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#1 Robb Walsh

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Posted 09 February 2004 - 08:55 AM

I just noticed this discussion which I didn't join in earlier. So let me start off this thread by belatedly answering John's question.

John Thorne's rice and peas epiphany in the beginning of Simple Cooking is one of my favorite bits of food writing.

Yes there was a specific experience that started me off in the world of cooking. It was a giant pot of mincemeat. But it's not something I have come back to again and again over the years, in fact, I made mincemeat once when I was 16 and never cooked it again. I tell the story in the introduction to Are You Really Going to Eat That?

What made the experience enlightening was the search for ingredients. I was using venison instead of beef. And I thought that perhaps the other ingredients should be special too. The recipe called for apple cider and apples. I had just gotten my driver's license and I lived in New England. It was apple season and there were countless varieties of apples for sale by the side of the road. There were also lots of old apple cider mills that made spunky unpasteurized cider, each with a slightly different flavor. I talked to the farmers about what different kinds of apples were used for. And I drank a lake of cider. By the time I made the mincemeat, I had a new awareness of how ingredients affected a recipe.

I have let the ingredients drive my cooking ever since. Fresh berries by the side of the road, shrimp right off the shrimp boat, when I see something special, I stop the car. It's a style of cooking one French chef has called the "treasure hunt" cuisine.

#2 John Whiting

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Posted 09 February 2004 - 11:10 AM

It's a more extreme version of market-driven cuisine, in which the chef at the village bistro goes out early in the morning and bases the day's menu on what he finds in the market square. But the market has to be there in the first place; without it, you're forced to treasure hunt.

Edited by John Whiting, 09 February 2004 - 03:22 PM.

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#3 skchai

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 05:10 AM

The anal-omniscient recipe is a relatively recent historical phenomenon, as I'm sure all you know. Blame for its rise is usually directed at Fanny Merritt Farmer, the Boston Cooking School, and the other leaders of the "domestic economy" movement during the early part of the 20th century. But in order fairly judge these types of recipes, we should really look at the main alternatives that existed at the time - collections of suggestions and hints that were useful primarily to those who already knew most of what it took to prepare the dishes in question, or had the time to go through the long trial-and-error process of learning for themselves what was left unstated.

Granted, it's theoretically possible to instruct without dictating. But it's pretty difficult to do. Forgive me if this seems presumptious, but could any of you suggest a new "paradigm" for recipe writing, one that encourages creativity without returning to the old pre-level measurement days?

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#4 John Whiting

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 05:28 AM

It's difficult, alas, to reform recipe writing without reforming society. Up to a rather high plateau, the more money people have, the less time (at least those with growing families). Those who write for popular periodicals know that, roughly speaking, there are those who read for titilation and those who read for instruction. The former are happy with celebrity chefs describing the impossible, but the overwhelming majority of the latter want recipes that begin, "You can do this in half an hour or less when you get home from work," or "Here's something you can do for a dinner party that doesn't take much skill but will wow your guests."

The minority who cook seriously -- that's us :laugh: -- find those authors who speak to them in a language they understand, enjoy and find useful.

Edited by John Whiting, 11 February 2004 - 07:16 AM.

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#5 Robb Walsh

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 06:44 AM

I think James Beard's Amercian Cookery did a splended job of putting all the historical recipes out there for you to see and then suggesting a few ways to use them. Sort of like what Thorne did with the rice and peas.

And, of course, Julia Child's, The Way to Cook, which gives you "master recipes" to depart from offers another paradigm. In a way, she was following Escoffier's "master sauces" concept.

In Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook, I put contradictory recipes side by side so people could see the range of possibilities. Some people got it, and some felt it was confusing.

As John has noted, the audience is the problem. It's hard to write for beginners and advanced cooks at the same time.

#6 Jonathan Day

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 06:54 AM

There are writers who teach technique -- how to cook, rather than what recipes to make. This is the knowledge that pays off: how to hold the knife, which kinds of meat will take well to roasting and which to braising, how to fold the flour into a cake that is leavened with egg whites rather than chemicals. At a certain point, you need no more than a few words to remind you that an egg Bruxelloise is served on a tartlet, filled with braised chicory (endive) and finished with a glazed cream sauce.*

You can't easily do ingredient-driven foraging or treasure hunting until you know something about how to cook.

A few cookbooks try to impart this knowledge: Julia Child, of course, and Jacques Pepin. So, more recently does John Campbell with his very useful Forumlas for Flavour. Delia Smith does as well. And there is always Larousse, La Repertoire de la Cuisine, etc.

* example from Jack Lang's marvellous eGCI piece on eggs, here
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#7 John Whiting

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 07:13 AM

There are writers who teach technique -- how to cook, rather than what recipes to make.

Two modern classics that include both are Madeleine Kamman's The Making of a Cook and Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion.

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement was the Time/Life series, The Good Cook, under the editorship of Richard Olney. A friend who worked on the project told me that it was a tax dodge, in which Time/Life set out to spend an enormous amount of money. They succeeded, but much more surprisingly, they didn't waste it.
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