There are some things in life that I consider essential to know. One of them is cooking. When I was growing up, Jim didn’t know how to cook, my mother didn’t cook much, and I couldn’t figure out how to learn how my grandmother cooked. Grandma could really put together a fine meal, but it was all her. I watched, and may have learned more than I knew. When I did ask I got an answer like “add flour until it’s right.”
Since neither Jim nor I knew how to cook, and we were going camping now and then, if we were going to eat well, we had to figure something out. For his birthday in 1966, I bought him the I Never Cooked Before Cookbook. That may have been one of the best gifts I’ve ever given anyone. He used that book for everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Everything. That book showed up the other day when I was cleaning out our attic. It was dog eared, well worn, full of notes and clippings, all tied together with a fat rubber band. The last time I looked, it was still available on Amazon! The reviews (from 1999 and 2000) were universally five star positive. I agree.
After I met Judy and we got married we ended up teaching each other how to cook. There were a lot of evenings of tuna noodle hotdish with Kool-Aid. Those days are done. We knew the basics, but there was a lot to learn.
In Rochester we discovered Community Education and took several cooking classes. That really got us into cooking in a big way. We started buying cook books and learning more about fine cooking. That’s when I bought Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of my favorite recipes in the book was for baguettes. It’s a sixteen page, six hour creation that makes the most incredible bread you have ever had. So good that in a management class on negotiation I traded a copy of the recipe to Bill C for two Susan B Anthony dollars. We were both pretty satisfied with the results of the negotiation, but he got the thing of value.
About that time Judy got a job at Dayton’s department store as their culinary professional, advising customers on cookware purchases, teaching classes, and demonstrating new products. That gave us an insight into what quality meant when cooking, a treasure trove of recipes, and an appreciation for what satisfying cooking is. Thanks to the generosity of the vendors, Judy had the chance to demonstrate some excellent (and some not so good) products, and we now have a complete collection of the best.
For a couple of years I served on the Post-Bulletin’s cooking page advisory board. They wanted opinions from a regular guy on how to improve their newspaper’s reporting of the cooking scene. As part of that exercise I wrote several cookbook reviews. For payment, I received a copy of the book to be reviewed. Only one, Authentic Mexican Cooking, is still on my bookshelf. It gets a good amount of use.
Moving beyond the community education scene, we also took classes from local chefs. One of the most memorable was one taught in the kitchen at the local Holiday Inn. This was back when they had an excellent restaurant. It was the first time I had been behind the scenes in a commercial kitchen. What a fantastic place. Hot and crowded for sure, but incredibly clean, efficient and full of the finest cookware. We learned a lot from those guys. Another series of classes was taught by Chef Arman De Lorenz at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, Minnesota. At the time the restaurant was a destination for hundreds of miles around. Their kitchen was twice as big as the Holiday Inn’s, with a classic dining room to match. I drove up there for several weeks of evening classes. We still have his Nouveau Cucina Volume 1 cookbook, with some outstanding recipes. (There never was a Volume 2.) That’s where I learned how to use a knife. The proper technique makes it almost impossible to cut yourself, and a high quality knife makes a huge difference,too.
We still have the best quality cookware, and almost no gimmicky things that claim to save you hundreds of dollars. The best isn’t that expensive, and lasts for years.
Now that I’m retired, cooking has become one of my favorite hobbies. I have a stable of favorite cookbooks, many of which are twenty or thirty years old. There are plenty of undiscovered gems in them. Just last week I discovered one in The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan. Her pork loin boiled in milk was the best thing we’d eaten in weeks! (Trust me on this, I was skeptical at first, too.)
One other cookbook that’s not in the photos or mentioned above is The All New Joy of Cooking. That’s the “go to” book for standard fare, along with Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, the three ring binder standby.
Since getting that beginner’s book for Jim almost fifty years ago, I’ve learned a lot and continue to stretch my abilities as a cook. Jim’s birthday was this week, and I will forever be in his debt for the enthusiam he showed me for that simple cookbook. He started me on this cooking journey. It’s a satisfying hobby, at least as much fun as writing!