Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely, a culinary journalist, food historian, and freelance contributor to the Boston Globe, died on Thursday, February 23, in Concord, NH. She was 71.
The cause of death was a heart attack. Mrs. Riely had been vacationing in Sandwich, New Hampshire, where she had been joined by her sons, grand-daughter, and close friends during the previous week.
While living in New Haven in the late 1970s, Mrs. Riely began to explore her interest in food and journalism, writing articles for the New Haven Register. Upon moving to Boston in 1980, she wrote regularly for the Globe, producing hundreds of articles over two decades. She also contributed to the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Gastronomica, and Edible Boston, as well as many other publications.
She devoted much of her work to investigation of the origins and details of the culture of food. In 1986, her The Chef’s Companion, a dictionary of culinary terms (John Wiley & Sons), appeared. Updated and revised editions followed in 1996 and 2003, in which she enlarged the work’s scope to include international styles of cooking, in addition to the extensive entries for classic European cuisines. In 1993, she published A Feast of Fruits, a cookbook featuring hundreds of recipes for fruit dishes (Macmillan). Traditional favorites such as apple pie were joined by creative and obscure recipes for Watermelon Rind Pickle and Fennel Avgolemono Soup, flavored with lemon, among many others. Five years later, she contributed the section on New England’s food and history to Culinaria: The United States, A Culinary Discovery (Köneman). Her work anticipated the growth of interest in fresh, organic ingredients and unconventional flavor combinations that emerged in the early 2000s.
Lively and exuberant in the kitchen, Mrs. Riely was known for orchestrating memorable and elegant dinner parties. Her sister recalls that when asked how to salvage a deflated soufflé, she suggested telling guests that dessert was a “raspberry surprise”.
In 2000, Mrs. Riely became editor of the Radcliffe Culinary Times, a scholarly journal published by Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library and devoted to the history and study of food. After Radcliffe discontinued the publication in 2010, she wrote increasingly for EdibleBoston and taught classes for the Boston Wine School. At the time of her death, Mrs. Riely was at work on a book on the cultural history of cod, to be published by Reaktion Books.
Elizabeth Dumesnil Gawthrop Riely was born on June 18, 1945, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Her father Robert, a lawyer, was managing partner at Gawthrop, Greenwood and Halsted, a prosperous practice co-founded by his father that continues today. Her mother was the former Elizabeth Haldeman Campbell, of Louisville, Kentucky. Her older brother Robert, who died in 1999, sat on the United States Circuit Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Riely was a graduate of the Shipley School and Sweet Briar College, where she concentrated in music. At Sweet Briar, she led the a capella group the Sweet-Tones, for which she selected and arranged the music. Afterwards, she studied voice at New England Conservatory, where she received a Masters of Music in 1970. The previous summer, she married John Cabell Riely, of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, who was pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Riely gave classical concerts and recitals. She was for a time a music teacher and remained a lifelong singer. In New Haven, she was a research assistant at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Ultimately, she credited her parents’ enthusiasm for gastronomy, which infused her childhood, with inspiring her move to food journalism. The Gawthrop household was seldom without oysters, good cheese, and wine to celebrate important occasions; both Robert and Elizabeth loved to eat and entertain.
Mrs. Riely lived in Newton, Massachusetts, for much of her adult life. After 31 years of marriage, followed by divorce in 2004, she moved to Brookline, a community she loved. In addition to her career in journalism, Mrs. Riely maintained her serious interest in music. In 2005, she joined the Boston Cecilia Chorus, for which she served as co-president from 2012-2015. Friendly, loyal, and warm, she was active in many clubs and institutions, including the Harvard Musical Association, the Culinary Historians of Boston, the Culinary Guild of New England, the Handel and Haydn Society, Les Dames d’Escoffier, and the Commanderie de Bordeaux. She enjoyed brief moments of fame in 2013 when Google Chrome used a YouTube video of her exuberantly and hilariously shaking an obstinate cake out of its mold. The ad ran during the NFL playoffs that year, to the surprise of her sons and their friends.
Mrs. Riely is survived by her two sons, Christopher, of Providence, Rhode Island and Andrew, of Worcester, Massachusetts; granddaughter, Sylvia Riely-Heilke, of Providence; sister, Emily Klarberg and brother-in-law, Richard, of Mamaroneck, New York; niece Margaret Kennedy, of Baltimore, Maryland; nephew Collis Klarberg, of New York, New York; and sister-in-law, Celia Riely, of Dussac, France.
Mrs. Riely’s memorial service will take place on Saturday, March 11th at 10:30 AM at All Saints Parish, at 1733 Beacon St, in Brookline. In lieu of flowers, her sons ask that memorial gifts be sent to Sweet Briar College (sbc.edu) or the Boston Cecilia Chorus (bostoncecilia.org).