Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Friend Irma

My name is Peggy and it has been one week since I bought my last cookbook.  It was From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce Third Edition by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition.  I did it for you.

I have been buying and studying cookbooks since I was about 10 years old.  It started quite innocently, with the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls.  (Pretty progressive for the 50's.  BOYS and Girls!)

Betty was bullish on Bisquick.  She gave me confidence. I got really good at creamed chipped beef on toast. ( I am pretty sure I learned that from my Mom and not a book.)  I was making bechamel (basic white sauce) like a pro practically every Saturday afternoon.   It was my own idea to add peas.  By fifth grade or so I was hooked.  I had moved beyond kid cookbooks.   I would spend hours with my Mother's 1943 edition of the Joy of Cooking.  By the time I was in high school I had built a relationship with Irma S. Rombauer.  I trusted her.  I went to her for advice and inspiration.   To the extent that I have turned into an adult of good character, I think I owe more to Irma Rombauer than to confirmation class. 

She was a traditionalist who encouraged creativity.  She would agree that experimentation is fine, once you know the fundamentals.  She honored kitchen bravery. 

Rombauer on herbs in the 1943 edition of Joy of Cooking (p. 763):  "My rules are elastic, culled from a number of herb-growing friends and authorities with assailable but unbending convictions.  I fully expect some protest about whatever I might say, for social ostracism seems to follow in the wake of a vagrant  savory or misplaced camomile.  Epicures are insistent upon wedding the right herb to the right dish and in some circles only the brave venture forth on a doubtful alliance.  It is advisable to suppress your iconoclastic urges until you know your herbs, then use them as you please."
Lest Mrs. Rombauer be accused of being a spoilsport, she continues: "However, a break in the conventions cannot be much worse than a split infinitive or a double negative and they have been known to creep into the best of families. "

If Irma was still with us, I am not sure that she would make it on the Food Network.  But her culinary legacy has stood the test of time and I am grateful for that.

You hardly know me now but maybe after a while I could be your Irma.  I would like that.
Meanwhile I think it would be a good idea for you to pick up a copy of the Joy of Cooking.  Used is just fine.  The one I go to the most is the 1974 edition.  I have the 1997 edition too.  That one is somewhat controversial among Joy of Cooking fans.  I can see its merits.  Any cookbook that has a pretty good recipe for both Shrimp Pad Thai and Tuna Noodle casserole (NOT with canned mushroom soup) can't be all bad.

Because we are getting to be friends, I thought you would like a peek at some of my cookbooks.  In my next post I will talk about a few more of my favorites.  And maybe you can share some of yours?


  1. I love cookbooks too, but lately, I have been getting most of my recipes from the Cooking Pleasures magazine from the Cooking Club of America. No cream soups and they are good about featuring seasonal foods and ingredients in their issues.

    I love reading your blog. We stayed at your B & B about 2 1/2 years ago, so I know you're an excellent cook! I am going to try your Risotto next week because I think even my two-year-old son will eat that!

  2. I like cookbooks by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, new kids on the block compared to our friend Irma, but good recipe writers nonetheless. I also like Sally Schneider, the queen of improvisation, and Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food" is fabulous for fundamentals and details!