Sunday, January 23, 2011

the joy of cross referencing

I have lots of cookbooks. Mostly because I'm a total sucker for both beautiful books and food photography, but also because I've styled quite a few kitchen photo shoots over the years, and cookbooks come in very handy as props. I don't use them in the traditional way much, even though I cook all the time.

this is not my kitchen, but I styled it for these folks

I use my cookbooks mostly as reference books. Not really that unusual, considering I'm the offspring of an editor and a teacher (both graduates of NYU's school of journalism). My siblings and I learned the value of research and fact checking from a young age.

And I think because of this background, my favorite cookbook is The Joy of Cooking. I've had my copy (the 1975 edition) since 1976, and I've never failed to learn something every time I open its worn cover and thumb through the grease-stained pages. Like using any reference book, I skim through the index looking for a particular subject or recipe, and in doing so, my finger passes by any number of other recipes and subjects which may or may not cause me to veer off course for a time to investigate something intriguing. I like this old-fashioned analog way of researching for just that reason. You don't often have that kind of experience when using a search engine. 

Joy is an encyclopedia of cooking in condensed form. My father (the editor) was not a fan. He liked his cookbooks simple and to the point. Short, easy recipes were always the preferable path to dinner for him, and referred to Joy as "The Joy of Cross Referencing". And he was right: nary a recipe in the book escapes that necessity to jump to another page for added information. 

Suppose, for instance, you'd like to make something as basic as a bean soup, using dried beans.  First, the recipe directs you to soak the dried beans, but not before you read the  article directly above it, titled "About Legume Soups", which tells you (in the first sentence) to "Please read About Dried Legumes" on page 286. Flipping to page 286, "About Dried Legumes" warns you not to "upstage them, because they have valuable, if incomplete, proteins". The next thing you know, you've moved on to page 519, and the article "About Water", because evidently just any old cooking water will not do. 
By the time you get back to the original bean soup recipe, you're ready to open a can of Campbell's Bean with Bacon soup and call it a day.

Though it may not seem like it, this is a great cookbook to open when you have a particular ingredient you have absolutely no idea how to cook.  

(click to enlarge if you dare)

Let's imagine you've just run over an unfortunate squirrel. You feel terrible that the poor creature lost his life, but even worse, you'd hate the idea that it was in vain. So you flip open Joy, and in moments you have a step-by-step guide showing you how to skin him and prepare a tasty meal. They suggest using the recipe for Brunswick Stew (page 427), seasoning the gravy with Walnut Catsup (page 848), and serving with Polenta (page 201), but not before you've read About Small Game (page 513).

Suddenly that can of Bean with Bacon soup looks very appetizing.

1 comment:

patty said...

Mom didn't study journalism; she spent her years in college in the education department...