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I have long been a devotee of cranberries as much for their history and lore as for their happy association with Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. And they deserve to be an essential part of this totally American feast day because they are one of three fruits, along with blueberries and Concord grapes, that are native to North America.
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We have evidence that long before Europeans settled in what was to become the United States, indigenous people used cranberries extensively both in their diet and as medicine. Pemmican, a preserved food, was made from crushed cranberries, dried deer meat and melted fat. As well as lasting through a harsh New England winter, pemmican was portable, a benefit for people on the move. As for cranberry’s medicinal properties, the Indians were said to make cranberry poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds, but as far as I know, there has been no research done to measure the efficacy of this.
What we do know, however, is that cranberries contain a high level of vitamin C, and that in earlier times American sailors took them on voyages to avoid scurvy, just as the British took along limes for this purpose. We also know that cranberry juice is often recommended to people suffering from an urinary tract infection, so this fruit has a good reputation among the health conscious.
The healthy and the sweet
But it seems to me that the cranberry’s greatest triumph has to do with its crucial place at the table as a delectable accompaniment to the Thanksgiving turkey. Just as holiday cooks vary as to how they prepare sweet potatoes, so do they differ in their preferred cranberry sauces and relishes. The easiest version, and perhaps the one with the most dubious reputation, is the canned jellied sauce that slithers out of its container with a long scar along its side, the imprint from the inside of the can, ready to be sliced and served.
Another canned sauce is similar to what we cook at home from fresh cranberries. Berries are left whole and cooked with plenty of sugar until a jellied sauce is formed. Raw cranberries bear the distinction of being both sour and bitter and must be tempered by sweeteners to be edible. (I recently came across the sobering fact that sugar has such a huge capacity for dissolving in liquid that one pound of water can easily absorb two pounds of sugar.)
Home cooks have been adventurous in their approach to cranberry sauce with recipes that embellish the simple mode of throwing the fruit into a pot with a little water and lots of sugar. Some introduce other fruits to the mix, especially oranges that give great flavor and an inviting complexity to the dish. Other cooks cast wider nets and add raisins, currants, blueberries and pecans or other nuts.
Then we get into the realm of spices. My preference is for a sauce made with cranberries and sugar, just a touch of orange zest, maybe a stick of cinnamon and nothing else. But I have come across recipes that call not only for cinnamon, but nutmeg, ginger, cloves and even allspice. To my mind, harsh spices take away from the tangy and unique flavor of a cranberry sauce whose fruity purity strikes me as the perfect companion to turkey with a rich gravy.
Getting creative with cranberries
But canned or cooked cranberry dishes are not the end of how this Thanksgiving side dish is approached. Enter the world of relishes. What with the availability of meat grinders and food processors, home cooks have been busily grinding up fresh cranberries along with apples, oranges, even pineapple in mixtures that can include such flavored liqueurs as Grand Marnier to pep up the dish. And if such mixtures are not lively enough, white pepper, fresh ginger and even jalapeno peppers can be added, thus taking an innocent cranberry relish into the realm of south-of-the-border salsas.
National Public Radio’s Susan Stamberg has received lots of attention for a cranberry relish recipe that includes an onion, sour cream and red horseradish, resulting in a shocking pink dish she admits looks like Pepto-Bismol.
This never-ending pursuit of novelty is displayed every fall when food magazines can be counted on to scramble up traditional Thanksgiving dishes. One magazine this year is offering holiday relish recipes that omit cranberries altogether in exchange for pomegranate seeds or kumquats.
For innovation, I would rather direct my attention to the cranberry industry, which has successfully attracted us to its products all year long and not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cranberry drinks now occupy vast grocery shelves and are available in mixtures that include the juices of other fruits, and of course in diet form.
And dried sweetened cranberries are pushing aside the long-held monopoly enjoyed by raisins in such baked favorites as cookies and muffins. I have made the switch in my own baking, and am happy to encounter the bright flavor of cranberries in May or June and not just at the end of the year.
Dried Cranberry Muffins
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ cups whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1½ cups sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 12-muffin muffin tin.
2. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl to be sure the butter is thoroughly mixed. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix thoroughly.
4. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture, mixing at low speed until batter is smooth. When all ingredients are mixed, add the cranberries and walnuts by gently folding them into the batter.
5. Using ¼ cup measuring cup, scoop batter into the prepared muffin tin. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack.
They are delicious served warm and freeze beautifully for reheating later.
Top photo: Dried cranberries for muffins. Credit: Wynne Everett
Good writing about food is not different from good writing more generally, but cookbooks written by established literary figures can be especially satisfying. “Memories with Food at Gipsy House,” the work of Roald Dahl and his wife, Felicity, is one such book that I return to from time to time, for it shows not only his consistent interest in food but a tender side not often revealed in Dahl’s other work.
By Felicity and Roald Dahl
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In much of his writing, his approach to food is mischievous if not downright wicked as when gluttonous children are punished in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and in “Matilda.” That novel is now a current Broadway hit musical, where a naughty, greedy child is made to eat an entire chocolate cake by himself, with success I might add.
But my favorite wicked food moment in Dahl occurs in his short story “Lamb to Slaughter,” in which a pregnant, loving wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb just after he announces he is leaving her. She gets away with the crime by getting rid of the evidence, cooking the meat and serving it to the four investigating policemen she invites to dinner.
Although I am happy to point out that “Memories with Food at Gipsy House” is not entirely free of Dahl’s biting humor, its purpose is to honor and celebrate the lives of the author’s extended family and friends through family recipes that connect people the Dahls loved to the couple’s favorite dishes. Writing such a book was a process of gathering-in so that the cookbook was a summary of what meant the most to Roald Dahl just before he died in fall 1990. “Memories with Food at Gipsy House” was published posthumously.
Dahl’s was a household where food was respected and enjoyed and where paying tribute to meaningful dishes was essential. Because the book is so personal, its recipes are eclectic, ranging as they do from Dahl’s mother’s chicken concoction that contains canned potatoes and frozen peas to the complicated latticed lamb and apricot roulade with onion sauce, a dish that calls for a long list of ingredients that include puff pastry, chopped almonds and Middle Eastern spices. What limits the book as a cookbook — recipes sometimes chosen for their sentimental value — is also its greatest strength as a personal statement about love of family.
Famous last meals
Occasionally pulling back from too much sentiment, Dahl threw in a chapter called “The Hangman’s Suppers,” which reminds us that back in the days when convicted murderers were hanged in England, they were allowed to request a last meal. Dahl asked well-known friends what they would order for their last meal were they to face the hangman.
Actor Dustin Hoffman didn’t think he would have much of an appetite, but for the sake of the game chose mother’s milk. “Might as well go out the way I came in,” he said. Writer John le Carré was also transported back in time and ordered up a nursery meal that includes bread and butter pudding served, he hoped, by a young and pretty nanny.
Mystery writer P.D. James provided so complete a menu with proper wines that I suspect she had previously given the question serious thought. She went so far as to order two desserts because she figured she would no longer have to worry about her weight.
And, this being Dahl, his love of chocolate is deliciously dramatized in his elaborate discussion of British candies that were invented in the 1930s, including such classics as Mars Bars, Kit Kats and Smarties. He likened this golden age of chocolate to what in music would be compositions by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and in literature to the masterpieces of Tolstoy, Balzac and Dickens.
He ends his disquisition by declaring, “If I were a headmaster, I would get rid of the history teacher and get a chocolate teacher instead and my pupils would study a subject that affected all of them.”
Always end a meal with chocolate
Such devilish perceptions enhance this food memoir, a genre that can be tiresome in the hands of people who take themselves too seriously. Roald Dahl’s voice keeps the tone of this book lively and entertaining, but at the same time pays homage to the people who have meant the most to him, and food is his vehicle for expressing both love and his roguish humor. That’s the thing about good writers writing about food. They can take us anywhere.
Although so many of Dahl’s books remain popular, “Memories with Food at Gipsy House” has gone largely unnoticed, probably because it is a cookbook and assumed by many to be unimportant. Bad enough to miss out on the insights provided by his descriptions of food, but to miss out on the colorful autobiographical writing and amusing anecdotes found here is a sad loss indeed.
The book reminded me that although critical evaluations of the lives of women automatically take into account their personal side, the same is not true for men. It is therefore all the more refreshing to find descriptions of Roald Dahl holding forth at a festive old pine table 12 feet long and 3 feet wide, covered with quantities of such sumptuous foods as Norwegian prawns, lobster, caviar and roast beef. At the end of the meal he would produce a battered box stuffed with chocolate goodies and announce, “Treats!” It is the only way to end a decent meal.
Top: “Memories with Food at Gipsy House” and other books from Roald Dahl. Credit: Barbara Haber
Back in the day, I remember attending dinner parties and finding the hostess exhausted from having pulled off one of the more complicated recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I know a woman who worked so hard cooking all day for a party that by the time her guests arrived, she had to suppress the impulse to seat them all at the table, bring out the food, and then promptly excuse herself and flee upstairs to bed.
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By the 1980s, meals that were less of a production were often prepared from “The Silver Palate Cookbook.” One could almost predict that chicken mirabella would be making an appearance when you were invited out to dinner. But today, there is no need to wear out one’s self or serve up something boringly fashionable.
To be sure, meeting friends in restaurants avoids the effort of cooking altogether and can be fun, but to me, nothing beats entertaining at home. For one thing, the chairs are usually more comfortable. But, more to the point, we can nowadays find so many ways to cut corners on effort without reducing the quality of what we serve, and in so doing greet our guests with energy and sincere good cheer.
A go-to repertoire of recipes
Dinner party meals that are delicious and not time-consuming are possible to turn out, what with the availability of high quality prepared foods that can be adapted to recipes of your choice, or maybe even to something you’ve invented. For instance, in the warmer months I put together a chicken salad that guests seem to love. The original recipe calls for cooking whole chickens, which I seldom do.
Instead I go to a local place that makes wonderfully juicy rotisserie chickens and cut them up when I get home into good-sized chunks instead of the tiny pieces or shreds one comes across in typical chicken salads. Mixed with grapes, mandarin orange segments and sliced water chestnuts, the salad has a toothsome texture that comes through boldly because I don’t smother the ingredients with too much mayonnaise. Another trick is to keep everything separate until just before serving so that the dish doesn’t get soggy.
I have also learned to serve the same dishes more than once to friends who have enjoyed them, convincing myself that I don’t have to be novel every time I give a party. “Come on over,” I say. “I’m making that chicken salad you like.” And so a noble dining tradition is born.
Don’t sweat dessert
It is also possible to serve a store-bought dessert and still hold your head up high. (The French do this all the time.) I have something planned for this weekend that is bound to be successful, maybe even exciting, to my guests, friends who all remember an extinct Brooklyn bakery that used to make a Blackout cake.
It is a treat from the past that people still rhapsodize about. As it happens, a newly arrived bakery not far from me sells a wonderful cupcake version of this cake that I will serve with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
For this same gathering, I plan to accompany pre-dinner drinks with an old standby, cheese cookies, made with just three ingredients — a stick of butter, 8 ounces of soft cheddar and a cup of flour. I whip up the butter and cheese in a stand mixer, add the flour, roll the mixture into 1-inch balls and bake at 350 F until the edges are brown. They are best served warm, and the great thing about them is that they can be made ahead and refrigerated unbaked, or made way, way ahead and frozen.
Keep it simple
Anyone who has been cooking for a while has a good sense of what people really enjoy, and can pull off a simple but great meal as long as the ingredients are fresh and of good quality. When I am invited by friends who are less experienced cooks, I sometimes find that they go all out to prepare a meal with trendy dishes usually found in upscale restaurants. They think that just because I am perceived as a foodie I will expect complicated dishes with loads of ingredients and flavors when in fact I would be happier with something like a rich and tasty soup, a great salad and bread from a first-rate bakery. This is good, honest fare. It makes me sad to picture my friend working hard all day on some celebrity chef’s recipe without the help of kitchen crews found in restaurants.
What sometimes gets lost in the act of home entertaining is that the point of the gathering is to bring people together to enjoy one another’s company and to have fun. Good food and drink matter, of course, but dishes needn’t be complicated or pretentious, just good. And if you stick with home cooking and offer tried-and-true recipes, you are more likely to enjoy your own parties, instead of wishing everyone would just go home so that you can go to bed.
Top photo: Dinner party chicken salad with grapes, mandarin orange segments and sliced water chestnuts. Credit: Barbara Haber
While watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament this summer, I couldn’t help but notice the frequent mentioning of strawberries and cream, the foods that are emblematic of this traditional British sporting event. Recent statistics indicate that thousands of spectators consume 23 tons of the fruit, or more than 2 million berries, and 1,820 gallons of cream.
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The sports’ food question arises — why has this particular dish become synonymous with this premier tennis competition? The answer is simple if not obvious: The opening of the matches coincides with the availability of locally grown strawberries, both occurring in early summer. And so this highly anticipated and desirable seasonal fruit has become a natural accompaniment to this singular event. The official Wimbledon strawberry, the Elsanta variety, is grown in Kent and is delivered each day at 5:30 a.m. to the games, where the berries are prepared for the fans.
The delicacy of this fare is in startling contrast to what is typically sold at U.S. sporting events. When we think about baseball, we think about hot dogs, peanuts and beer, although there are regional exceptions. At Boston’s Fenway Park, for instance, Italian vendors just outside the gates dish up sausage sandwiches with plenty of fried peppers and onions, while at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, home of the Orioles, visitors can get a crab cake sandwich. I ate my first tortilla pie at a rodeo in Houston. These hearty dishes are in the same spirit as much of the food served at tailgate parties, a popular ritual found at football games in the U.S.
Although fans of various teams claim ownership of the custom, tailgating most likely originated at Ivy League colleges in the days when team sports were played by gentlemen. Harvard was playing football as early as the 1860s when fans would turn up at games in horse-drawn carts and carriages and would bring along boxed lunches to eat beforehand. With the availability of the automobile, portable meals became even more customary, and the term “tailgating” came along. It derives from the rear doors of roadsters and station wagons, which, when folded down, formed a convenient buffet to hold picnic spreads. Soon fans, whether they were passionate alumni at college games or supporters of professional teams, developed the custom of arriving at parking lots hours before kickoff to spend time eating casually with friends.
Tailgating evolved even more when instead of packing traditional picnics with sandwiches, salads, fruit and cookies, people brought along raw ingredients and barbecue gear so that parking lots took on the look of gigantic cookouts, with perspiring men hovering over charcoal fires. But elegance is not totally lost in this atmosphere. Some come to games prepared with folding tables and chairs, tablecloths, china, silver and fresh flowers, and picnic baskets filled with bottles of wine, brie and other cheeses, pâté and fruit.
Pimento sandwiches and mint juleps
Food at sporting events in the U.S. continues to reflect the region. The Masters tournament, held at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, is famous for its pimento cheese sandwiches, a dish favored by Southerners but with few Northern fans. And in Louisville at the Kentucky Derby, we get the renowned mint julep, a refreshing drink made with spearmint, bourbon, sugar and water. It carries with it the image of a Kentucky colonel, dressed in a white linen suit, sitting on a porch and sipping mint juleps from a silver cup.
Entertaining sporting events have evolved so that food is not only an accompaniment but the main attraction. Cheese-rolling, a quaint British custom that began as a local event near Gloucester in England, now draws international competitors. From the top of a steep hill, a 7-pound round of Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling, soon followed by a heap of contestants who race after it, and the first person over the finish line keeps the cheese. The wheel of cheese can reach speeds of up to 70 mph, racers collide and accidents happen, but the ever-vigilant Brits supply ambulance services so that the injured can be rushed to the hospital.
Not to be outdone, Americans in Delaware have come up with an annual competition called Punkin Chunkin in which pumpkins are hurled through the air, and those who propel them the greatest distance are the winners. This event has different categories, depending on the age of the contestants and the form of the hurling. Homemade devices such as air cannons, catapults or centrifugal contraptions described as “windmills on steroids” can send pumpkins flying as far as 4,000 feet. The competition is held in November, suggesting that getting rid of unsold Halloween pumpkins may have been the initial motivation, but these days white pumpkins with thick and tough shells are used. I hasten to point out that some of the proceeds from Punkin Chunkin go for scholarships and other worthy causes.
Sports food: When eating is the event
Strange as these events may seem, to me the most bizarre are the popular eating contests, with entrants in races to see who, in a short amount of time, can stuff down the most asparagus, chicken wings or birthday cake, to name a few of the ongoing rivalries. But the mother of them all is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest held every Fourth of July at that famous Coney Island stand.
This gathering is clothed in the language of sports and is broadcast on ESPN, the sports network. The reigning champion is Joey Chestnut, known to all as “Jaws,” who has won the title for seven years straight. This year he managed to chomp down 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes, a world record. His arm was raised in the air like a boxing champion, but instead of being bruised and cut, his face had a tinge of green.
Top photo: Strawberries for Wimbledon. Credit: Barbara Haber
I recently had the privilege of going to La Couronne, that famous restaurant in France where Julia Child had the sole meuniere that changed the course of her life. A non-cook at the time, she was introduced to a preparation in the French manner, an “aha revelation” of what food can taste like in the hands of a good cook. So off she went to cooking school, armed with sustaining curiosity and the ability to do hard work. And as we know, she pretty much succeeded in demystifying a glorious cuisine for an American audience.
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Julia‘s “aha moment” reminded me that food can serve as a wondrous vehicle for recognizing what may be a transforming experience. This could be in a practical sense as in starting Julia Child on an extraordinary career, or as an enlightening symbol, used most famously by Marcel Proust who wrote “Remembrance of Things Past,” a novel in seven volumes about involuntary memory. By nibbling on a petite madeleine and sipping tea, Proust’s main character is transported back to his childhood and flooded with long-buried memories that go on to fill hundreds of pages.
Something of the sort played out for me several years ago when I was having dinner with an elderly aunt. We were eating chicken and began one of those discussions about white meat versus dark meat when all of a sudden her face hardened and her eyes flashed with anger as she started to speak of her childhood. Some 75 years earlier, her mother used to give the white meat, the most tender part of the chicken, to her older sister who was a bit frail, while she, the younger sturdier child, was given the less desirable dark meat. I was astonished that she harbored such fury for so many years until I realized that to her the white meat of the chicken symbolized love and caring. She felt deprived and never got over it. People don’t.
Virginia Woolf had no appetite for these food memories
Food discrimination is easily used to make political points. Virginia Woolf, who by and large was indifferent to food, had an “aha moment” when she noticed and contrasted dinners served in the men’s and women’s university dining halls at Oxbridge. In “A Room of One’s Own,” her classic treatise on the disparity between women’s and men’s rights and privileges, she says that the men were served sole cooked in cream, and succulent partridges “with all their retinue of sauces and salads … sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent,” delicate pastries for dessert and wine glasses continually filled by hovering servants.
As for the women, they were served “beef with its attendant greens and potatoes … suggesting rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge and bargaining and cheapening.” Next comes custard and prunes “stringy as a miser’s heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers’ veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years.” Finally the biscuits showed up, and “the water jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core.” Point taken.
While some “aha” food revelations can be poignant, even sad, I recalled a memory that was, like Julia’s, happy and full of promise. I remember buying my first cookbook and realizing that knowing how to cook decently was a skill that would serve me well for the rest of my life. It was when I was a graduate student living in my own apartment for the first time, having progressed from the parental home to college dorm life with roommates to finally my own place and my own kitchen.
I went out and bought pots and pans and, from a secondhand bookstore, a paperback copy of my first cookbook, “The World’s Best Recipes,” edited by Marvin Small. The anthology included dishes from such luminaries as Escoffier, James Beard and Elizabeth David. My “aha moment” hit me when I read through the book and found it to be a treasure, for it not only gave me trustworthy recipes, but a bit of food history, a subject I have always found captivating. Further, the book encouraged me to try dishes I had never eaten, let alone cooked, and I soon developed some specialties such as shish kebab made with a delicious marinade and a rice pilaf enhanced with onions, pine nuts, currants and spices.
Those dishes became my signatures when I entertained fellow graduate students, and one of them, a guy who, as far as I could tell, was eating a steady diet of cheeseburgers from a corner diner, praised my cooking and came back for more. This is the man I eventually married. I know it wasn’t only my cooking that captivated him, but I suspect it helped, and I like to think that when he had his first dinner at my place he too had an “aha moment.”
(Adapted from a recipe found in Marvin Small’s “The World’s Best Recipes”)
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
¼ pine nuts
2 cups of rice
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ cup currants
1 large tomato
4 cups of meat stock (canned will work)
1. Heat oil in saucepan. Sauté the chopped onions, but do not brown them. Add the pine nuts and then the rice; sauté for five minutes, stirring all the while to prevent sticking.
2. Bring the stock to a boil in another pan.
3. Add the sugar, pepper, salt, allspice, currants, chopped tomato and the stock to the pan with the rice mixture. Stir everything together and cook gently, covering the pot with a cloth as well as the lid until the liquid is absorbed.
4. Allow to stand for 15 minutes without further cooking before serving.
Top photo: Sole meuniere at La Couronne in Rouen, France. Credit: Barbara Haber
I don’t think of myself as having a mania for amassing stuff, especially when I compare myself to those hoarders depicted on television reality shows, people who can’t get near their stoves or their bathtubs because of the menacing mountains of clutter that obstruct any approach. But while I may not be a hoarder — someone who collects absolutely everything in a pathological way — I am a serious collector of recipes. This recipe-collecting quirk of mine may seem to some to have gotten a little out of hand.
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To start with, I have a large and growing collection of cookbooks that are neatly arranged in bookshelves all over the three floors of my house. I also subscribe to food magazines that I can never bring myself to discard, even after reading them, for I have put Post-its on all the recipes I hope someday to try. Then I routinely read several newspapers, all of which publish recipes, and I clip and save the ones I like. I also check out cookbooks from my public library and photocopy recipes that look good to me. While reason tells me that I will never be able to cook all of the dishes whose recipes I have gathered, the thought of discarding any part of my recipe collection seems to me out of the question. And I know I am not alone.
Where have all the Gourmets gone?
When I was a professional collector of cookbooks, working in a library with a specialty in food history, I would often hear from people wanting to donate their collections of Gourmet magazine to a respectable institution to be preserved for posterity. These offers usually came up when people were moving into smaller quarters and no longer had room for old copies of the magazines. The would-be donors generally had around 20 years worth of Gourmet. This was a reflection of the owner’s peak cooking years, and not a whole set. But because my library already owned two complete and bound sets of Gourmet, I had to turn down these offers much to the dismay of the would-be donors. Parting with the magazines was hard enough, but the thought of dumping their collection into a paper recycling bin was impossible to face. To give them solace, I let them know that they were not alone in their attachment to the magazine, and would describe to them a New Yorker cartoon I had once seen that captured their concern. It shows a woman dressed in mourning speaking to a lawyer who says, “That being your mother’s wish, I see no reason we can’t arrange interment with all her old copies of Gourmet.”
Such fidelity strikes me as ever so human. Those old magazines were filled not only with enticing recipes, but articles about trips to exotic places and what to eat once you got there. By discarding their Gourmets, people were effectively giving up the dream of finally cooking all of those dishes and going to all of those wonderful places, and who wants to give up such a dream?
Recipe collecting in the Internet age
Nowadays, however, this need to cling to cookbooks, food magazines and newspaper clippings does not grip everyone interested in recipes. The ease of finding recipes on the Internet has caused some people to discard all of their paper sources because they know they can easily find virtually any dish they want online. I too search online for dishes, but this does not reduce my paper collection, for I immediately print newfound recipes and add them to my already bulging files. In any case, I find that online recipes are no substitute for cookbooks, the best of which are more than just batches of recipes. Like other good books, they have a voice, an author passing on wisdom and knowledge for the benefit of readers. To my mind, the best cookbooks should be read straight through before donning one’s apron and heading for the kitchen.
After scrutinizing my behavior, I have finally decided to accept the fact that I am a collector. Unlike hoarders, I do not find meaning and value in absolutely every material object that comes my way, but I sure do find meaning and value in recipes. Some people collect porcelain figurines of dogs, while others are on the lookout for antique toys or snuff boxes. The objects of our passions differ, but we collectors are all alike in that we love the thrill of the hunt, and find that discovering a new addition to our collection can be as much fun as having and keeping it. In my case, I keep my favorite recipes — newspaper clippings, printouts and handwritten jottings — in a shabby green folder in my kitchen, and am reminded that each of those recipes came from a different source. If I hadn’t tracked them down, saved them and cooked from them, I am sure that the pleasures of my family table would have been diminished.
Top photo: A cook’s recipe collection. Credit: Barbara Haber