James Beard was the "Dean of American Cuisine." Before Alice Waters was even born, he was championing regional, seasonal cooking. Long before his buddy Julia Child, he had a televised cooking program -- the first ever, starting in 1946, when home televisions were a great rarity and most of audience was men in bars (his show came on after the boxing match).
He wrote more than 20 cookbooks and became famous for his New York cooking schools. After his death in 1985 at age 81, Julia Child wanted to preserve his home, school, and memory, leading to the creation of the James Beard Foundation, still located in his Greenwich Village brownstone. Every year the foundation honors cookbook authors, chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, and other culinary professionals with the James Beard Award.
Beard published Delights and Prejudices: A Memoir with Recipes 1964 to explain his own food loving history from toddler-hood to his New York cooking school days. He bounces around from his childhood in Portland to Les Halles in Paris to Mid-Century Manhattan and beyond.
It is absolutely wonderful, particularly for a Portlander like me. Beard highlights Portland's rich culinary roots, with lengthy chapters on the farmers' markets, local procuce, and abundant seafood that we here in the Rose City still enjoy. His remembrances of childhood weeks spent in Gearhart on the Oregon coast would make anyone want to head for the drizzly beach, build a huge bonfire, and roast oysters and Dungeness crabs.
What makes the book stand out is that Beard's bigger than life, kind of oddball personality shows through. For instance, despite launching his career with a catering company featuring canapes and the resultant first cookbook, Hors D'oeuvre and Canapes, he was ambivalent about finger food, coining the name "doots" for all little passed tidbits. Doots? Now, that's funny.
He had strong opinions about food and cooking -- many inherited from his strong-willed mother -- and laid them all out. For example, he hated chicken livers, but loved gizzards (and included plenty of recipes to prove it). He was an ardent Francophile and particularly favored bistro cooking, but could not stand Caribbean food.
When it came to holiday traditions, he loved his mother's Christmas fruitcakes (made a year in advance), but thought cranberries were an "abomination," homemade candy "really unsavory," and Christmas cookies only good if you make them yourself and eat them right away, exhorting well-wishers to "have pity on us, all you bakers -- the spirit of Christmas notwithstanding -- and deliver us from cookies that have crumbled or gone stale."
Delights and Prejudices is outstanding among food memoirs because James Beard is a giant and, therefore, learning what shaped his talent is fascinating, but also because it inspires an examination of your own food delights and prejudices and where they came from.
(Beard, like most Oregonians, loved the wild, dark huckleberries that grow here, particularly those that grow in the hills near the Oregon coast.)
Cream 1 cup butter and 1 cup granulated sugar together until the mixture is very light. Add 3 eggs, one by one, beating after each addition. Sift two cups flour and save 1/4 cup to mix with 1 cup huckleberries. Add to the rest 2 teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt, and fold this into the egg mixture. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and, lastly, fold in the floured huckleberries. Pour the batter into a buttered, floured 8-inch-square baking tin. Bake at 375º for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cake is nicely browned, or when a tester inserted comes out clean.
Serve the cake hot with whipped cream, or cold.
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This is my sixth and final book for the 2011 Foodie's Reading Challenge. I can't wait to sign up again for the 2012 version.