|Hannah Glasse: another gap in my learning|
I've tried to figure out how to post in an entertaining way about the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference and can't without resorting to commentary on hairstyles and how people were dressed and that was just so beside the point. The event was about ideas and those ideas were vivid and far more "entertaining" than the clothes, but jumbled and complicated and pointing off in all directions and they're more than I can wrap my head around in this space.
However, these ideas will recur forever in this blog. The conference was a pivotal event for me, confirming what I have always known which is that cookbooks are rich and vital documents, communicating complex messages about much more than gastronomy.
Some scattered reflections:
Over three days, I met and heard from scholars and enthusiasts who are studying copper cookware and African-American foodways and The Settlement Cookbook; who are recreating insane dishes from 16th-century Spanish cookery books and pickling rabbits and have devoted themselves to resurrecting recipes from the work and life of Willa Cather. I saw (but did not meet) Madhur Jaffrey, who is very, very beautiful and fierce-looking, like a queen. I have always cooked basmati rice her way.
I brushed up against the quirky subculture of community cookbook lovers who study spatter marks on the pages of books with names like Eatin' Elko (made up name, but typical) and that was a highlight. Trust me, there are fervid eggheads in archives right now poring over your grandmother's Methodist church cookbook.
The names Eliza Acton and Anna Wecker (good luck with that link) were dropped more often than Dorie Greenspan and Mark Bittman (I didn't hear his name once) in this crowd and everyone in the room just nodded knowingly. Everyone except me, although I plan to address this gap in my knowledge forthwith.
The Harvard-affiliated cookbook scholar Barbara Wheaton impressed me the most of anybody I encountered. Her depth of learning about cookbooks seemed fathomless, her commentary was acute, commonsensical, and frequently hilarious, and all this from a tiny, gentle grandmotherly presence in jogging shoes*. When someone bemoaned the fact that Americans hardly cook anymore because we are inundated with convenience food, she said, "It means more people who hate cooking don't have to do it and this benefits not just them, but the people who have to eat what they cook."
She also opined that it was more important for a family to sit down together over any food at all than for someone to run around fixing it from scratch. Agree.
Molly O'Neill was eloquent on the current high status associated with rugged cookbooks like Seven Fires and the whole "nose-to-tail" genre. Having one of these "bloody" cookbooks on your coffee table shows you're well traveled, well educated, and have evolved past bourgeois squeamishness. (I'm interested in the class analysis of cookbooks in our "classless" society, though find it ultimately reductive.)
I met Suzanne Fass, the opinionated and outspoken copy editor of my own cookbook, and that was a treat. I was glad to see she was as challenging with the speakers as she was with my manuscript.
Laura Schenone was an earthy and funny speaker, and if I hadn't already read The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken would want to.
Peter Kaminsky cited the grilled steak from Seven Fires and the roasted chicken from Bouchon as perfect recipes and I wrote them down to try as soon as possible.
The Silver Palate was cited reverently, as were Laurie Colwin, Marcella Hazan, Richard Olney (like always) and Madeleine Kamman. (Although one commenter referred to Kamman's specification of "12 grinds of the peppermill" in a recipe as "culinary terrorism.")
A woman in the audience had read Tamar Adler's Everlasting Meal three times, which caused me to order it, though I'm too deep into Middlemarch to read or think about anything else.
On the very last day, I sat on a panel about cookbooks and bookstore events. My terrific copanelists notwithstanding, that was not so much fun. I've been blessed in many ways, but not with the gift of gab. After the panel, I needed to come straight to my room and lie there in a state of traumatized mortification for several hours, fully dressed. Not a high point on which to end the conference, but all better the next morning when I went to the airport. To quote George Eliot: "Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world and leave only a margin by which we see the blot? I know of no speck so troublesome as self."
Home as of yesterday afternoon. For dinner, I made Nancy Silverton's mussels al forno with salsa calabrese (homemade garlic mayonnaise mixed with a lot of harissa) because it looked so easy and actually was. They were not nearly as good as her other mussel recipe. My husband cooked the kids hamburgers, because why bother even serving them the mussels? Just a few more days of Mozza and I am trying to figure out the best day for a big pizza blowout. Her crust requires forethought.
Good trip, good to be home.
*just can't stop myself from the clothes.