Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cookbooks for a desert island, or at least a cottage on the Maine coast

Like many people who have been working pretty much constantly from college graduation until, say, their 34th birthday, I think a lot about taking time off from work. A few months off would do a world of good. Since deciding to go back to school this coming January, I've been facing the prospect of two years of full-time work plus part-time school by retreating into these fantasies with ever greater frequency and fervor. Three to six months on the coast of Maine, far up north by the Canadian border, sounds about right. I can picture the cottage, the fires in the fireplace, the walks by the cliffs, the lobsters from the boats. I picture stuffing my car with the necessities - my howling Siamese cats, a few heavy sweaters, my painting supplies, some good novels, and every piece of cooking equipment in my kitchen. Because, damnit, if I ever get several months off in a row, I'm going to do some serious cooking.

Now, here's the question. What cookbooks do I bring?

I wouldn't have much space in that car, so I'm giving myself the traditional ten book limit. My list gets changed with regularity, but at the moment, these are my choices:

1) Mastering the Art of French Cooking, VI+II
Because if I could only bring one book, this would be my choice.

2) Fancy Pantry
A fantastic book on how to make jams, chutneys, pickles, vinegar, cordials and other good things. Almost everything I've ever made from this book - Rum/Brown Sugar/Peach Jam, Apricot Jam, Welsh Rabbit Spread, Dried Cherry Cordial, Blueberry Relish and many, many more - has been great, with one exception. The Tarragon-Pickled Flame Grapes were disgusting. I don't know why I thought they would be better than they sounded, but they weren't. But if I had the leisure, I would jelly and pickle my way straight through the year.

3) Jame's Peterson's Seafood
Because my cottage will be in Maine, and nobody covers the ins and outs of scary seafood like Peterson

4) Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook
I love this cookbook with a deep and abiding passion. The subtitle is misleading. Really, it should be called The Russian and Former Soviet Cookbook. The range is wide, but this is the sort of cooking that shows that the cold countries have something going on culinarily, too. Sauerkraut, horseradish, pomegranates, walnut sauces, wild mushrooms, game and sour cream all play big roles, and that's good by me.

5) Lettuce in Your Kitchen
Because after all the French and Russian food, I'm going to need some salad, and this book (by local wonder-boy Chris Schlesinger) makes salad interesting.

6) The Splendid Table
The recipes in this cookbook are long and involved and I rarely have time for them. But when I have my several-months-off-in-a-row, I'll have the time to spend three or four days just preparing the filling for ravioli.

7) The Bread Baker's Apprentice
I don't actually own this book, but I'll buy it for my fantasy-time-off. I've done some sourdough baking, but I've never really mastered it. This is supposed to be the book-of-books for sourdough.

8)How to Bake
As a reference for basic stuff. Nick's recipes are solid.

9) Louisiana Kitchen
I couldn't go three months without a good jambalaya.

10) Something old, as yet undetermined
I have a lot of cookbooks from the early 1900s. I've cooked a few things from them, but generally I just peruse them for pleasure. I love to see the way that everyday cooking has changed. These cookbooks will have 200 recipes for main-dish egg dishes and only two that call for chicken breasts, which seems much more sensible than the standard current ratio. The pickling and preserving sections are generally quite large, while today's cookbooks rarely include anything on the subject. There are also all sort of strange and intriguing recipes, like the Chocolate-Dipped Potato Candies (made from mashed potato and powdered sugar) that seemed to have been the rage for a few years. I would love to bring one of these cookbooks with me and actually try out the recipes.

Now I just need to figure out how to get a few months off...

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