Food porn vs. the community cookbook

Andreae Prozesky has kicked the habit.  

That’s it. I never thought it would happen but I think I’ve gone off food porn. I know, I know, a young hip foodie like myself is supposed to be all over the glossy photos of languid slabs of melted brie reclining on fleshy rounds of grilled nectarine, bronze-toasted pecans strewn everywhere and syrupy balsamic reduction spattered tellingly across the plate. Neatly manicured hands, glistening with olive oil, messily rolling charred eggplant slices into involtini should send me to heights of ecstasy. 
   
But it’s just not working.
   
You know what I’m into now? Fat Back & Molasses. That yellow-cardstock bound compendium of foods made famous at turkey teas and church sales, lovingly recorded in a typeset from years gone by. I’ve only ever used one recipe in it – Blueberry Cake, page 72, submitted by Thelma Freake of Joe Batt’s Arm – and I’ve more or less altered Ms. Freake’s cake beyond recognition. But I love the book, which starts with “The Story of Fish and Brewis and Flipper Pie,” and ends with anecdotes, corrections, a list of sea tragedies, and graces for the table.

Another favourite? A Diary of Indian Cooking, which I think I may have stolen from my mother. It’s printed on orange paper and held together with one oversized metal ring, and has no date on it, although it was produced “by Chinmaya Mission of New Foundland” in what I imagine must have been the late 70s or early 80s. It has a great glossary. The entry for “coriander” skips the definition altogether and goes straight to telling you how to treat Newfoundland soil so you can grow your own, which I think is brilliant. And there is a recipe for cashew nut pakoras that sounds to me like the height of comfort food.
   
Cookbooks like Fat Back & Molasses and A Diary of Indian Cooking aren’t meant to launch television careers or to lure young people into the kitchen. Instead, they’re an archive, meant to preserve and share favourite recipes with others. From what I can tell, the Chinmaya Mission’s cookbook was released as part of a fundraiser. Schools, faith communities, and workplace charitable groups do this all the time – my own office (yes, I have a day job, thank you) just took part in a cookbook-putting-together as a fundraiser and the result is a spiral bound collection of 593 recipes, in both official languages, from across Canada. Make-ahead casseroles, French-Canadian meat pies, and four very different recipes for hummus, the kind of thing that you would never find together in any one dust-jacketed soft-focus hardcover. These are collections of food that people really eat, not the food they fantasize about eating. (<plug>If you want to buy a copy, drop me a line.</plug>)
   
And that’s the thing. As much as the grilled nectarine with brie might look pretty, and might impress your peers, sometimes an old, unfancy recipe is just… better. Easier on the nerves. And, maybe even a little more delicious, having been perfected over the years.
   
The recipe may come from a cookbook riddled with typos and lacking in photos, but who needs photos when the directions are “combine ingredients in a dish and bake until done”? Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for leaving something to the imagination.
 
Send your questions, comments, suggestions and food porn to dreae@thescope.ca

Thoroughly Unfancy Blueberry Cake in the style of Thelma Freake.
(Tweaked, over the last 15 years, by me.)

1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup blueberries (if you are using frozen berries, do not thaw them first, even a little bit, or they will turn the batter a creepy grey)
   
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease one loaf pan.
   
Cream butter, then add sugar gradually. Add eggs and beat well. In a small bowl, combine 1 ½ cups flour with baking powder and salt. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture, followed by a third of the milk, beating well after each addition. Continue until all the milk and flour mixture have been added. Stir in lemon zest. Toss berries with remaining tablespoon of flour and add to the batter. Stir lightly to combine. Turn batter into prepared loaf pan and bake about 45 minutes.
   
This is very good with rum sauce. 

One comment

Comments are closed.