Just after the James Beard Award semifinalists were announced, I decided it was time to learn more about Beard himself. I made a special trip to the university library to check out one of his books. I’ll add that in seven semesters at Missouri I never needed a library book for class, but since starting this blog, I have checked out nine books and browsed many others on the second level of the West Stacks.
Anyway, back in February I picked up Beard on Food (an unpleasant title to anyone unfamiliar with the man who might have been the first celebrity chef). The book is a collection of his favorite columns and recipes, starting with the
perfect hamburger and ending with Saltimbocca all’Emiliana, a delicious-sounding dish with spinach, veal scaloppini, prosciutto, sage and Marsala.
The essays were all written before 1974, which means they are filled with reminders of how much has changed over the years. We’ve come a long way since the time when wasabi needed to be called “green Japanese horseradish.” Today nearly anyone will answer “yes” to Beard’s query, “Have you encountered pita?” And let’s be thankful that avocados are no longer called “alligator pears” and are not “a very expensive delicacy.”
At times Beard is quite funny. My favorite line being: “Two of my best friends are a stripper and a zester. In case that raises some pretty wild visions, let me hasten to say that they are not girls but gadgets, and I couldn’t do without them in the kitchen.”
You can tell Beard was a man who had profound appreciation for food. Many of his columns are dedicated to a particular ingredient, and he kept his recipes simple enough for each to shine. One essay was called “The Sardine, a Small Miracle.” He talked about one of his favorite sandwiches, “homemade bread, well-buttered, spread with mashed sardines, a few drops of lemon juice, and a thin slice of onion, eaten with a glass of beer or wine.”
I thought about sardines. In my head I didn’t think I liked them, but then I wasn’t sure if I ever really had them. Did I actually dislike them? I decided to buy a tin and find out.
I followed Beard’s recipe for wined sardines on toast. If I was going to like sardines, it was going to be with butter, onion, garlic, wine and lemon, that’s for sure. Turns out all those things are delicious with the little fish, and my friend Marissa agreed. She didn’t think she liked sardines either until actually tasting them this way on homemade bread. So if you’re on the fence, as we were, I feel this could open your horizons. And it would probably make the late James Beard proud.
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