So a while back I was in the Peace Corps office looking at the “take one, leave one” bookshelf for volunteers. Rarely do I take books from the shelf because I have such a wonderful Kindle loaded with the books I want. However, one thing I’ve found is that cookbooks are better in paper form. Paper books can be propped open on a counter. Paper books can get dirty, sticky, and covered in flour and you won’t care. Paper books don’t shut off. They’re perfect for cooking. And that’s when I saw it, one of the few books I’ve taken from the shelf, Old Warsaw Cook Book.
It’s a marvelous book with a copyright date of 1958. It’s stuffed full of recipes and hardly any pictures. What pictures there are, are hand drawings to go with the section leader pages. It’s not pretentious, fooling you into thinking your food will look just as good as the perfectly cooked and perfectly lighted photos of the book. At the beginning of each chapter there’s an explanation of how each part of the meal is considered by true Poles. Other than that, there’s no narrative or fluff for the recipes. There are ingredient lists and cooking directions. The book doesn’t even tell you how many each recipe is intended to serve. I love it because it doesn’t make me feel fat for eating an entire portion (which I did the time I made and ate the entirety of a roast duck.
There are recipes for things that I’ve eaten here and there but never really questioned how to cook them. Then there are recipes for things that I’d never consider eating (there’s a surprising number of dishes requiring calf brains). The funny thing is, I want to try them all. Not now, exactly, because I’m in the process of finishing things here and this book is a project that will need to be started once I’m back home. And start it I will.
I want to return to my roots. Two years in the Peace Corps has made me question eating habits of Americans. We thoughtlessly put ingredients in our mouths that we couldn’t read if we even considered to read a label before eating (though the label makes for great reading while eating alone). But paging through the book, I rarely come across something I can’t pronounce. Most recipes ask for fairly basic ingredients (you know, except for the calf brain). Even the calf brain is something I recognize. I like that. I like the idea that I could tell someone exactly what it took to create a dish without having to explain the ingredients. I don’t always find this when I search the web for recipes. There are some snooty chefs out there.
So here’s the idea. I want to cook the Old Warsaw Cook Book. You know what I mean. I want to do what other people do and cook through every recipe in the cook book and then to write about the process. Of course, I’ll have to make exceptions for some things (I have an idea where I could potentially find calf brain but it’s no guarantee, and I will try it at least once). I won’t be able to cook the shellfish dishes for myself because my allergy to them would kill me. I wouldn’t mind cooking them for someone else, though.
In the end, I’ll be able to say that I did it. In the end, I might be able to suggest I’ve mastered a cuisine of my family roots, at least better than most people. But not now. As I said, it will have to wait until I get home.
Except for the beer soup recipe. I need to try that this week.