Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
(Knopf Doubleday; US: Mar 2010)
More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen
(HarperCollins; US: May 2000)
Laurie E. Colwn, a Novelist and Short Story Writer, is dead
—The New York Times (26 October 1992)
We’ve never met, but on this, the 20th anniversary of your mother’s death, I feel compelled to write you.
I’m sorry. I realize you’ve spent your life being approached by tremulous strangers needing to unburden themselves. I also realize that our version of your mother and the actual person are likely miles apart. That the only thing we can be said to share is how much we miss her.
I cannot tell you how much I’ve struggled to write this essay. Normally food writing comes easily to me, the glib, amused tone intended to convey my love of food and cooking, my eagerness to share with readers. Not this time.
This time I pulled down your mother’s books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. I made notes and copied quotes, largely from memory. Those notes and quotes piled up, sentences scribbled across grocery lists and yellow lined pads. I amassed a worthless stack of words refusing to resolve themselves into the moving essay I’d hoped for.
I wrote about everything I loved in your mother’s writing: her amusing, confiding tone, her fondness for good, plain food, her profound influence on me as both a cook and a writer. Her preference for simple kitchen equipment, making her recipes easy for the cook with one pan, one bowl, and one spoon. Her prescience about the evils of agribusiness and the importance of shopping locally for organic foods. How she did not survive to see the explosion of farmer’s markets and the increasing national interest in organic, ecologically sustainable eating. Her empathy for working families who struggled nightly to put a home-cooked meal on the table.
How happy I was the first time I prepared “Extremely Easy Old Fashioned Beef Stew” from Home Cooking’s “Starting Out In The Kitchen”. I was just starting out in the kitchen, and I still remember making that stew. I bought paprika for the occasion, following your mother’s admonition that it added taste and color. The stew was delicious. It gave me confidence.
I went on to make your mother’s biscuits, poached pears, flank steak, and meatloaf. Her roast chicken and polenta. Her version of Elizabth David’s Country Christmas Cake. The books, paperback editions, began softening and wearing in.
To this day I become nervous if I run out of black beans, because a home without black beans is “a house that is not stocked for an emergency.”
In the darkest hours, plagued by insomnia’s night monsters, I reread Home Cooking and More Home Cooking and am comforted.
Her love for you shone through every word. “And with me everywhere and always:” she wrote in More Home Cooking,” Rosa.”
I read about your mother’s induction into the International Association of Culinary Professionals/James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame, and how you accepted the award in her stead. I imagined those famous foodies, chefs and bloggers and cookbook writers, all lining up to share their Laurie Colwin stories with you. To note the reflections of her face in yours. To tell you, again, how much they miss her. How you had to clutch the award in your hands and smile graciously while people gushed about your mother.
I hope you wore comfortable shoes. I hope somebody held your hand afterward.
Like many of your mother’s fans, I am consigned to a re-reading hell, where beloved books are revisited to the unhappy point of memorization. We are the bereft, and on this unhappy 20th anniversary, we are legion.
With kindest wishes,
In Memory: Laurie Colwin
June 14, 1944 - October 24, 1992