When I first read that men thought of sex every seven seconds, I thought that’s me. No, not that I think of sex but that I think of food frequently.
Even when I worked full time, I planned our family dinner each evening. Meal planning and cooking seemed more of a hobby that a chore. I enjoyed hosting parties and informal get-togethers.
Food had always been part of my life. Descended from two ethnic groups that think of food as love, there is no doubt I was hit with a double DNA whammy. My paternal Italian family spent Sunday afternoons at grandma’s Jersey City house: her kitchen table laden with homemade soup, bread and pasta, roasted chicken, salad, fruit, and followed by store bought Italian pastries. Expresso coffee for the adults coupled with good cigars for the men.
My mother’s Polish relatives lived in the New York City suburbs. Our less frequent trips to see them were also food centric: fresh and smoked kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, red cabbage with sour cream, and a selection of homemade desserts, such as cheesecake, lemon pie and baked apples with ice cream.
My mother was a good cook. I still have her three-ring binder busting with newspaper clippings of recipes, old cookbooks: The Art of Cooking and Serving by Sarah Field Splint, 1929 and educational booklets, such as The Herb-Ox Money Saver, 1949 and Sunkist Lemons: Bring Out the Flavor, 1939. Tucked into the pages of this last book is a typed recipe for Hedda Hopper’s Lemon Pie.
Now that I’m retired and there are only two of us to cook for, food doesn’t hold the same excitement. And I’m less interested in entertaining, if one can even do this in the time of Covid-19. However, recently I read Bill Buford’s new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. After I finished Dirt, I still had a taste for more cooking stories. I dusted off my copy of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain that I never did get around to reading. Either Buford or Bourdain had mentioned Larousse Gastronomique, the “internationally famous bible of cooking.” That’s when I went on a pilgrimage to the bookcase on the second floor stacked with books that mostly were dusted but not read.
On the bottom shelf stood The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique. It was the first American edition (1961) with 8,500 recipes. If I were to buy this book new on Amazon, I would spend $201.80 plus shipping. Okay, I am a Prime member—no shipping costs.
On the third shelf, I found a basket with all my mother’s cook books and notes.
What did this exercise teach me? First of all, the fact that I purchased Larousee Gastronomique reminds me how much cooking had meant to me. I’ll take the time to peruse this tome. Second, the trip down memory lane sorting all my mother’s cooking memorabilia challenges me to carefully sort her recipes and books. Maybe I would even try to recreate some of her dishes starting with Hedda Hopper’s Lemon pie.
The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique, the Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery Hardcover – January 1, 1961
This is the internationally famous bible of cooking, the encyclopedia-cookbook which, because of its 8,500 recipes and the full information it gives on all culinary matters, has been accepted as the world authority. Ask any chef, ask any cooking expert. You will find a copy of LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE in the kitchen of any superior restaurant anywhere in the world. It is a prized possession of every gourmet who knows French. But until now it has been available only the French language. Because of the complexities of variations in terms and measurements, it has never before been translated into English. Now, after three years of intensive work by a staff of twenty experts headed by two famous editors, it has been converted for American usage. LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE contains in its 1,100 large pages 8,500 recipes from all over the world and 1,000 illustrations, many in full color. Also, there are descriptions of cooking processes; full details about all foods, their nature and quality, and how to cure, treat, and preserve them; the history of food and cooking; articles on table service, banquets, food values, and diet — in fact, just about every topic of culinary interest is covered. Though LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE is the prime reference book of chefs, gourmets, and experts, it is equally useful and convenient for the home cook. All recipes except for banquet specialties are on a small-group basis, stated in simple terms for convenience in the home. For this American edition, all entries have been brought up to date, notable in the articles on the preservation of food. Entries are in alphabetical order and are fully cross-referenced under both English and French names. The illustrations in color, black-and-white photographs, and line drawings, many of which were made expressly for the American edition, show not only the appearance of the cooked dish but in many cases the intermediate steps of preparation as well.