Olivia Dish

Silver Palate Farewell

In Cookbooks, Homemade on September 1, 2009 at 1:56 am

Well-used, well-loved

Back in my early adult years, there were three books I went to when I needed to work out a recipe. The New Basics by Sheila Lukins & Julee Rosso was one of them.  I was sad to read that Sheila Lukins died yesterday.  It inspired me to pull out my beat up copy and try to remember why it used to seem so essential.

It’s been years since I’ve used it.  I still go to my other basics–The Better Homes and Garden red gingham notebook that was my mother’s in the 60s and something called The Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook.

But, at least to me when I bought it back in the 1980s, The New Basics was exactly that,  everything I could possibly need to know about then-trendy food.  Risotto?  Who stirred rice and made it gummy?

I was from the South. We liked our rice in individual grains.

I did learn to stir rice, to make mayonnaise that was nothing like Duke’s, to churn bittersweet chocolate ice cream, and mush together smoked salmon spread, thanks to Ms. Lukins.

These things don’t seem exotic now.  Some seem sweetly old-fashioned.  But once upon a time they were just the thing to a lot of us….poor, fresh out of college, would-be adults trying to host dinners or make half-way acceptable appetizers.

I remember being charged with assembling, among other dishes, a cheese tray for a grown up cocktail party.  I had no idea what to do.  What cheeses did I know?  Cheddar.  Swiss.  Something called Port Salut.  So I pulled out, not Betty Crocker, but The New Basics, knowing that The Silver Palate chicks wouldn’t let me down.  Right there, page 634, the guidance I needed.  I sent a friend to the best store in town.  He called three times from the phone in the cheese department.  I consulted the book. Thanks to Sheila Lukins, it turned out more than fine.

Why don’t I use The New Basics these days?  I’m not sure.  Some of the recipes I’ve absorbed; I don’t need the book.  Other dishes seem outdated, like Cyndi Lauper’s kool aid hair.  I’ve moved on to other cookbooks–and I’ve moved back to cooking more Southern dishes, less concerned with seeming sophisticated.

But there it is….pages falling out…yet still considerably more useful and relevant than my big-shouldered suits.  Maybe this week, like a lot of old fans of The New Basics, I’ll make a dish or two from it for nostalgia’s sake.  And to say thank you, Sheila Lukins, for homemade mayonnaise lessons and how-tos for cheese plates.


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