The hoopla surrounding the book and movie, Julie and Julia, has been wonderful, of course — for amateur cooks, for foodies, for bloggers. Anything that gets people back into the kitchen after seasons of take-out (if, indeed, that’s where they head post-movie) and certainly anything that makes us stop and truly appreciate the pioneering Julia Child, with her trilling voice, kind demeanor and no-nonsense insistence that any of us, too, could pull off chicken Cordon Bleu, is inherently good. For my mother’s generation, Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the guide that perhaps their own parents — in a harder era during which, for many, cooking was an artless enterprise, synonymous with “getting food on the table” — were not.
My own cooking was informed by a different set of guides. So it was with dismay that I learned that Sheila Lukins, co-creator with Julie Rosso of the Silver Palate cookbooks and empire, had died, at just 66, of brain cancer.
When I moved to New York, after college, in 1982, I quickly experienced the personal revelation that was fettuccine Alfredo. “Pasta, Etc.” stores were springing up around Manhattan, with their ready-made sauces and varieties of pasta. Growing up, pasta meant spaghetti, and usually at a restaurant. Home meals tended to revolve around chicken, meat or fish, and were dishes without a lot of variation, week to week, that my working mom could easily prepare and get on the table. (Kitchen leisure was reserved for baking projects and Thanksgiving Day.)
Then I discovered the Silver Palate stores, with their amazing chicken salads and chutneys and raspberry and walnut vinaigrettes. I snapped up the Silver Palate Cookbook and learned to make such staples on my own. The book was such an obvious labor of love — as had been the Moosewood Cookbook before it, which I belatedly found — with its hand-drawings, personal notes, and unique recipes that I could easily replicate. It had clearly been created by people who adored food and combining ingredients in interesting, tasty ways. Their recipes were (to me) informed by global cuisines, which became especially apparent when the pair split forces and Lukins traveled the world to research and create her astonishing Around the World Cookbook, which, along with the Silver Palate Cookbook and the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, I am continually inspired by.
Barely a week goes by when I don’t cook from, or at least reference, one of these books (along with the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook.) Into my repertoire have gone their Chicken Marbella (which is so popular among my generation of home cooks, especially for dinner parties, that it is mentioned in Lukins’ New York Times obituary.) Four Seasons Pasta, Pasta Putanesca, Game Hens in Raspberry, Seven Vegetable Couscous, Salmon Mousse, and June’s Apple Crisp are just a few of the recipes that I turn to time and again. Just this weekend, my daughter and I made Three-Ginger Cookies from the Good Times cookbook, which, as its name implies, is a fun compendium of recipes and occasions to enjoy them with others.
Sheila, you gave me a lot.
While racking up influences from my early ’80s burgeoning cooking and entertaining life, I would be remiss in not mentioning Martha Stewart’s own first book, Entertaining. It’s hard to remember that, prior to the Martha Stewart many of us know now, this extremely talented, energetic, and comparatively anonymous caterer put together a gorgeous collection of recipes for parties that one could just happen upon in a bookstore. Not a rumaki was to be found within its pages. Like Silver Palate, Entertaining was a revelation as far as food and style — verve, really — and is another book I’ve referred to repeatedly over the years.
I wonder which books will be the touchstones for the cooks who are coming of age now.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman