Spotlight: An interview with Jean Anderson
The February Book
A note to readers and subscribers:
Every month, I will be spotlighting a favorite book and author — usually food-related, but sometimes not; usually new, but sometimes not; easily found, but sometimes rare —- that has taken hold of my life and heart, and not let go. In the case of food books, I will include a selected recipe that I have come to know and love and that has become a fixture in my kitchen, in the hope that you will go out, find the book (hopefully at your local independent bookseller), and fall in love with it as much as I have. I will not be using formal publicity or press photos, but shots taken in my own home and kitchen, so you can see drips/dings/pages/notations/marks, which, I believe, are evidence of love and use.
Please support writers everywhere; in the world of John O’Donohue’s neon times and addiction to distraction, it is the interiority of words and thought that will save us, and writers — myself included — depend on you, often quite literally. Thank you.
The third in my Spotlight series is Jean Anderson’s The Doubleday Cookbook, which figured heavily in my first memoir, Poor Man’s Feast, which is coming out in a tenth anniversary edition this spring both as a digital download and as an audio, which I have narrated.
Jean passed away this month, and I am publishing my conversation with her from a few years back. Her obituary appeared here.
They say that you can always judge someone by the books you find on their shelves; when Susan and I met, I made a bee-line for her kitchen, where, perched above her enormous Kohler farmhouse sink, I found just a few volumes—Mastering the Art of French Cooking (an ancient copy), Larousse Gastronomique, Patio-Daddio, and a spine-cracked, speckled, worse-for-wear, jacketless edition of Jean Anderson’s 1975 The Doubleday Cookbook which, to this day, Susan guards with her life.
Once left out in the rain, it sat in our garage, drying out for weeks, where it grew a layer of gray-green mold. When I suggested getting a new one, Susan responded with an icy glare. Years later, we still have it (the mold has been removed), and refer to it constantly for its broad categories, its shocking accuracy, and its recipes that run the gamut from the expected to the positively exotic. My two desert-island cookbooks? The 5000-recipe Doubleday Cookbook; and Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. With those, I have my bases covered, whether I’m making a perfectly medium-rare standing rib roast, or kichuri.
In a world filled with here-today-gone-tomorrow cookbooks and cookbook authors, Jean Anderson and her work have the staying power of the Rock of Gibraltar; steeped in an academic tradition, Jean’s books possess the kind of now-rare remarkable accuracy attainable only through a sort of culinary Socratic Method. Couple this with her ability to write profoundly insightful works on the foods of other cultures (Germany, Portugal), and you’ve got an American culinary icon.
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