My name is Sarah and I am an addict. An addict of vintage cookbooks.
And not any old vintage cookbooks. I have a great and undying love for cookbooks written in the 50’s and 60’s about the beginning of haute cuisine and a real interest in good food in America. The awakening of the American palate, if you will. I don’t know why or how this has happened. I suppose it began with my burgeoning interest in French food. I started dabbling in preparations at home, using the old standby, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, et al. I was warmed up by good old Jacques Pepin, on PBS on Saturday mornings. Then the mania began in earnest. I began stalking the cooking section at Beers Books here in Sacramento. When in Portland, I’d scout forgotten tomes in the bookstore holy grail, Powell’s Books. I really hit the jackpot, though, when I discovered eBay and I acquired my first Visa debit card. From Julia, I read about James Beard. From James I learned about Craig Claiborne. From Craig I got a goldmine of information: Pierre Franey, Henri Soule, Andre Soltner, Richard Olney, Paul Bocuse, and the Troisgros brothers. And so on. At last count, I was up to 120+ cookbooks and collections of food writing. Not to mention every issue of Gourmet since I first subscribed in the 80’s. And I’m still searching.
What I’m getting at is that I have an enormous and undying love for these pioneering chefs and writers, so much so that I think I will begin sharing this with you. I’m hoping this can become a weekly post, but as I hope to give you some background on the chef, or on the book, it may be more like bi-monthly.
I thought we’d get started with Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee’s book, “The Chinese Cookbook”. Craig Claiborne met Virginia Lee in 1970 while he was still writing and reviewing for the New York Times. Mrs. Lee had begun giving cooking classes out of her apartment and Claiborne was one of her early students. Right away, Claiborne knew he was hooked and agreed to collaborate with Mrs. Lee on a cookbook. Together, they tested recipes and wrote at Claiborne’s East Hampton house and two years later “The Chinese Cookbook” was born. “For many Americans, [The Chinese Cookbook] opened the door to a world beyond
chop suey and egg foo young.” Sadly, the book, first published in 1972, is now out of print, but you can still find it in used book stores, like I did, or on the internet.
I realize I’m starting with a pedestrian recipe, but it’s a good ‘un, and I was making it tonight anyway. Fried Rice. Actually, it’s titled “The Best Fried Rice”. The book states “Fried rice is, of course, one of the best-known of all Chinese dishes. If it is frowned upon as commonplace, it is because the run-of-the-mill fried rice served in most Chinese restaurants is precisely that. This fried rice is a bit of a masterpiece.” I have to take a couple of liberties with it, because I don’t have any Chinese sausage or bean sprouts. I’m going to put a little bacon in it instead and see how that goes.
This all stuff that was already in my house. I love fried rice for that–you can put anything in it.
The recipe calls for raw shrimp, but again, I’m improvising–I didn’t feel like making the trek to the store, so I utilized what I had. In a bowl, add a teaspoon each of salt and soda.
Rinse the shrimp thoroughly, then pat dry on paper towels.
Damn straight, it was.
From ‘The Chinese Cookbook’, by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee, 1972