Julie Ray and I were talking about cookbooks. She is, among other things, a graphic designer and she talked about the beautiful pictures in her favorite cookbooks, the type of paper, the layout of the books.
I remember my father sitting in his wooden upright chair in front of the TV with the rest of the family, reading during the shows. He read the entire Fannie Farmer cookbook, cover to cover, through a few seasons of 1950′s television. And he never cooked. He liked the way things were put together and mostly he liked the stories.
I am my father’s daughter, I love to hear about how a recipe came to be and who thought it up. I was fascinated by the beautiful line drawings in the original Moosewood Cookbook* by Mollie Katzen because she told about the kitchen where the food was constructed and gave hints of the people who may be there. I have a cookbook put together in the 1960′s by the Woodstock, N.Y. library as a fundraiser using the recipes and stories of many of the artists in town. Most people’s cookbook collection includes a “fundraising” book from their hometown, church or social club, that includes lots of jello and Cool Whip recipes and the local stories behind them.
There are books and movies galore featuring kitchens, food lore and magical properties. One of my favorite is Bryce Courtenay’s The Family Frying Pan, beautifully illustrated by Ann Williams. It’s the fictitious story of Mrs Moses who is the only survivor of a Cossack raid on her village. She flees with The Family Frying Pan that is “blessed with a Russian soul” from which she feeds all the refuges that travel with her. At night each of the group members share their stories in exchange for the meal. The book even includes recipes.
And I must mention Hidden Kitchens by Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson the Kitchen Sisters on National Public Radio. In this 2005 book they chronicle their travels across the nation looking for stories of “food and culture in America.” Because I lived in Owensboro, Kentucky and frequented the Moonlight Bar-B-Que, I really enjoyed the story of burgoo, a culinary oddity that even has its own website.
Alice Waters wrote the forward to this book and she says:
Just as we can’t live without food, we can’t live without stories. The curious and wonderful things about the stories in this book is how much they resemble good things to eat: They can be surprising and they can be reassuringly familiar; they can be comforting and they can be outrageous. To me, stories are food . . .
Last night Julie, Sheila Wilensky and I had dinner at Jax Kitchen and the waiter enthralled us with stories of the garden where the food came from and elegantly and enthusiastically described the flavors of wine selections. The meal was so fabulous that Sheila blogged it and Julie took pictures of the beautiful presentation. We all will go on to tell of eating the peanut butter chocolate chip and bacon cookies served with bourbon infused sweet milk. The food stories continue!
- *I still have and use my original book published in 1977. You can find copies of the original here or go to your favorite independent bookstore for the New Moosewood Cookbook