I’m not any type of foodie. My relationship with food was baked-in at an early age, and is themed upon inherited rationing fears, of impending scarcity and the need to bulk: which doubtless goes back further than the forties and to famished Ireland, naturally, and/or to Eastern Europe, and/or where the hell we hail from before.
The bulking gene is more powerful ultimately than anything stirred by countless encounters, or menus passed over, with gastronomic flair, lightness of touch and delicate, transporting discovery.
Increasingly I like to read about big food; to slope and wobble from Wikipedia page to website; from recipe to review, and to chat rooms replete with the belching memoirs of a Reuben, a loose meat sandwich, a corned beef hash. Bookish, I seek out novels that do good nosh. Dickens is reliable, of course; the old Russians like a spread, and I’ll devour anything with a sausage. And how I still hunger after some delicious business read as a schoolboy, in James Joyce’s Dubliners, ‘Two Gallants’, where, from everlasting memory, someone tucks into a plate of hot peas with pepper and vinegar, such perfection to my blunt, dullard’s palate – washed down with a perfect ginger beer – that it stands as my favourite meal un-had 1 . Babette’s Feast, my really special film.
A literary tip-off from dishy-delishy author Michael Chabon led me recently to James Beard’s culinary opus, American Cookery, and my second hand (slight saucy smear on cover) ’82 edition arrived in the post last week.
As Michael Chabon promised 2 , it’s as much history as manual, but its eight-hundred-plus pages of recipes and recommendations also make for a full-on drooler’s eroto-fest, a two pound feeding frenzy: a hundred ways with fried chicken; orgies of bread and potatoes, and genuinely ingenuous homages to hot dogs and hamburgers – complete with the fabulous 70s line, ‘The hamburger is the universal entrée for those on diets’. 3
This book would be my desert island selection; a guilt-free weight gain on my bookshelf, or more correctly by my bed – where its cooking smells placate the ghosts of ravenous ancestors and its fatness stands a monument to my never really having wanted for the food I want; which is a good type of foodie to be.
1. And a meal I tasted just this week in the food-writing of my friend, Pete Lippitt, on the Black Country’s Grey Peas n’ Bacon, right here.
2. Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. United States, HarperCollins, 2009
3. James Beard, American Cookery. Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1972, revised 1982. p.312
© Copyright, Steve Mitchell and Fisher Lane, 2012.