Cookbook Bazaar Newsletter March 2011

By Bill Holland

SINCE YOU ASKED

I suppose because I have an online vintage cookbook shop, sometimes people
ask me what my favorite cookbooks are. I tell them the truth -- just like
you, I bet -- that it depends.

I suppose my favorite general interest cookbook is – no surprise -- Joy of
Cooking, the 1975 edition published well into the ’80s. Other than that,
it’s situational. I’ve got books on the cookery of Italy, France, Greece,
the Caribbean, etc. that are well thought of and work for me. I grab them
when I’ve got a yen for a certain kind of cuisine or a particular meal.

It’s like music. People get sudden musical cravings. Of a moment, I might
get a hankering to listen to some of Chopin’s preludes. Another time, I
might really want to hear some Professor Longhair rhumba boogie piano, or a
few elegant standards from John Coltrane’s minimalist “Ballads” album. It’s
the same way with cooking, I might start vaguely thinking about going
Italian tonight, or New Orleans Creole, or specific, like the Frenchie way
of roasting a buttery herbed-up chicken.

I also like to read over recipes I haven’t cooked in awhile but “kind of”
know -- so the wheels don’t fall off when I get into it. This past week (Be
gone, February!) I peeked at cookbooks on my shelf for favorite and recipes
for dishes I’ve made for years, but not recently. Jamaican goat curry. West
African Palaver Sauce with chicken and smoked fish. Of course, I don’t do
this with more common dishes I make. But with these…I wanted to
double-check.

So sometimes I turn to my cookbooks, old friends who will give me the
answers, quietly and privately. Me, I like plucking a book off my shelf,
sitting down at the kitchen table, turning its pages. Yes, I go to online
recipe sites, but I prefer finding that bookmark – my bookmark -- for the
Tart St. Germaine in my tattered Silver Palate cookbook. It’s comforting and
assuring somehow.

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PUG UGLY

All that being said, this month’s spotlight subject is…well, it’s related to
cookbooks. It’s about the cookware I use most often. Specifically, my trusty
old Calphalons – those thick-walled dark grey pots and pans. Yes, they are
pug ugly, but I’m fond of them, and I just want you to know about them if
you don’t know already.

Some of them are the first generation Calphalons, designed for commercial
kitchen use, and not pretty boys. But what they sacrificed in “styling,”
they made up for in workhorse righteousness. Even heating. No
bottom-burning. Fast reaction time from low to high heat, and vice versa.
The earlier models are about 3 mm thick, restaurant quality. The more
current Calphalon product is designed better for the home kitchen, but it is
a bit thinner. I’ve learned over the years that the thicker the pot, the
better it will cook. Thinner stuff increases the chances of hot spots or
scorching. Treated well, the old clunky ones will last for decades.

Some are from the late ‘70s and the ‘80s. The company was actually known at
that time (and stamped its products as) the Commercial Aluminum Cookware Co.
rather than the “brand” Calphalon. Once I’d cooked with one of them, and
found it meritorious, I kept on the lookout for others at estate and jumble
sales. They came my way, most of them hardly used.

A good word about anodized aluminum. It has a much harder finish than
ordinary aluminum, resists corrosion, and is non-reactive. Unlike the
aluminum cookware of yore, you can cook a tomato sauce in an anodized
aluminum pan all day and all will be cool.

However, I admit, there were flaws in the design of the first generation of
Calphalon. The handles got hot. The edges of the pans were not flared for
accurate pouring. They certainly look impressive, sturdy and no-nonsense:
traditional big three-riveted mounts cementing a straight iron handle dipped
in (I believe) bright-colored tin.

Until the magnificent All-Clad company changed the ball game (for those who
can afford their wares), manufacturers of professional cookware, including
the original makers of Calphalon, were conservative to the extreme. Their
design, if one takes a peek at culinary history, dates back to certainly the
19th century. If chefs and cooks didn’t want to sizzle their hands when
touching a handle, they should have a kitchen towel draped over their
shoulder or tucked in their apron. That was The Way of The Professional
Kitchen.

To their credit, as Calphalon grew to embrace home cooks, its designers
quickly figured out how to make curved, bifurcated “cool” handles, and for a
time, they made the same thick pots with those nifty handles that don’t get
so hot. Look for those. Ah, but sadly, soon afterwards, Calphalon abandoned
its pro ware line (the stuff I’m extolling), and that was the end of the
thick 3 mm stuff.

Oh, here’s another tip. The squared-off steel cover handles of the early
models (traditional in commercial kitchens) also heat up to “ouch” levels?
Remedy? An old cook/chef’s trick. Place two or three wine corks under the
handles – they should fit perfectly. If not, whack the top of the handle.
Then lift the lids by the corks.

Note: Anodized aluminum cookware and dishwashers do not get along.
Eventually the harsh chemicals in the dishwasher powder will ruin (oxidize?)
the dark finish, and produce a splotchy milky grey residue. For the record:
Calphalon will not stand behind its warranty if you put its cookware in the
dishwasher and things go south. I soak them in soapy water in the sink and
then hand-wash. I use a Scrubby if necessary. It always does the job. It’s
worth the effort.

Should you be interested in trying them out, the best course of action – if
you have the time and inclination --is to try and find the last of the
thick-walled Calaphons that also have the “new” curved “cool” handles -- at
church sales, thrift shops, estate sales or on online auction sites. It’s
out there, and not yet at “collectible” prices. Do yourself a favor.

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TOP HITS

Below are the cookbooks that have received the most hits on our site. Notice
a lot of them are older volumes. You might want to check these out:

• A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy (Collected) (1952)
• Lüchow’s German Cookbook (Signed) (1952)
• American Carpatho-Russian Cook Book
• All About Home Baking (1936)
• Anne Willan's Look & Cook: Chicken Classics
• La Method
• Alfredo Viazzi's Italian Cooking
• Cooking for Pleasure - Good Housekeeping UK - (1960)
• Be Our Guest (chef Jean Berrard)
• Anne Willan's Look & Cook: Creative Appetizers
• André Simon’s French Cook Book (1940)
• Mer Et Monde Au Menu
• La Technique
• Madhur Jeffery’s Indian Cooking
• Anne Willan's Look & Cook: Fish Classics
• Charleston Receipts (1965)

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MOST RECENT LISTINGS

If you want to check in on our most current cookbook offerings, you can go
to the site and check them out. Just click on New Product at the bottom of
the Categories column on the home page, and voila!, there you are.

Well, happy Pre-Spring-Just-Around-the Corner (March 20)!