Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Paean to the Joy of Cooking

Lest readers think I am a slave to the Moosewoodempire, I should say that another favorite cookbook in our house is the very hep 1953 Joy of Cooking-- so up-to-the-minute that it even includes special instructions for making cakes with an electric mixer.

A cookbook is not just a compendium of recipes. It is a book with a voice, and I am completely charmed by Irma Rombauer's voice.

"To give this book the impression of sobriety and stability it deserves, the alcoholic cocktails have been relegated to the chapter on Beverages. There they may blush unseen by those who disapprove of them and they may be readily found in the company of many other good drinks by those who do not." (p.1)

"The old definition of 'lady' is 'cake-giver.' Whether you bake a cake as an attention for a friend, send a box of cookies to a homesick child or hand a pan of gingerbread over a back fence, the gesture is one of fellowship that adds to your stature and enriches your life. Besides, it's fun to be a 'lady.'" (p. 592)

"A layer cake is a complete course. Unfortunately, it is frequently served in addition to a dessert, which dwarfs it." (p. 639; Wow! Can I go back and visit this time period, please?)

on Orange Cake - "A gorgeous gilded lily presented without apologies." (p. 644)

on Chocolate Spice Cake - "Having firmly made up my mind that this collection contained enough chocolate cakes, I have lost my strength of character sufficiently to lower the bars to let this one in. Its epitaph might well be--'If I am so soon done for, what was I begun for?'" (p. 613; I think this means it's a very good cake that will be eaten quickly, but I'm not sure)

on Mystery Cake - "It would not occur to me to bake it for my own purposes as I have many others to choose from that are better..." (p. 614; but how could you resist making a cake for which one of the ingredients is a can of condensed tomato soup?)

on German Cherry Cake - "There are, of course, different versions of the same cake. Mine is a fairly modern one which may call displeasure down on my head. However, even a German Cherry Cake rule must bow to the Zeitgeist." (p. 638; "rule" is the author's word for "recipe"; we can vouch for this one - it is a very tasty tart - not really a cake)

"Is there anything better than good coffee cake? I am told that the deposed King of Spain 'dunked.' Perhaps that afforded him some comfort." (p. 623; I have included a link for those of you who, like me, are not as historically fluent as we should be)

on Crumb Spice Cake - "This really deserves mention of some kind but I have run out of adjectives." (p. 615; a legitimate plea, given the thousands of recipes in the book)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What poetry! I love Rombauer's voice and I love Julia Child's voice in The Art of French Cooking. Cookbooks are meant to be read and food is meant to convey culture and shared experience in the planning and preparations and eating. Thanks for that walk into a time more gentle.

July 3, 2008 at 1:27 PM  

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