Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Most Influential Book about Food

The question was recently asked what book about food was the most influential in my life. I drew a complete blank and found myself feeling a bit embarrassed. Book about food? Here I am calling myself a foodie and I don't know that I have ever read a food book.

Combing through the memory I then thought - should I lie and break out a 'Julia Child' comment? Maybe I could say I don't recall the author but it was a book I stumbled on during my travels in France or Spain. NO! I cannot lie.

Then a memory came to me. A memory of sitting on the couch at my parents house surrounded by cookbooks, Company's Coming cookbooks usually.

Oh how I would comb through those cookbooks looking for something new to try. Some way to spice up ground beef into something other than chili. A new dessert to make for dinner on those hot summer days when Dad and Gramps were putting in late hours in the field.

Good ole Jean Pare. Her 'blouse' choice for the back cover photo was always the same shade as the cover. Her little quips about why this was a good recipe or telling a good joke. Her ingredients could usually be found in the farm pantry. Her food was rarely too spicy. With help from both my mom and Jean, I thought I could tackle the world. The recipes were my oyster. I spent hours looking at her  food photos and attempting to make something as pretty as hers was.

And here I am 25 years later, with my very own collection of Jean Pare cookbooks that are tucked away. I find myself choosing not to head my father's wisdom of never trying something new when company comes. After all, I gave that guac a whirl last weekend and it was a desperate fail. Oops.

You see, through an unrelated circumstance, I had cause to rearrange my cookbooks a couple of weekends ago and it was bittersweet. I moved my whole collection of Company's Coming cookbooks into that awkward shallow cupboard over the fridge. The one that stores those items that you need to pull down once or twice a year. The 30 something me only crack the cover every x amount of months. I cannot tell you the last recipe I made from one of those books.

I realized how much I had grown as a cook. How those 'hard recipes' are now dishes I make without a recipe at all. My palate has changed and as a result so has my pantry. I am drawn to curries and chilies. And through it all, Jean Pare no longer plays a prominent role in my kitchen. But she is still there. She is there as I evaluate whether a recipe will work or not. She is there as I make the basics. She is with me as I think of all the ways I can do chicken or fondues or muffins.  She continues to inspire me to set a beautiful table. She continues to challenge me to constantly grow as a cook.

How about all of you? What was the most influential book about food in your growth as a cook?

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