The Thanksgiving stuffing of my childhood never involved bread. Instead, my mom would render pancetta, cook aromatics in the gleaming fat, spike it with Madeira wine, and toss those richly flavored ingredients with almonds, green grapes, and dark slivers of wild rice. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried — the recipe came from Martha Stewart, after all, as published in the November 1999 issue of her famous Martha Stewart Living.
Looking up its cover now, I see a flash of the wooden Ikea shelves in the first apartment my family had in the United States, and in the center, a row of Martha Stewart Living, stuffed with flags that marked everything my mom wanted to make. When the magazine published that particular Thanksgiving issue, my family had been in the country for just two years, and with no real attachment to American food traditions, we were free to do anything. Choosing wild rice over, say, Stove Top became our yearly tradition, grounding us in our new life. And as we acclimated and assimilated, Martha Stewart Living recipes remained a constant — the pear upside-down cake from November 2001 and the chocolate caramel tart from August 2002 served as special occasion centerpieces or dessert offerings at potlucks.
I should know by now that it’s a losing game to still hold affection for a print magazine. Last week, Dotdash Meredith — the media company that acquired the rights to Living in 2014 — announced that the May 2022 issue would be the magazine’s last in print. (It still had 2 million subscribers as of last year, according to the Des Moines Register.) In print’s place, the company will focus its attention on “growing the digital business” of MarthaStewart.com. This kind of thing happens often, as print magazines become more anachronism than necessity in a faster-paced, screen-filled world. In an act that now feels like foreshadowing, Dotdash Meredith, which also publishes Food & Wine, axed the print editions of six publications, including InStyle and EatingWell, earlier this year; that cut eliminated around 200 jobs.
Started by caterer-turned-mogul Martha Stewart in 1990 as a quarterly magazine, Living grew into a monthly publication in 1994. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the umbrella company Stewart started in 1999 to house her many brands, played around with other publications including Everyday Food and Martha Stewart Kids, but only Living and Martha Stewart Weddings held fast, though the latter lost its print edition in 2018. The end of Living’s print run won’t leave that big a hole in the world, I’ll admit — it’s not like there’s any shortage of recipe or craft or decorating inspiration online. But for me, it feels like one of the last vestiges of an earlier era of lifestyle media, one that is only getting outpaced.
Now, almost everyone wants to tell us how to live. What we should aspire to, according to almost every niche of influencer, is fickle and fueled by microtrends. But before lifestyle influencers, there was Martha, and before Instagram feeds, there were magazines like Living to offer us both aspiration and inspiration. Unlike today’s influencer age, Stewart’s brand has always been relatively consistent — affluent, traditional, WASP-y — but in that consistency is a sense of comfort.
For many people, like my family, the lifestyle pictured in Living’s pages (and frankly, the rest of Stewart’s brand) was always aspirational — we’ll certainly never have a farmstead estate in Connecticut, replete with grisaille murals in the hall. But the little bits of it that we could glean from its recipes or tips provided the foundations of a new life, one that eventually became rich with its own traditions and family-favorite dishes.
Separated from my mom’s old magazine stack, I’ll go to Martha Stewart’s website — by necessity — the next time I want to recreate one of those old favorites. But as useful as a website is, I can be sure that I’ll never open one and find a scrap of paper from 1999 full of drawings my mom did while tethered to a landline, and I’ll never see the spots where, while helping bake, my butter-slicked fingers marked up the page as I checked: How many egg yolks go into that tart crust, again?