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What's For Dinner? is a community forum published every Saturday at 4:30pm (Seattle/Sonoma), 5:30pm (Salt Lake City/Santa Fe) 6:30pm (St. Paul/Springfield), 7:30pm (Sarasota/Schenectady). Conversation is about food, recipes, cooking, and eating, and is informal, anecdotal, and friendly; all are welcome. Pour a libation and join us around the table.
My turn to be Lunchlady Doris – to wrist-flip a ladle full of steaming verbiage onto your tray as you pass my station; it’s for you to look down at the scalding dish and decide whether it’s delicious (yay! Pizza Night!) or inedible (WTF is WFD?).

We’re all readers: Daily Kos is a world of written words, after all. And we're all eaters.
This week*, I'll talk about about a few different cookbooks plucked from the shelves, to consider themes from exploration to ritual to motif. Some books might transcend categorical bounds. Hey, it’s WFD, not a dissertation. Scroll down below the Great Orange Christmas Cracker for more; hope you enjoy.

* am assuming by now that all Christmas-celebrants have their menus planned; by this late date, if you’re coming to WFD for last-minute holiday meal help, you might be deeper in the weeds than you realize. Maybe order in Chinese. Enjoy your holiday!

I believe excerpts quoted from published works and photos used here fall under the definition of "Fair Use" (title 17, U. S. Code), for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Photographs herein are my own, taken of published work; these and quotations are used for purposes of criticism and comment. As always, if interested and of means, I encourage purchase of the source book. Opinions are my own. My text © 2013.
The cookbook form evolved from recipe lists to treatises on household and professional kitchen management, and books devoted to single ingredients, ethnic foods, and culinary techniques. The Apicius, compiled ca. 400 A.D., is a collection of Roman recipes that might be the world's first cookery book. A similar compendium was written in Arabic in the early 10th-century. Many groundbreaking and influential works published over the last century or so include The Joy of Cooking, the Larousse, cookbooks by Mrs. Beeton, Escoffier, Mrs. Balbir Singh, Julia Child, Francis Moore Lappé, Jacques Pepin, Harold McGee, even Ms. Alice B. Toklas. And let’s not forget Ms. B. Crocker.

On September 22, 2012, Azazello published a WFD essay and described some favorite cookbooks grouped as “food porn,” celebrity authors, and references. I didn’t want to duplicate that effort, and wanted to go off the beaten track a bit. So I grabbed an assortment and decided they could be lumped according to three basic themes; I tend toward lumper, rather than splitter, anyway.

Food as Exploration

Food can be used as a vehicle to explore time, space, tradition, and self. The venerable Time/Life Foods of the World series is a favorite group of books to peruse. Much of the writing is informed, personable, and fun, as are many of the candid "action" photos. In the pre-Google age, it offered many Americans insight into global cuisine that probably was a minor force for good in the world.

In the little paperback Cookbook of Foods from Bible Days, by Jean and Frank McKibbin (Whitaker Books, Monroeville, Pennsylvania, 1971), the authors explore foods mentioned in the Bible, with citations to match. The uses of various fruits, meats, grains are discussed as cited in that book, along with recipes old and new. For example, we learn that in Exodus 12:8 (RSV) is the not quite exacting recipe for Passover lamb: "eat the flesh... roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs." In Ezekial 4:9 we "take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet, and spelt, and put them into a single vessel and make bread of them." Maybe not the most strict instruction for baking, but useful as a guideline.

Recipes feature in the book Sailors and Sauerkraut, Excerpts from the Journals of Captain Cook’s Expeditions All Pertaining to Food with Recipes to Match, by Barbara Burkhardt, Barrie Angus McLean, and Doris Kochanek (Gray’s Publishing Ltd., Sydney, B.C., Canada, 1978). But it's more of an extended bibliographic essay that discusses what sailors on their Cook's tour (ha ha) ate and drank. We learn about provisions, scurvy, and various foodstuffs. For example, in July 1772, Cook and crew of 200 men provisioned two ships with 11,937 4-lb. pieces of salt beef; 1,042 gallons of wine; nearly 20,000 lbs. of "sour krout"; and, 52 gallons of carrot marmalade, among other things. Eaten at least 4 times per week, the sour krout was a necessary tool to combat scurvy, and although was not popular at first, Cook found a way to encourage its consumption. He writes,

"The Sour Krout the Men at first would not eate untill I put in practice a Method I never once knew to fail with seamen, and this was to have some of it dress'd every Day for the Cabbin Table, and permitted all the Officers without exception to make use of it and left it to the option of the Men either to take as much as they pleased or none atall; but this practice was not continued above a week before I found it necessary to put every one on board to an Allowance, for such are the Tempers and disposissions of Seamen in general that whatever you give them out of the Common way, altho it be ever so much for their good yet it will not go down with them and you will hear nothing but murmurings gainest the man that first invented it; but the Moment they see their Superiors set a Value upon it, it becomes the finest stuff in the World, and the inventor an honest fellow." - Cook's journal, Thursday, April 13, 1769, upon arrival at Tahiti.
Preparations are related for salted meat, dog, seal, breadfruit, and a regular breakfast menu item of "portable soup" (think bullion) boiled with oatmeal and "Sellery," yum. Modern recipes are also offered, and include pork roasted in the Polynesian manner, herring with greens soup, grog, salmon loaf, and sauerkraut soup.

Groundbreaking in scope for the year of its publication, The South American Cookbook, by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown (Doubleday, Doran, and Co., Inc., New York, 1939) offers recipes from across the continent, ranging from Brazilian feijoada, Uruguayan baked steak with tomatoes and onions, barbecues, and a variety of tamales, empanadas, and soups. The selection of Brazilian sweets is fun for their names: Maiden's Kisses, Tinderboxes, Dreams, Blessed Mothers, Kisses of the Farmer's Daughter, and Eye of the Mother-In-Law. This last sweet is a large pitted prune into which is inserted an "eyeball" consisting of a sugar-and-egg-white ball fitted with an egg-yolk-and-sugar pupil; "the yellow pupil of the eye gives it a droll, jaundiced leer which, happily, does not detract from its edibility." One of the more arcane sections of the book is titled "Notes on National Cuisines" and offers recipes for stuffed parrot, fried snakes, ants, and monkeys.

The Anthropologists’ Cookbook, edited by Jessica Kuper (Universe Books, New York, 1977) "provides a feast of insights into the varied phenomena of intercultural cuisine," with discussions of the food preparation in different cultures and the significance and symbolism of food and eating. The book is comprised of several dozen essays about various cultures of the world, written by the  anthropologists that studied these. Essays include "Social Aspects of Iteso Cookery" by Ivan and Patricia Karp; Amazonian Smoked Fish and Meat: A Colombian Indian Technique" by Stephan Hugh-Jones; Rosemary Firth's "Cooking in a Kelantan Fishing Village, Malaya"; Roasting Dog in an Earth Oven (Ponape)" by Naomichi Ishige; and, Claude Lévi-Strauss on "The Roast and the Boiled," in which he declaims "boiled food is life, roast food death. Folklore the world over offers countless examples of the cauldron of immortality; but there is no indication anywhere of a spit of immortality."

Exploration doesn't have to be far afield, of course; one can take a received culinary tradition, and use it as a jumping off point (pun intended) to explore new ideas. In Ma Gastronomie, by Fernand Point, translated and adapted by Frank Kulla and Patricia Shannon Kulla (The Rookery Press, in association with The Overlook Press, New York, 2008), are given visions, aphorisms, and recipes that some might not call recipes. Until his death in 1955, M. Point and his wife Mado operated restaurant La Pyramide, in the town of Vienne, south of Lyon, and employed and trained a succession of cooks who became the forerunners and founders of Nouvelle Cuisine, characterized by lighter fare than the classical French tradition, and delicacy of presentation.

On a side note, in the early months of the Second World War,

Point often found himself in trouble with the French government for not collecting his guests' meat ration coupons. "How do you expect me to take them from people who don't have any?" he protested. His lawyer, Maitre Datry of the Vienne Bar, quietly pointed out to the authorities that Point had welcomed to his tables countless refugees who were fleeing the oncoming Nazi invaders. He never asked them for payment; he certainly had no intention of asking them for meat coupons.
M. Point shuttered La Pyramide for a time during the war rather than serve the Nazi officers and Occupation ministers that came to demand his food. When they came for dinner, he said the restaurant only served luncheon. When they came for luncheon, he closed the restaurant altogether.
That was a man that liked his food. And did not suffer fools.

Point believed, and trained his cuisiniers to understand, that great food was not static, that one could retain the base of knowledge, but build on that foundation, and tear down taboos to suit changing times and tastes. As Thomas Keller wrote in the introduction to the 2008 edition,

"what has always stood out in my mind was the manner by which he wrote his recipes... Often written without specific directions or ingredient amounts, they intrigued me and always made me want to cook even more... Every time I improved, my interpretation and execution of that dish also evolved and became better. In my mind, this meant that these dishes were no longer Chef Point's recipes. The title "Ma Gastronomie" - my gastronomy - became a recollection of my personal journeys and skills as a cook. I had transformed these recipes and made them my own."
I enjoy reading the recipes especially because precise measures and directions are not often given. Amounts are often described by words such as "some", "a little", and "enough." To read the recipes and to cook from them is more about a philosophy of doing things and the growth of a feeling for transforming food, rather than having to be chained to a rigorous sequence or process. Once some very basic skills are learned, these recipes can inspire a confidence in the kitchen that is gained hardly another way.
M. Point's notebook jottings and many recipes are delightful reading:

* Success is the sum of a lot of small things correctly done.
* Man is not a machine, and a cuisinier sometimes gets tired. But the clients must never know it.
* Cookbooks are as alike as brothers. The best is the one you write yourself.

Langouste des Chroniqueurs / Chroniclers' Lobster
Cook some chopped carrots and onions in butter. Add cut-up lobster, salt, a dash of Cayenne pepper, some white wine from Chateau Grillet that has turned slightly, a little brandy, a little chopped fresh tomato, and let this cook together for about fifteen minutes. Remove the lobster and arrange it on a hot platter. Reduce the cooking liquid and, off the heat, add butter and two egg yolks, according to the quantity of the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the lobster and serve very hot with some chopped parsley sprinkled on top.
In White Heat, by Marco Pierre White, Mitchell Beazley, London 2007 (1990), we take one part inspiration by Fernand Point, one part inspiration by chefs such as Pierre Koffmann, Albert Roux, Raymond Blanc, and Jacques Maximin, and add these to poor boy from Leeds with a chip on his shoulder. In the late 1980s, with years in kitchens under his belt, talent, and his shockingly successful south London restaurant, Harveys, suddenly the "It" place and patronized by bounders, punters, Sloane Rangers, as well as a lot of regular people, MPW moved to push the tenets of La Nouvelle Cuisine further. With the publication of White Heat, MPW popularized a vision of nouvelle cuisine underscored by his own considerable talent for self-promotion and branding. Behind the scenes action shots by photographer Bob Carlos Clarke gave the enterprise a gritty cachet that appealed to, and inspired, cooks to consider cooking this way. The end result of this was the incipient brew that produced the "chef-as-hero" celebrity chef culture, for better or worse.
That aside, Marco did inspire by popularizing refinements to nouvelle cuisine, such as foregoing flour in order to lighten sauces and reformulation of some traditional preparations for gustatory and visual effect. The terrine with leeks and lobsters is a very simple and delicious dish; a simple substitution of asparagus and cod could work, I suppose.
The filet of sea bass with ratatouille and essence of red peppers is wonderful. The bass is filled with a scallop mousseline, wrapped in cling film, and steamed for 5 minutes. And, quite simply, this is not your grandmother's ratatouille. Fried in olive oil for a couple minutes and distributed about the plate, it conveys traditional ingredients in a new and whimsical way. Voilà.
The Nouvelle Cuisine movement inspired many toward innovation in the kitchen, people like Alice Waters, Ferran Adria, Fergus Henderson, David Chang, etc. that in ways small and large break new ground in exploring the ways we eat. Exploring cooking means exploring ourselves. As we learn new techniques, we also look back to the cookbooks of our mothers and grandmothers and grandfathers. This looking back can inspire innovation and exploration.

In Memories of Gascony, by Pierre Koffman (Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1990), we're invited to explore the author's childhood on his grandparents' farm in southwest France. By describing the foods harvested and prepared on the farm across the seasons of the year, Koffmann evokes a wistful appreciation for the flavors of the countryside and youth, tempered by acknowledgment of daily rigors of toil and the passing of time. He clearly describes his inspiration to cook as borne from the memory of his grandmother. Among the many recipes in the book are very simple preparations, such as chicken necks, wings, and giblets stewed in white wine with macaroni (scroll through for recipe here), a winter dish, that illustrate seasonal changes on the farm.

Pierre included a photograph of his grandmother Camille's old recipe book.

Two other great books about the exploration of culinary tradition, and home, and self-understanding come from the late actor Vincent Schiavelli in his 2002 book, Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa and Mark Russ Federman's 2013 (2014 book tour info at link) Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built.

Food as Ritual

Many cookbooks present food to be prepared and consumed in a ritualized setting, such as holidays. Food is also prepared and served in proscribed ways; one thinks of the many ways Japanese cuisine is ritualized. This then is the use of food as a prop in a performative event, an event that also supports the dignity of its preparation and serving of food as gift – not just grub glopped on a plate, but a sensual act of gustatory respect and love. The fact that the exchange is founded on an unequal, hierarchical social relationship predicated on a system of monetary exchange in some arenas doesn't always erode the ritual manner.

The Gourmet’s Host, by Paul O. Huebener (Exposition Press, New York, 1961) was published as the "how-to" visual aid for white tablecloth restaurant servers, by a captain at San Francisco's Ernie's. Mr. Huebener walks the reader through tableside preparations of various classical dishes, accompanied by step-by-step diner-point-of-view photos, which make reading the book eerily like looking at a pre-Internet foodie blog. However, unlike such (in my opinion) execrable blogs such as the Food Network phony and overall bad cook "The "Pioneer" Woman," we are spared inane attempts at witticisms and gratuitous prose about the "simple life" on the multi-million dollar ranch. Plus, the food Huebener serves actually looks edible, even though the effort, while charming in its way, does seem, today, as an archaism perhaps left to the rarified lily-scented air of the elite haunts of The Gilded Age.

Unless tableside orange service is your cup of tea, of course.
The performative event can be accepted as the foundation for the epiphenomenon of eating; the preparation and consumption of mundane food becomes ancillary to a primary purpose – becoming drunk. In The Compleat Martini Cookbook, by Baba Erlanger and Daren Pierce (Random Thoughts Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1957) and Son of the Martini Cookbook, by Jane Trahey (née Baba Erlanger) & Daren Pierce, Clovis Press, New York, 1967) the reader is offered a guide to meal preparation after drinking at least 3 martinis. For, as the authors write,
The recipes in Son of the Martini Cookbook are perfectly balanced to the alcoholic content of the human frame. Therefore we have no recipes geared to less than three martinis. We feel that up until you have consumed three martinis you are quite capable of watching Julia Child or reading Mrs. Rombauer. It is only after that you need us. You will notice that the recipes become progressively simpler and we have tried to avoid the use of knives, graters or choppers as much as possible.
They ARE helpful that way, and the size of the type in the books becomes progressively larGER as the pages turn. The recipes are also garnished with encouraging language.
The last pages of the book contain helpful tips to help the reader survive days following the occasion.
Do not go to work. Do not watch television. Bathe a lot. Do not pay bills. Do not go near children. (Et cetera...)
Recipes themselves, as well as basic ingredients, can be attacked, and the entire experience of eating can be reformed as a performance to illustrate radical visions.

In The Futurist Cookbook, by Filippo Marinetti, translated by Suzanne Bell (Bedford Arts Publishers, San Francisco, 1989) is offered a philosophy of eating, as well as recipes, that might cause all but the most avant-garde proto-fascist to flee screaming to the hills.

Filippo Marinetti was trained as a lawyer, but abandoned this practice to pursue a literary career. In 1909, he published “The Futurist Manifesto” in a Bologna newspaper, which advocated rejection of hoary traditions and the past; celebrated industry, machines, youth, violence, and speed, and glorified war as “hygienic”; and, called for a cultural reformation to “modernize” Italy. He promoted these themes as an artistic philosophy, and encouraged events, “happenings”, and the writings of others in an attempt to christen Futurism as the defining cultural philosophy of 20th Century Italy. Following the end of the First World War, Marinetti continued to contribute to development of the Italian Fascist Party’s philosophical platform; he died of a heart attack in 1944.

First published in 1932, The Futurist Cookbook details practices, recipes, and describes “happenings” that he argued would help Italy reject all established forms of cooking and move the nation into an age of industrial modernity. Chief among these practices was abandonment of pasta. He had earlier said at a banquet, “pastasciutta, however grateful to the palate, is an obsolete food; it is heavy, brutalizing, and gross; its nutritive qualities are deceptive; it induces skepticism, sloth, and pessimism.” The day after this was published, the Italian press went into uproar, and debate over this radical argument spilled from newspapers to restaurants. The mayor of Naples took the side of tradition, and stated, “The angels in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro,” to which Marinetti replied that it confirmed his suspicions about the monotony of Paradise.

The cookbook, and the happenings, depended largely on shock value to outrage the public with preposterous meals incorporating bizarre combinations of ingredients (e.g., salami in a bath of black coffee flavored with eau-de-Cologne; raw onions covered with jam) consumed by diners wearing different colored pajamas, who stroke steel wool or cork while eating in places such as simulated aircraft cockpits, while musicians play outbursts, live turkeys are released into the room, and waiters spray various perfumes across the plates.

Sound weird? You betcha! * wink * But as the wonderful Elizabeth David wrote in her magnificent Italian Food, in 1954,

"behind this amiable fooling lurked a sinister note: the fascist obsession with nationalism and patriotism, the war to come. "Spaghetti is no food for fighters." In the 'conflict to come the victory will be to the swift", "Pastasciutta is anti-virile... A weighty and unencumbered stomach cannot be favorable to physical enthusiasm towards women." [...] Marinetti's tongue was by no means wholly in his cheek. A message from Mussolini, to be published in La Cucina Futurista, was dedicated 'to my dear old friend of the first fascist battles, to the intrepid soldier whose indomitable passion for his country has been consecrated in blood.'"

Well. We all know how that fascism thing worked out for Mussolini. The Futurist Cookbook is interesting in some ways as a historical document, but I certainly do not recommend its use in the home kitchen.

Food as Motif

Different visions of food don’t have to be extreme, of course. Food can be employed as a motif discovered in disparate narratives, which is then used as a thematic tool to explore culinary traditions. One example of this is the examination of food in fiction; in this case, genre cookbooks developed based on occurrences of foods in detective stories.

The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook, by Sean Wright and John Farrell (Bramhall House, New York, 1976) is divided into two parts. The first cites mention of meals from breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, and supper that appear in the Holmes oeuvre, with very simple Victorian recipes included. Scotch woodcock, eel pie, jugged hare, and chestnut pudding make an appearance, among many others. Some brief period details are sprinkled throughout the book.

“Many people bought their meals day after day from the street sellers, with a variety that may seem staggering to those raised in a world of hamburgers and French fries. Henry Mayhew, in ‘London Labour and the London Poor’, described in 1851 an institution that didn’t finally vanish until the twentieth century: ‘The Coffee stall supplies a warm breakfast; shell fish of many kind tempt to a luncheon; hot eels or pea soup, flanked by a potato ‘all hot,’ serve for a dinner; and cakes and tarts, or nuts or oranges, with many varieties of pastry, confectionary, and fruit, woo to an indulgence in a dessert; while for supper there is a sandwich, a meat pudding, or a ‘trotter.’” Holmes, tired and hungry from a morning’s investigation, or Watson, exhausted from an emergency call to a patient, would have patronized these London institutions, or would have taken nourishment at a convenient pub, where hearty food and the “most stupendous” English beer Dickens mentions were to be had.”
The second half of the book is devoted to newly devised recipes and menu plans, most of which the author has named with punning names. “The author has done this without apologies; he has taken a rather perverse glee in it, knowing that some ultra-serious Sherlockian scholar is gnashing his teeth at this less than worshipful attitude.” Most of these recipes seem rather ho-hum; there are lots of simple stews, dishes like ham loaf, caraway soup with macaroni, and things-on-toast. As far as punning names, we are subjected to “Mycroftburgers,” “Dog in the Nighttime Chocolate-Chip Droppings,” “Shall the World Be Overrun by Oysters Pie,” and “Cyril Pop-Overtons.” I suppose some of those names might be mildly amusing after intake of a seven-percent solution.

Dining with Sherlock Holmes, by Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and Frederic H. Sonnenschmidt (Fordham University Press, 1990 (2nd ed.) follows a similar path, but achieves a certain level of scholarship the previous book lacks. It’s actually quite a good sourcebook for Victorian English dishes, with many recipes provided and updated with modern American measurements, and couched within paragraphs of interesting historical and contextual commentary, and relevant quotations from the Holmes canon. Chapter titles include, “The Gastronomic Holmes and the Cuisine of His England,” and “The Horrors of a Country Inn.” The last 50 or so pages are devoted to recounting anecdotes and menus from various Baker Street Irregular fan meetings, with reproductions of some illustrated menu cards.

In The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook, by Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins (Ticknor & Fields, New Haven and New York, 1981), the authors mine the works of Dorothy L. Sayers for dishes and menus, and concoct recipes suited to 1920s-1940s Britain that her aristocrat detective ate or might have enjoyed. The tone of the books is light, and thankfully absent are attempts at punnery, while a gentle humor is not.

“A revealing picture of Lord Peter’s breakfasting habits is given in the very first Wimsey novel, “Whose Body?” Inspector Parker, awakening to the smell of his charlady’s burnt porridge, is recued by a telephone call from Bunter, Lord Peter’s valet: “His lordship says he’d be very glad, sir, if you could make it convenient to step round to breakfast.” “Tell his lordship I’ll be with him in half an hour,” Parker replies, and having viciously told his charlady that she can “take the porridge home for the family,” happily removes himself to Lord Peter’s Piccadilly flat. There, the smell of kidneys and bacon is wafting from the kitchen and the sound of “et iterum venturus est” from the bath. Presently, Lord Peter “roam[s] in, moist and verbena-scented in a bathrobe cheerfully patterned with unnaturally variegated peacocks,” and he and Parker sit down to a breakfast of the aforementioned kidneys and bacon, toast, Oxford marmalade, and Bunter’s “incomparable” coffee.

To recreate the above Rescue Breakfast, place bowls of burned porridge on the table. Then as your guests savor the gloomy prospect before them, whisk the porridge away and with a flourish bring on the hot kidneys and bacon, toast, marmalade, and coffee. For authenticity’s sake, someone in a fancy dressing gown should sing a portion of the Credo from the Bach B Minor Mass from another room.”

The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, by Rex Stout and the Editors of Viking Press, Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville, 1990 (1973) follows the familiar pattern. Of special interest are numerous photographs of 1930s-1940s New York City street scenes and interiors that illustrate a significant period when some novels are set. Recipes abound in this fun book; most are introduced with quotations that illustrate Stout’s and his 1/7-of-a-ton genius detective’s appreciation for food, and American cooking in particular.
“… Wolfe is obliged to defend American cooking to Jerome Berin [an Italian chef].
“I am told,” Berin said, “that there is good family cooking in America; I haven’t sampled it. I have heard of the New England boiled dinner and corn pone and clam chowder and milk gravy. This is for the multitude and certainly not to be scorned, if it is good. But it is not for masters.”

“Indeed.” Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. “Have you eaten a plank porterhouse steak, two inches thick, surrendering hot red juice under the knife, garnished with American parsley and slices of fresh limes, encompassed with mashed potatoes, which melt on the tongue, and escorted by thick slices of fresh mushrooms faintly underdone?”

“No.”

“Or the Creole Tripe of New Orleans?”

“No.”

“Or Missouri Boone County ham, baked with vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire, sweet cider, and herbs?”

“No.”

“Or chicken in curdled egg sauce, with raisins, onions, almonds, sherry, and Mexican sausage? Or Tennessee opossum? Or lobster Newburgh? Or Philadelphia snapper soup?”

“But I see you haven’t.” Wolfe pointed a finger at him. “The gastronome’s heaven is France, granted. But he would do well, on his way there, to make a detour hereabouts. I have eaten tripe a la mode de Caen at Pharmond’s in Paris. It is superb, but no more so than Creole tripe, which is less apt to stop the gullet without an excess of wine. I have eaten bouillabaisse at Marseille, its cradle and its temple, in my youth, when I was easier to move, and it is mere belly fodder, ballast for a stevedore, compared with its namesake at New Orleans. If no red snapper is available --- “

Wolfe lifted his brows. “Yes? Wait till you taste oyster pie, a la Nero Wolfe, prepared by Fritz Brenner. In comparison with American oysters, those of Europe are mere blobs of coppery protoplasm.”

Recipes for all the dishes above, and many others, are offered in the book.

I have heard of Las Recetas de Carvalho (Carvalho's Recipes), 1989, a compilation of recipes that appear in the private detective novels by the late Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, but haven't seen it. Pepe Carvalho is an ex-Communist, ex-philosophy student, ex-CIA operative, private eye, and gourmand living in Barcelona; the novels describe, satirize, and criticize Spanish politics and society in the 1970s-1990s. Many meals are described in detail, most very rich and many prepared by Carvalho in fits of bon vivant enthusiasm or professional frustration, such as a complicated duck dish cooked more or less on a whim at 2 o'lock in the morning. Montalbán's crime books are highly recommended.

The Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano in mysteries by Andrea Camilleri, is also a gastronome, and the island's dishes are described in loving detail, in both the text and in occasional end notes. I'm not aware of a recipe compilation, but undoubtedly there is someone in the world working at it.

Explore the rituals and mysteries of what you eat, whether these are simple or complex. Taste and ask questions.

Have you favorite unusual or intriguing cookbooks?

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Postscript: I want to add a personal note about one last cookbook. It was given to me 25 years ago by one of the best and wisest persons I've ever known. She saw hope in the world and encouraged me and others in countless ways. She is long dead, the victim of a senseless crime almost 20 years ago. Her memory inspires me to try to be a better person every day; after all, isn't "hope" part of what this season is about?

I might not be a cook, whatever that is. But I don't burn the fish anymore.

"Compliments of the season."  

Originally posted to What's for Dinner on Sat Dec 21, 2013 at 04:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers and Community Spotlight.

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