnancy was considered shameful. At Hastings, Elizabeth is perceived as a manipulative temptress and an embarrassment to the company. Unafraid to approach life head-on, Elizabeth is pointedly straightforward and determined to confront the blatant sexism and misogyny she experiences first-hand.

Due to her good looks and outgoing, distinctive personality, Elizabeth is offered the opportunity to be a host on TV cooking show, Supper at Six. Unemployed, she is immediately attracted to its lucrative salary and accepts the position. However, Elizabeth refuses to read the cue cards as requested. Instead, she uses food and chemistry metaphors to empower women to embrace and pursue their professional aspirations. The show becomes wildly popular.

Success in baking and cooking is chemistry. Knowledge about the chemistry of food (ingredients) enhances flavor and can also improve the results. When I first started experimenting with making wild yeast, I remember how magical it was. Combining invisible microbes in flour, the air around us, and even the skin on our hands help make wild yeast.* Three years later, I still think it’s miraculous. Most significantly, understanding the science behind creating wild yeast gave depth and legitimacy to my baking.

This type of legitimacy is what Elizabeth gives women viewers every night during her show Supper at Six. As a result, women tune in and are captivated. While reading Lessons in Chemistry, I became familiar with Gretchen Carlson and recently, Abby Grossberg’s lawsuits. The connections between Elizabeth Zott’s fictional world and our current world couldn’t be more apparent.

Doggedly curious, here is our favorite pet Josie checking out Lessons in Chemistry. (Perhaps Josie was interested the character, Six-Thirty, who is the brilliant and protective family dog,)

There is a terrific Book Club Kit document that provides a letter from the author, book group discussion questions, and two recipes with chemical notations — Better Living Through Brownies and Elizabeth Zott’s Cocktail for the Disenchanted Woman. A link to the delightful chocolate brownie recipe that I used as well as access to the Book Club Kit document is below.

Also… not surprisingly, Apple TV Plus has produced a new drama series based on Lessons in Chemistry. Its debut is this fall, 2023. But read the book first. It’s terrific.


Helpful Links

* Where does yeast in sourdough come from? – The Pantry Mama

Best Homemade Brownies Love & Lemons

The Book Club Kit Knopf Doubleday

Interview with Bonnie Garmus Barnes and Noble

Official Teaser Trailer for Lessons in Chemistry Apple TV Plus