Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cookbooks and Condiments

I’ve been collecting cookbooks for a long, long time. I read them in bed, on vacation, and usually, when I cook. They’re falling off of shelves, stacked on tables and the floor, and occasionally making themselves more useful by serving other purposes.

Photographer John McCarthy's solution
to being too tall for his monitor.

I’ve got big coffee table books and tiny tomes. Out-of-print and just-off-the-press. Some with a sprinkling of pen and ink drawings, some with photography so graphic and bold it's akin to food porn. Speaking of salacious photos, many moons ago I wrote the lengthy text for this lushly photographed, oversized cookbook with recipes by John Phillip Carroll

We had to fight the publishers to get our names on the cover of the book since it was ‘work for hire.’ But we prevailed and it turned out to be one of the most popular of the Beautiful series. Now I see it’s out of print, with "new" copies going for some pretty pennies on Amazon. Fortunately, you can also pick it up for a song. I suspect the "new" price has skyrocketed  because few publishers can afford to do this kind of photography any more. Plus, it is a terrific book. John is a brilliant, precise recipe developer and cook – as humble as he is talented. It takes him a while to get around to telling you that he was a protege of James Beard, Marion Cunningham, Flo Braker, and so many other baking luminaries -- and that he has gone on to write all kinds of award-winning books. Working with him was one of the highlights of my career. If you can find a used copy of our book, get it. And don’t be afraid to take it into the kitchen and let the splatters fall where they may. 

The book covers 12 regions of the state and ties its culinary history to the geography and the progression through Spanish ranchos and missions to the Gold Rush, the advent of transcontinental trains, the backyard barbecue craze, and on to the debut of Chez Panisse. Researching and writing the 20,000 word text (I know! Insane.) was one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had. 

As you might figure, the chapter on Condiments and Preserves was among my favorites. There are pickled peaches, grape and rhubarb conserve, honey and red wine figs and mushroom relish. Flavored vinegars, lots of jams and marmalades, too. And that just skims the surface. Here's one of the easier recipes. It takes a while, but most of that is non-active time. 

Red Pepper Marmalade 
from California the Beautiful Cookbook

This so good it will surprise you. Cardinal red and quite sweet, pepper marmalade is good with cold sliced beef and pork and also as a spread for crackers, with a soft goat cheese. This recipe yields a manageable amount that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to several weeks, so you do not have to fuss with sterilized jars and water bath processing.

2-1/2 lbs. red bell peppers (capsicums)
1  tablespoon salt
1  cup cider vinegar
2  cups sugar

Stem and seed the peppers and put them through the coarse blade of a grinder, or chop them coarsely in a food processor (take care not to puree them). Toss with the salt and let them stand for 2 hours.

Drain and discard any accumulated juices and combine the peppers in a saucepan with the vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring now and then.

Let the marmalade cool to room temperature, then store, tightly covered in the refrigerator.

* * * 

No comments:

Post a Comment