If anyone had said 30 years ago that I would be reading cookbooks
some day, I would have suggested some sort of therapy - like a jump
in the lake.
In 1956, I was struggling to learn how to cook Campbell's soup
without burning it. Meanwhile, Jean Anderson was a classmate at
Columbia University. She already was attracting attention with
Since then, Anderson has built a career in cookbooks, authoring
12 for major New York publishers. I was reminded of my soup
struggles when her latest book, "The Food of Portugal,'' came across
However, I didn't do anything about it until 10 more cookbooks
arrived from various authors and publishers about everything from hot
peppers to Dina Shore and her celebrity friends to "White Trash
I thought maybe I better take a look at the business of
cookbooks, what with Christmas coming up and unusual gifts hard to
find. It's a growing industry, according to Publisher's Weekly,
which reported cookbook sales estimated at more than $208 million in
1984, up 15 percent from 1983 and rising.
The average homemaker has 6.8 hardback cookbooks and 8.5
softback cookbooks, said the report.
So, after 25 years as a sportswriter and six in business
reporting, I tried something new.
To my surprise, cookbooks have become fascinating in a way I
never expected. They seem to have a rich mixture of folklore and
tradition these days, adding a generous "pinch" of background to the
recipes, which I still don't understand.
While I flat don't care how many figs it takes to make Figos com
Presunto in Portugal (sorry about that, Jean), or how many
tablespoons of minced green onion it takes for Martin Yan's classic
wontons, I loved learning how various cultures are reflected in the
Anderson's work on Portugal, published by William Morro and Co.
of New York, was the best, though I certainly admit to some bias.
As a former managing editor of "The Ladie's Home Journal,'' and a
contributing editor to "Family Circle,'' she is a journalist as well
as a great cook. She reported on several dozen trips to Portugal
over the last 25 years.
She points out that Portugal's cooking differs extensively from
neighboring Spain because of the variety of spices, fruits, peppers
and vegetables imported from Portugal's overseas empire starting
with Vaco da Gama in the 16th century.
As a result, Portugese cooking is punctuated by "stunning
juxtapositions'' such as trout and ham, salt cod and eggs and
olives, or clams and sausage.
"Who would have thought to reycle the shimp cooking water with
yesterday's bread,'' asks Anderson, "and create a masterpiece known
as "acorda de mariscos (a dry soup)?''
Her recipes are often mixed with history, visits to restaurants,
folklore of certain provinces and color photos remindful of National
A similar work is "The Spanish Table, a Doubleday & Co. work by
Marimar Torres of Spain. She describes the various areas of Spain
and how the cuisines and wines fit the various cultures and
She debunks the myth that all Spanish food means spicy dishes
washed down with tequila or beer. Torres is president of Torres
Wines North America and recently was named "wine woman of the year."
That means this is a book to sell wine, but it's still a learning
My personal appetite for nostalgia was well fed by "The
Illustrated Book of Preserves,'' which was published by Gruppo
Editoriale Fabbri of Italy and translated by Sara Harris for
Doubleday & Co. It could be renamed, "Tales Mine Grossmuter Told.''
I grew up in a family that "canned'' everything from jellies and
preserves to vegetables, including corn on the cob. My late
mother-in-law, Inez Conroy, continued the art to her last years in
the tiny town of McCurtain, Okla. …