My mother had one cookbook: “The Antoinette Pope School Cookbook” (The Macmillan Company, 1951) by Antoinette and Francois Pope. The Chicago-based,   husband and wife team ran the Antoinette Pope School of Fancy Cookery for several decades, and Francois had a televised cooking show in the 60s. I’m not sure my mother ever used the book, but I did. Looking at the stains and splotches, it’s hard to tell what recipes I used, but the chocolate cake is a distinct possibility.

I bought my first cookbook shortly before I got married. The decision was based on volume. I opted for the cookbook that offered the most recipes for the price. The “Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook” published by the Culinary Arts Institute, distributed by Grosset & Dunlap, and edited by Ruth Berolzheimer has 974 pages, including an introductory segment entitled “2000 Facts About Food.” Talk about bang for your buck.

This book got a workout. For someone who was convinced that seasoned salt was the only seasoning required for day-to-day cooking, a cookbook packed with instructions, diagrams, charts, photos (most in black-and-white) and recipes for everything from cream of mushroom soup to eggnog was the equivalent of the key to Pandora’s Box.

Lots of recipes in the book have check marks, but the Fudge Cake is one of the few that has a comment, in this case a “good.”  Flipping through the book, I’m amazed by the variety. I really didn’t realize anyone was actually making “Planked Eggplant” or “Kale with Sour Cream” in the ‘60s. Certainly, at the grocery store where I shopped, the choices were usually limited to peas, corn, green beans, carrots, celery and onions.

I can still remember the first time my husband and I had fresh artichokes. Who knew you weren’t supposed to chew and swallow the leaves?  At that point, I was still stunned by my mother-in-law’s offhand observation that “basil went well with tomatoes.”

My spice cabinet gradually expanded, along with my recipe files. But the real growth was in my cookbook collection. I always took cookbooks out the library, especially the new ones. And of course, I started to buy them, especially the ones I considered “musts.” That list includes two editions of “The Joy of Cooking” (Scribner), the classic text by Irma Rombauer originally published in 1931 and regularly updated ever since.

Eventually, publishers began sending review copies of new cookbooks. Some of the books were big and flashy, but it was the ones packed with information that really got my attention.

Andrea Chesman’s “The Roasted Vegetable” (The Harvard Common Press, $12.95) is a good example. Roasting vegetables is something I’d never really thought about, except for potatoes or winter squash. And then, using the book as a guide, I started to experiment. The roasted asparagus was an instant hit, and the carrots and parsnips were rave worthy.

In the beginning, I peeled the carrots. But then I sampled carrots that were cooked peel-on and whole. The unpeeled carrots were moister and there was less shrinkage. So now, even when I cut the carrots before I cook them, I generally skip the peeling. Parsnips, however, should always be peeled, at least in my opinion.

In general, I preheat the oven to 400 to 450-degrees, put the vegetables on a jellyroll pan lined with parchment paper or non-stick foil, spray-or mist- them with olive or canola oil, and then pop them in the oven. Chesman recommends roasting green beans at 500-degrees, and I follow her directions.

Vegetables like asparagus and green beans are done in fifteen minutes or less, whole carrots take longer. You have to check on the veggies as they cook, since they need to be turned in order to cook evenly, and of course, cooking at a higher temperature lessens the oven time.

World’s Best Green Beans

Serves 4 to 6

Two pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed

Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt or kosher salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 500-degrees. Lightly oil a large shallow roasting or half sheet pan. (I use the method outlined above.)
  2. Arrange the green beans in a single, uncrowded layer in the pan. Drizzle the oil over the beans and roll until evenly coated.
  3. Roast for about 15 minutes, until the beans are well browned, shaking the pan occasionally for even cooking.
  4. Transfer the beans to a serving bowl and sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe in “The Roasted Vegetable” by Andrea Chesman

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