This is Dad's Bible. It is the one book you can truly live by." It showed up under the tree wrapped in paper in a pile of boxes with shirts, sweaters, kitchen gadgets, cassette tapes, and numerous other things that are long since gone. What made this gift different wasn't the new recipe for 'pie crust #2'. It was the "about" and the gift of Joy that it has revealed.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The Joy of Cooking
I don't know if there is a new version out this year or not. If there is I sure don't know what number it would be, but as for myself...I own three. The first edition I got was from my father in 1989. That was the year I went off to college at a Jesuit University, and being the atheist he was it was inscribed, "This is Dad's bible. It is the one book you can truly live by." Since then I have gotten two more revisions of the book, and of the fifty cookbooks we own it remains in the top three used.
Every year, as we draw closer to Christmas, I find myself drawn closer and closer to the book. Even though he passed away ten years ago (on November 4th), the book brings me closer and closer to him every year. Whether it is the need to make Parker House Rolls, or the ratio of lard to flour in my annual apple pie. Every time I pull it out, it takes me back to so many times growing up.
You see, my dad was a professor with two PhD's from the University of Chicago. I use the word professor and not teacher, because the thing he liked to do most was profess the truths that he had arrived to in life. Most of those truths came from The Joy of Cooking. Not just from the book, but also from the epiphanies he had as his mind wondered while he wisked a rue, carmelized the onions, or folded the eggs. Just as taking the time to pull the flavor out of an onion with a slow simmer makes for a bolder rich broth, ideas are better when they have the time to develop and release their aroma.
It's about "the about". What makes The Joy of Cooking special isn't the proliferous collection of recipes, the glossary, the index of measurements and facts, and most certainly not the pictures. It is the "about". For each section of the book, cut of meat, type of bread, or a cornicopia of other food types there is a section called "about". The "about" tells you why you do what you do, how the way you do it effects the outcome, and often the history of practices that has led to this discovery. This is why it was Dad's Bible. The recipes may work, but they won't be great unless you read and inwardly digest the "about". Once you have read it everything else you cook, whether it is from another cookbook, family recipe, or of your own creation will be better for it.
I said my father was professor, instead of teacher. Obviously he was a teacher. Every day when he came home from class and we came home from school we gathered around the kitchen table. The music for the scence was "All Things Considered" and "Fresh Air, at least two times through, as he made us dinner and gave us the "about". Once he was done, we turned off the radio, we sat down for dinner as a family and discussed the world's events. We started with our own world, made our way to the world news, then we proceeded with the "about".
There is no doubt that my love of food comes from growing up with my father. My love of knowledge and ideas obviously come from him as well. My love of family has undoubtedly come from the about. The fact that my six year old daugter likes her steak red, and that my wife likes her potatoes steamed before they are fried, lets me know that they have an appreciation for the aesthetic and depth of flavor and texture. The fact that we all share the ability to appreciate things with such depth definitely allows us to love each other in the same way. The joy that we gain from each other, even when times are hard, comes from that ability enrich the flavor of the onion with a long slow simmer. When we smell the aroma of that onion wafting through the house, it touches us even when we are in seperate rooms. It lets us know that we will be together soon to savor the flavor of the meal that is to come, and savor the richness that is each other.