It’s a good time for this book. We seem to have new culinary and artisanal movements daily in our country, quickly spread by over-joyous TV shows. The same medium can be prejudiced against hometown cooking.
Want to feel good about your home cooking? You need a new, massive cookbook that celebrates the unity in diversity of American home cooking.
Molly O’Neill, a magazine food writer and author of “New York Cookbook,” took 10 years to write “One Big Table,” an encyclopedia of American cuisine, dubbed “America’s community cookbook.”
The book is part cookbook and part history of food told through the home cooks of America. The two are inseparable. Every recipe has a family story, and O’Neill reconnects them.
It tells the stories with 600 dishes, but there’s more here. The book torpedoes the notion, hopefully permanently, that American home cooking is disappearing in a flood of outside influences. The problem with this argument is that our cuisine is going in the opposite direction. It’s responding to those influences, but jumping into new directions. Examples are the sudden appearances of Vietnamese and Middle Eastern foods. These may change what we eat, but they cannot not conquer us.
Ethnic foods are absorbed into the great melting pot, influencing but not overwhelming it. Example: Adding Mexican chilies to cheeseburgers.
Our food has endured many threats. O’Neill found a big one in “factory-issued” products that make home cooking obsolete –– “Wonderful and wonderfully awful,” she says.
It’s a good time for this book. We seem to have new culinary and artisanal movements daily in our country, quickly spread by over-joyous TV shows. The same medium can be prejudiced against hometown cooking. At times, the noise gets so loud that we lose track of who we are.
It’s heartwarming that O’Neill reassembles all this into a vibrant picture of a cuisine like no other. It took 880 pages, but she gives nearly all American food cultures their due.
This easily could be pedantic, but you won’t want to put it down. O’Neill employs a bright writing style, compared to “light apple crisp.” Nothing is terribly onerous here. This makes the book a fun and revealing read, even for non-foodies.
By the way, these are not recipes concocted by professionals. Each is cherished and in daily use. O’Neill solicited recipes from hundreds of home cooks. Included were their deeply felt food reminisces that read like oral histories. She boiled down the 20,000 contributions to 600 and included vintage and modern photos.
You’ve got to love heartland recipes. The slick, urban, stylized cuisine is under-represented here just because it gets the most exposure elsewhere.
“At one point, there was too much from New York, but the fact is New York is not the country,” O’Neill wrote. Well spoken by the writer from Columbus, Ohio.
If you have an appetite for hometown, this could be your go-to cookbook. Travel with her through hundreds of hometowns. Sit around the kitchen tables, listen to the stories and enjoy every bite.