Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some things never change.

A passage from the I Hate to Cook Book, by Peg Bracken (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960, illustrations by Hilary Knight), for your edification and delight:

The Problem of Falling in Love. You often do, when you hate to cook, fall in love with one recipe which seems to have simply everything: it's fast, it's simple, and the whole family likes it. And so, like impetuous lovers since time began, you tend to overdo it. You find yourself serving the little gem three times a week, including Sunday breakfast. Your problems are solved. You're serene. Oh, you love that little recipe!

But no recipe can stand such an onslaught. After a while, it just doesn't taste as good as it did the first time. You begin to wonder what you ever saw in it. Presently, you stop making it. Eventually it's lost in limbo, and that's the end of that love affair.

Two things are responsible for this all-too-common occurrence: first, you overdid it, and, second, you probably started to kick it around. You felt so safe with your own true love that you began taking it for granted, not exactly following the recipe, using vinegar instead of lemon juice, or canned mushrooms instead of fresh mushrooms (because you had some vinegar or canned mushrooms). Soon, without your being aware of it, the recipe has undergone a sea change, and become something rich and undoubtedly strange, all right, but not at all the same recipe you started with.

The moral is this: Instead of going steady, play the field. When you make proper contact with a recipe, don't make it again for an entire month. Keep it warm and cozy, your ace in the hole, in your card file, or checked in your recipe book, while you try some more. Presently, you'll have several aces in the hole, which is a very delectable state of affairs indeed.
When I read this in the car, after having found this book in a great coup of good luck at a flea market, it was as if I were transported from the present day to my teens, when I first read this book. I often think about the role that various cookbooks played in shaping my culinary life, starting with a birthday card my parents gave me when I was about 9, a birthday card that was actually an adorable pink pamphlet comprising several cookie recipes (lost to time, so very sad!). The gender relations embodied in Peg Bracken's book are like a perky version of Mad Men, which makes it an interesting historical artifact.

If you could take a peek, however, at the kitchen diary I kept when I was a young wife, you'd see that the basic advice here--don't cook the same thing over and over--was embodied in my own planning. I often planned shopping and meals for two weeks out (don't ask), with nary a meal repeated, except perhaps spaghetti, which remains a go-to option for me when the cooking seems almost too much to bear (sob, collapse). You don't want to wear out a recipe's welcome. Except spaghetti, which is like a very, very good friend showing up on your doorstep with a covered dish, and in the covered dish is spaghetti, thank God.

3 comments:

gilian said...

I think of recipe advice in the same way that I think of dating advice for the youngsters and that is to think of potential dates as shopping for clothes. Try on lots of different styles and notice which collar you like or which sleeve length works best for your arms, or whether you like an a-line skirt or a flouncy ruffley skirt. Then keep all of those different style things in mind while you're dating/trying on different boys/girls (and not in the biblical sense), until you meet the person who fits you the best. And you're no longer a youngster.

That is the way cooking works for me--try new recipes, remember the old favorites (meatloaf at my house or waffles) and turn often to my own 1975 Betty Crocker cookbook.

Counterintuitive said...

Kitchen diary??? I want to know more about this, much more.

Amelia said...

Amen to the spaghetti. Forever and ever amen.

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