The Nourishing Discipline of Cooking

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I am at the kitchen table. Along with my elbow and a notebook are two small apples from Grandma Sophie’s tree, betwigged, the lamp from her bedroom set, and a recent copy of The Joy of Cooking, which I gave to S. for gratitude and practical encouragement.  We crowd the little table.  A pie bakes in the oven.  I am inhaling its sweet smell and the warmth of the oven heats my back.  I feel the pie strings tug at me.

I was thinking earlier today as I sliced apples about where they had come from and I wondered if they remember which part of the tree they were in and which side faced the sun.  Do they remember their last day in the tree?  It was an autumn glory day, hot sun, cool grass.  Life-giving air.  The view through the tree was like paradise, puzzle pieces of sky in a blue I have never seen and will never see again.  The smell of leaves and sun like a favorite sweater.  I was in love.

S. does not feel an immediate and honest joy in cooking but appreciates its rhythms and how it nourishes us body and soul.  Hence: the Nourishing Discipline of Cooking.  I don’t think that S. has read it either previously or re-titled and I am thinking that a more cut and dried cooking volume might be in order.  I turn to this classic for Irma’s voice as much as its slightly random encyclopedic knowledge.  Today I read Squash.

Irma S. Rombauer on Winter Squash: “Native to this hemisphere, many of our noble squash are of ancient heritage.  Many are brilliantly colored, beautifully shaped, and of generous size.  The texture of cooked winter squash is thick and velvety. “ A grand and eloquent introduction to a commoner’s vegetable.  She rhapsodizes on every squash of the family, or at least the ones she likes, and then admonishes: “Cutting into the thick, hard shell of a long-stored winter squash can be difficult, if not dangerous.”  Difficult, if not dangerous!  That thick velvety deliciousness is not for the faint-of-heart.  Cookery, in fact: not for the faint of heart.  And then there is the element of long-storing: this is, perhaps, a squash you have held onto for a long time.  Tended.  Hoarded.  Now, at last, you are going to crack it open.

“Use a strong, sharp, heavy knife, preferably serrated.  It is best if someone can steady the squash for you.  If not, set the squash on a thick towel.  Cut slowly and deliberately, plunging in the tip of the knife first, then puling down on the rest of the blade- you might have to try to hammer it with a mallet. “

Action.  Adventure.  Danger.  Technique.  And, in her solicitousness, she hopes you have a friend by your side, to steady the squash, although she understands: you may be on your own in this.  She does, however, assume you have the mallet.  I am malletless but have S. here tonight, who doubtless would steady a squash that I am about to plunge a strong sharp knife into.  Instead, S. makes the pie crust, flaky and elastic, so that I can weave a lattice, so that we can bake a pie, so that I can sit here by the oven and remember the place in the tree where the apples hung and on which side the warm sun shone.

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