Yes, I know the joke: there are two types of people in the world, those who believe there are two types of people in the world and those who don’t. I am mostly the former with just a bit of the latter. That’s how we marketing people are, at least according to all the sales people I’ve worked with. We like clear designations, as long as we have access to asterisks and footnotes when we need them.
For example, I believe there are two types of cooks in the world, Joy of Cooking people and Fannie Farmer Cookbook people. How do you know which one you are?
Let’s say you want to make Chicken Divan for dinner because it’s cold outside and you remember that you’ve got some leftover cooked chicken in the freezer. You gather all of the other ingredients, make your cream sauce, preheat the oven and butter your casserole dish. Only when it comes time to thaw the chicken and assemble everything, you discover it’s actually leftover crawfish.
A. Make Crawfish Divan, adjusting the herbs and flavorings to be more Louisiana French than French French, or
B. Drive to the grocery store to buy some chicken. Who the hell ever heard of Crawfish Divan?
If you selected A, then you’re a Fannie Farmer cook. You excel in preparing a family feast when all you have in the larder is box of polenta, a can of jalapeno tomatoes and some Jamaican rum. B, you’re Joy of Cooking people. You are the go-to folks for all baked goods and for the chili recipe that works perfectly every time because you believe in adding exactly 1/4 tsp. cayenne instead of a good pinch.
My mother was a Fannie Farmer cook, a tradition passed on to me to my daughter. Her baked goods always looked a bit lopsided, but she could whip up an award-winning dinner for us or for a crowd on a moment’s notice. Her first housewarming gift to me was a yard-sale-acquired Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition. She spent months looking for it because she wanted to give me a well-loved and broken-in copy but couldn’t bear to part with her own.
The written dedication was in honor of the years we spent making Christmas cookies when I was a young child. We made dozens of dozens of them and decorated the lot with green sugar (even in the late 1960s my mother banned red dye from our house). By the time we were finished the entire kitchen was coated in a fine dusting Christmas sweetness, and then we pretended we were the mops from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice as we cleaned it all up.
My Fannie Farmer book was my cooking bible for many years. I bought other newer titles, too, but I trusted Fannie to guide me through boning a chicken, making a vegetable souffle, and (of course) baking cookies.
Then came my children, the pancake eaters. Since my mother wasn’t a morning person, our breakfasts usually consisted of scrambled eggs and toast, which were all she could muster without feeling nauseated at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. I’m not a morning person, either, so I didn’t develop much of a morning fare repertoire.
When my son was about four, he asked for pancakes for breakfast. I pulled down my trusty Fannie Farmer, turned to page 304 and made perfectly horrible pancakes that landed in the trash. The following weekend I decided to try again, thinking I’d been too imprecise with measuring. Nope; yucky pancakes, take two.
I can’t remember what prompted me to try the Joy of Cooking pancake recipe. Other than once to make brioche, I had never opened the book that I had purchased years earlier, before Google, solely because it had a reliable measure conversion chart and formula for making baking powder.
The pancakes were perfect. I’ve made them over and over again, always with the same result. They’re consistently delicious and never stick to the skillet.
I’m still a Fannie Farmer cook*, but those Joy of Cooking people could grow on me.
(*except for pancakes)
Happy week. jennyslark food week of july 8 2013