You know those spiral-bound church cookbooks? The ones full of recipes from your friends, family and neighbors. One Big Table is like that, only much bigger. And much better. Many recipes in community cookbooks lack the kind of rigorous testing done by other cookbooks. Lots of recipes that are passed down, generation after generation, have vague instructions like, "mix all ingredients." Others don't specify oven temperature. Author Molly O'Neill has taken the idea of a communal cookbook and improved it. Plus, she's included the entire country. Coast-to-coast, cover-to-cover.
"Which recipe embodies your life and times and your own personal America? If you could leave one recipe to your family, which one would it be?" These are questions O'Neill asked contributors she met in backyards, home kitchens and at beach cookouts. Recipe submissions climbed to over 10,000. She tested about a third of them and narrowed down the final cut to just over 600.
One Big Table isn't a catchall of every great American recipe, but it represents a broad cross-section of what's being served at mealtimes across the country. There isn't a recipe for cinnamon rolls, but there is a coconut cream pie recipe from Helen Myrhe in Middleton, Wisconsin. This book is packed with American classics like meatloaf, brownies and lasagna, but also recipes for Adobong Pusit, a Filipino squid dish, and a variation of the Indian dish Saag Paneer.
Recipe headnotes and sidebars throughout the book share stories about various dishes and ingredients along with their evolution or history. There are also fascinating glimpses into the kitchens of past generations and tidbits about various cooking tools and techniques. There are two variations of coleslaw plus a sidebar detailing how the Dutch brought cabbage seeds to New York's Hudson Valley, and "coleslaw" first appeared in cookery books in the 1790s.
Chapters are loosely organized by courses but there are also large chapters on meat, vegetables, poultry, grains ("Amber Waves of Grains") and seafood ("From Sea the Shining Sea"). There are 22 recipes from Washington, including a recipe for salmon baked in parchment from Dick Yoshimura of Mutual Fish. There's also a recipe for Mussels in Curry Sauce from Xinh Dwelley of Xinh's Clam and Oyster House in Shelton. Deseree Anne Kazda of Seattle contributed a spiced cauliflower recipe and there's a recipe for chestnut bisque from Carolyn Young of Ridgefield.
As great as the contributions from Washington are, I am equally excited to try out Mama Folse's Pecan Pralines from Gonzales, Louisiana and Chiles Rellenos from Carmen Johnson of St. Paul, Minnesota. Recipes, flavors and regional taste may vary a lot as you criss-cross the country, but the personal stories and family history given by each contributor reflect the triumphs and trials a lot families share.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of this week's Cooking the Books and a recipe from One Big Table.