"Recipes are family stories." Although that could be the tagline for this blog, it's part of the introduction to One Big Table, a massive new cookbook that is as much fun to read as it is to use for recipes.
Molly O'Neill, a former food columnist for The New York Times, was concerned that super-sized convenience foods and fast-paced living were creating a country of non-cooks. She decided to set out on the road to discover if anyone in this country still makes their own meals. In 10 years, she traveled 300,000 miles and gathered 20,000 family recipes from 25 geographic areas.
What she discovered along the way is that the recipes also represent a family narrative and the ties between us, and that they preserve our history in their ingredients. Those stories, and those connections through food and celebration, are also the entire genesis for this blog.
As O'Neill made her way across America, she discovered native foods and regional cooks, many of whom brought exotic ingredients from other lands. Each part of the country offered up its own heritage and culture in food, and each cook provided his or her own spice of life.
The 600 recipes she eventually chose for the book were often handed down from generation to generation. When she asked cooks to submit a recipe, she told them to provide the one that would embody who they are, the one recipe that they would want to pass down to their children or grandchildren. And in a nod to that recipe telling a story, One Big Table includes a biographies of the chefs, family anecdotes, and family photos.Chapter titles offer clever twists on the usual fare, from "Nibbles, Noshes, and Tasty Little Plates" to "The Sweet Life." My fave is "Everything But the Squeal: Beef, Buffalo, Game, Lamb, Pork."
Added into the mix are quick sidebars like "A History of Bread" and "A Social History of American Stoves," along with historical factory photos, old agricultural posters, and timelines like "Significant Events in Popcorn."
I never thought I'd want to curl up with a good cookbook in the evening, much less one this hefty, but One Good Table makes it worth your while. (2010 - Simon & Schuster)