Hunting and Gathering: "The Essential New York Times Cook Book"

Hunting and Gathering: "The Essential New York Times Cook Book"

by Lisa Barlow

Times clippings72 You don’t have to be a New Yorker to have accumulated a thick file of favorite recipes clipped from The New York Times over the years. My grandmother, who lived in Texas, kept tear sheets with recipes from the Sunday New York Times Magazine tucked into the cookbooks in her kitchen.

If the New York Times motto is “All the News that’s Fit to Print”, you could say that I was raised on “All the Food that’s Fit to Eat”. My mother, an avid cook, eagerly followed every recipe written by Craig Claiborne, the paper’s inspired food columnist during the years I was growing up. She kept her recipes for the hearty stroganoffs, ratatouilles, pistous, and even the sad soy burger, an outlier among the richly flavored favorites, in a drawer next to the grocery money in the kitchen. 

In her new magnificent compendium, The Essential New York Times Cook Book, Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser, a longtime food writer and staff member at the Times, gives new life to many of the fragile yellowing scraps of paper in my own file. Not only have I reconnected with the staples of my childhood: the David Eyre pancake and Welsh Rarebit, she has introduced me to the intriguingly named “Epigram of Lamb”, which first ran in the paper in 1879, and to the myriad delights of recent recipes published while I wasn’t paying attention.


In addition to providing informative timelines of culinary trends since the 1840’s for each subject heading, Hesser’s chatty style and quick wit make the book one of the more gratifying ways to chart a nation’s pulse throughout different eras such as the challenges of the 1950’s when “nothing good is happening in veggie-land” to the 1960’s when “high-fructose corn syrup production leaps forward…and American food culture falls backward”.  In the 1980’s “balsamic vinegar drugs us into thinking no salad can live without it” and “the Silver Palate cookbook is published [causing every] cook in America to serve Chicken Marbella at dinner parties until everyone is sick of it”.  The obsessive present is a time when ice cream ingredients in New York are “painstakingly sourced…with pistachios from the slopes of Mount Etna” and “Americans treat bacon as if it were a new culinary beacon, featuring it on Band-Aids and T-shirts.”

If a favorite recipe isn’t in here, it is because each of the 1,400 recipes required three or more votes from the queried readers who helped Hesser choose what to include. Which means that while I will refer to this book often for both inspiration and a good read, I will also be keeping the messy yellowed file. The following is Craig Claiborne’s Shrimp Madras from 1970, which did not make the cut, but which my mother made me for my 12th birthday and to which I turn about once a year for a sublime fresh curry fix.

Introducing the recipe, Claiborne goes out of his way to instruct the reader.  “It may be laboring the point, but we will say again that the best curries have never known the commercial mixture called curry powder.” The 1970’s, an era of “everything stuffed” when “anything can be cooked in a crock pot”, was also a time when the first tremors of the incipient food revolution could be felt. Alice Waters and the glorious rediscovery of fresh ingredients were just around the corner. Curry powder, like many of the “shortcuts” cooks had come to rely on would stay in the cupboard and cooks would relearn the art of starting from scratch. A cook’s note today might tell us to get out our spice grinders, toast the individual spices in a pan and grind them fresh to order.

Shrimp Madras Shrimp Madras
4-6 Servings

2 lbs fresh shrimp (about 50 medium-size)
½ teaspoon dried mint (I use 1-1 ½ teaspoons fresh chopped mint leaves)
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
2 to 2 ½ teaspoons turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 medium-size onion
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup yogurt (I use Greek yogurt because it is thick and delicious)
1 teaspoon chutney liquid
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro
Juice of half a lemon

    •    Clean shrimp
    •    Place shrimp in a mixing bowl and add mint, red pepper, turmeric, coriander, salt, pepper to taste, ginger, and cumin. Mix well with the shrimp  and let stand for an hour or so.
    •    Sauté grated onion in 3 tablespoons butter until fairly dry, but not browned.
    •    Add the remaining butter and shrimp mixture. Cook, stirring gently and turning shrimp in the skillet, until shrimp are red all over. Add yogurt and chutney liquid. Simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and cook on moderately high heat. Add chopped parsley, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice and good chutney.

LB2 Lisa Barlow is a writer and photographer who divides her time between New York, Telluride and  San Pancho, Mexico. An enthusiastic omnivore, she specializes in stories about food.

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