11 February 2020

Vintage James Beard Recipe Takes Me Back

Trudy Toliver, PFM Executive Director

Since my mom’s stroke in 2012 she has been unable to read a recipe. She has aphasia, brain damage that impairs some communication abilities, which keeps her from knowing exactly which ingredients are needed and understanding the steps in a recipe process. Reluctantly, she let go of being the master chef of our family, and I’ve taken over that role.

Recently, while sifting through some of mom’s stuff, I found a second revised edition of The James Beard Cookbook (1987, original copyright 1959). I wish I could say that my mom’s book was oil splattered and tattered, but her book was in perfectly good condition. Maybe she never used it; otherwise it would have been like her Betty Crocker three-ring binder recipe book – falling apart. Nevertheless, I was eager to open it up.

James Beard intended this 12th book in his collection of about 20, for the new cook or the cook who says she can’t even boil water. Hence the simple ingredients. But it does not explain the limited direction on technique. I have become accustomed to being told what size pans to use and exactly how to flour the meat. Another surprise in the book – the word “kale” is printed just once in the book as an optional green when you have no more spinach to boil. Nowadays kale is a key ingredient in healthy cooking.

Nevertheless, this plain cookbook with no photos and only a few line drawings is a great all-round cookbook. It has lots of entree, vegetable and dessert recipes, everything from oysters Rockefeller to bourbon-baked peaches.

So, what did we cook?

No surprise that my husband Mike and I are frequent shoppers at the local farmers, sometimes as often as six times a week in the summer, where we gather fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits, meats and treats. This winter week we purchased Brussels sprouts from Winters Farm at the PSU Farmers Market and buckwheat groats from Gee Creek Farm & Mill. In our freezer we found 2 lbs. of beef short ribs, purchased previously, I believe, from Deck Family Farm.

That sweet ole James Beard Cookbook has recipes for them all.

For the Brussels sprouts, Mr. Beard’s recipe asked me to boil them first. Then I chose the option to sauté sliced green onions in butter and mix in some lemon juice (onions and Meyer lemon from Groundwork Organics). It’s easy to overcook vegetables when you’re boiling them and I almost did. They tasted fine, but reminded both of us why we did not like Brussels sprouts as kids.

We followed the directions to cook an egg into the buckwheat groats in a dry pan. It worked like a charm. Buckwheat groats (his recipe calls it “kasha”) are chewy with a robust flavor that leaves one feeling full. It’s a useful grain to include in meals as it supports digestive organs and is fairly high in protein.

And finally, the braised short ribs. Since Mike and I are not savvy meat people, we did not know how fatty the short ribs would be, but James Beard did. All we could say over the meal was “I wish there was more meat.” But to be fair, the fatty juices made a flavorful gravy for the dry-ish buckwheat.

For flavoring the meat, Mr. Beard recommends pressing cloves into half an onion before adding it to the braising pan and this I had learned from my mom. The act of sliding the pointy end of the clove in between the layers of the onion was a sweet moment of memories and they look adorable. Function-wise, I remember why I stopped doing it – the clove falls out anyway as the onion softens.

All in all, we enjoyed this meal, heartened by its heritage and memories that only food can bring. Thank you James Beard. And thanks mom, for giving me a passion for always trying new recipes.


Author’s note: I wish I could share photos of the cookbook cover with you, but those dang copyright laws prohibit it.