10 February 2007

Onion Salad with Roquefort and Bacon

During my first semester at college, my roommate Vivienne and I talked about food incessantly and prepared food almost as often as we talked about it.

We were trying very hard to become gourmets or at least decent cooks, and we made lots of dishes with rice, mushrooms, leeks and garlic. The tiny Pullman kitchen in our apartment-style dorm got a real workout, and we were constantly scouring local markets for new culinary finds.

I must have come home for the holidays jabbering on and on about cooking because that Christmas Grandma Annie gave me not only the cheese basket I talked about on Feb. 5, but also my first cookbook.

It must have been a last-minute gift, for it was a cookbook culled from her own large collection and it had her name written inside: Mrs. H.J. Doran. This she covered up with a strip of paper that bore my name in capital letters, produced no doubt on her battered Underwood.

It was a first edition of “Betty Crocker’s Good and Easy Cookbook,” a small, handheld cookbook that now sells for up to $75in the online auctions.

By the time Annie gave it to me, many of the recipes were already outdated. But others were classics, and for years this was my only cookbook. I augmented it with a few French cookbooks that I picked up cheap at the used booksellers on Madison’s State Street.

A Meaning Beyond Recipes

I can tell which recipes I used again and again, for those pages are stained, and there I’ve jotted down notes and calorie counts. Among my favorites were Spanish Rice, Chicken-Rice Bake, Miroton of Sea Food, Chili Con Carne, Tuna-Broccoli Casserole, and Peanut Butter Cookies.

Of course, many of the recipes I did not make, believing as I did at the time that great meals come from the heart. I rarely used cookbooks for recipes, only inspiration.

The book must have meant something to me even in my callow youth, because at one point I wrote, “First cookbook, Christmas gift from Grandma” inside the cover.

It means so much more to me now.

It is an historical document of sorts, a primary source for understanding the way people ate in the 1950s, that time of unbridled optimism when convenience foods were viewed as miracles of progress.

The cookbook is also part of my grandmother, for it sat among her own collection for decades, unused, until she thought I needed it.

For more than 25 years, it has been among my equally vast collection of cookbooks and has held a place of honor there. I could not fathom giving it away, even though I have not used it in years.

But I opened it the other night and I don’t think I can accurately describe the wave of something — nostalgia? — that poured over me.

I felt good, I felt comforted, I felt wrapped in love and security.

Perhaps this humble gift was more than a cookbook, I thought. Perhaps it was — it is — part of me in a way other cookbooks, other books even will never be.

A Culinary Epiphany

Great food artfully prepared dazzles me and sweeps me off my feet. It is like seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe for the first time.

Humble dishes nourish my soul in a way nothing else can. They are like an old friend, or a good and long marriage.

Here is one from the book that I think stands up across six decades, with a little tweaking. I lowered the salt and added bacon.

Onion-Roquefort Cheese Salad

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 ounces Roquefort cheese
  • 1/4 cup bacon, cut into small chunks or bits
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • dash sel de fleur
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash paprika
  • 4 sweet onions, thinly sliced or cubed


Blend all ingredients, save for onion. Pour over onion and chill. Serves six. This would be a great side for hamburgers.

Well Worth Checking Out: For a thoughtful treatise on seasonal food choices, please read the Feb. 1 post at Lucy's Kitchen Notebook.

Also, there are two blogs, one new and one not-so-new, I'd like to call your attention to: (1) Charles at Bi-Coastal Cook, which is new and out of Maryland; and (2) the not-so-new but oh-so-spot-on Molly at My Madeleine, who also writes about taste, memory and experience as well as food (thanks to Terry B of Blue Kitchen for the link. I will be adding these to my blog list later today.

Thanks to Chris L. at The French Journal and to Erika at Tummy Treasure for links and mentions of B-Day and thanks to ChrisB at Ms. Cellania for the link today.

As part of my desire to be kinder and gentler, I vow to be better at thanking people for links.

19 comments:

Carolyn T said...

Wow, that cookbook is 53 years old? I received it as a wedding gift in 1962. It still sits on one of my cookbook shelves, rarely opened. BUT, I did (and still do) make one wonderful recipe from it called Cabbage Patch Stew. Over the years I altered it some: more tomatoes, chili powder, cabbage, and I added cumin which wasn't in the original. It's one of my favorites - I freeze it in bags with a bag of mashed potatoes in a separate (smaller) bag placed inside the larger bag, laid flat on a cookie sheet until firmly frozen for a night when I don't feel like cooking. Thanks for a walk down memory lane!

Mimi said...

Ah, yes, on page 128! I could make that — I should. It sounds great.

Cabbage was something I did not always like, but I do now.

Yes, I bought cabbage this afternoon. I will make it Wednesday.

cityfarmer said...

Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh Betty, how you doin these days????

Missin you, Betty

I have a couple of old red covered books

Abby said...

I have the "Betty Crocker's new picture Cook Book" from 1961. My Mom thought every young bride should have a cookbook, and she was right, it helped me out many times.

Mine just falls open to all my favorite pages. Thanks for the memories you evoke, Mimi

Lydia said...

Onion salad is not my thing, but I could look at your photo all day. What a lovely, creative approach to the humble onion.

Mimi said...

Ah, yes those old red cookbooks! Got one of those, too, but it is not from my collection. I do use it, though, when I am looking for a classic. I am more likely to turn to Mark BIttman's "How to Coook Anything."

Those were very useful cookbooks, Abby. Classics in their time that still hold up.

Truth be told, Lydia, I doubt that I'll ever make this salad again. But it was fun trying it.

Julie said...

I'm not familiar with that cookbook, but the first thing I ever made from a cookbook was potato salad from Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cookbook. I was about eleven and the book was part of my mother's small collection of cookbooks.

I still have the book and that potato salad recipe, although slightly tweaked, is still my standard potato salad recipe.

Thanks for reminding me about Molly at My Madeleine who is a wonderful writer. And I'll have to check out Charles, especially since he's from Maryland.

Mimi said...

Those old standbys are great, because they connect us to the past, even when tweaked for today's palate.

I'm going to try to be better about links. So many people have given me links, it's about time I provided more of them myself.

Kalyn said...

Everything about this salad sounds great to me. Plus, it's relatively SBD approved. Just a tiny bit of sugar, and bacon, which is something I do indulge in a little, because after all, what's life without bacon?

Mimi said...

A woman after my own heart! Actually, Kalyn, more often than not, I use fructose in place of sugar because I understand the spike in blood sugar is less or more gradual with fructose.

FarmgirlCyn said...

You are so fortunate, Mimi, to have such a precious memento. I DO have a cookbook of my mom's,"Westinghouse CookBook",(perhaps it was included with the purchase of a Westinghouse appliance?) which has the front cover and first 17 pages missing, but apart from that, it pretty much looks un-used! My cookbooks, on the other hand, are dog-eared, grease spattered, and full of hand-written notes concerning the 1st date I tried it and any changes I may have made or would make in the future. Like you, many times the recipe is just a guide, and I am confident enough to make my own changes based on my 35 plus years as a domestic diva!!!! (well, maybe not the "diva" part!) My problem is, I have too many cookbooks to choose from!

Mimi said...

I have too many, also, and I need to clear some out, especially the ones I no longer use, which are usually heavier food and sweets.

Kristen said...

I must try that salad! What a lovely mix of ingredients!

Mimi said...

I think though, if I make it again, I'll add more sugar or fructose — or I'll cut down on the onions!

ChrisB said...

mimi I had already checked out Charles and enjoyed his posts.

Mimi said...

Amazing how quickly word gets around that a new blog has started, ChrisB. I was so naive when I started doing this: I had no idea how to attract readers.

Katie said...

My first cookbook was when I was 7 and hade pretty pictures and stories that went with the (easy) recipes. My next was when I was 10 - Betty Crockers Cookbook for Boys and Girls. I still have the both - they are such fun to go back and look through...

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

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