Books: Catherine Marshall

The Passionate Artist's Palate Cookbook

25 visual artists discuss their work and share their recipes

Cooking & Art

My interest in food and international cuisines began at a very early age. As a child growing up in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, my taste buds frequently exploded with new taste sensations. I began eating raw hot chili peppers at the age of 3 in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and, at the age of 6 in Kathmandu, was treated to what was called ‘The Murderer:’ a pepper so hot it was said to cause cardiac arrest. My food adventures have continued unabated to the present.

Explorations of many types—in the kitchen, at restaurants and in the homes of friends and relatives—have provided an education in excellent food and food culture from so many parts of the world. My name is Catherine and I am a foodaholic. I read cookbooks “immersively,” trying new recipes constantly. With 99 cookbooks, I am forbidden any more until I have prepared more of the recipes. For 20 years, my husband and I have made a different recipe almost every night. This practice expands one’s culinary range, improves one’s creative imagination and provides new taste sensations!

When I found that most of my visual artist friends were food enthusiasts, I thought a cookbook featuring them and their favourite recipes would make an unusual and pleasurable read. Hence, The Passionate Artist’s Palate Cookbook, 25 visual artists discuss their work and share their recipes.

The artists are from Canada, the United States, Spain, Greece, France as well as those originally from Hungary, Sweden and Italy. These contemporary practitioners were kind enough to lend their time, talent and works to the Cookbook. Their essays are engrossing, their recipes delicious.

‘Being a home cook brings me joy. Trying new recipes stimulates me, especially when I see the pleasure on the faces of family and friends. There are few communal delights so easy to attain and so rewarding as the sharing of marvellous food.'

I have learned so much reading cookbooks. Reading them is enjoyable and provokes my interest in preparations I might not know of or that differ from my own, warranting giving them a try. There are two cookbooks I want to recognize as a couple of stalwarts in the realm of cooking, particularly at the starter level progressing to more adventurous recipes.

My mother had Joy of Cooking (Bobbs-Merrill) that I made use of for years. Buying my own copy was a milestone for me in my early thirties. This book is a compendium of almost everything you should know or can learn about hundreds of foods and anything to do with activities in the kitchen. Full of recipes for life in all its permutations, with these cookbooks, you can study: how to grow; how to butcher; how to pickle; how to store; equivalents; substitutions. Everything with the goal of encouraging everyone to cook healthful foods for family and friends with no mystique or sleight of hand. This book contains very little that has ever gone out of date.

For my family, Joy of Cooking was a lifesaver. Amazingly, there are exact instructions for high altitude and high humidity cooking—everything from breads and cakes to candy. For high altitudes, baking soda and baking powder are decreased. We also learned about using substitutes for cream of tartar such as vinegar. After our experience running out of cream of tartar, once in Nepal, for decades I’ve always made sure there was a tin in the pantry.

The second workhorse in my kitchen is Betty Crocker. Never mind that the person was a fabrication and a crock (get it?), the recipes, particularly those in Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook (1980, Random House) are very tasty, even exciting, with a fairly low difficulty level and colourful. One thing I appreciate is the authenticity of the recipes and the frequent inclusion of the names of recipes in the language of the country represented. Many of the recipes, at least when the book I have was published, were not the usual foreign preparations. For example, the Hungarian Coffee Cake, a yeast bread —this one without the national name—is an unusual and appealing recipe. When I was living in Hungary, my friends Edit and Lazlo were making the same pastry for our dinner. I couldn’t believe it. This is a recipe worth trying, a bit unusual but definitely gratifying. It is called aranygaluska. Another astonishing recipe included for the time of publication is Ground Nut Stew. The first time I ate ground nut stew was in Ibadan, Nigeria at my boarding school. It is a West African recipe, particularly popular in Nigeria. Betty Crocker’s recipe is very close to what I experienced. Just delectable.

The two books described above have different objectives and levels of food expertise but both are full of recipes for those who want to prepare a large variety of good, home-cooked meals. With the foundation these books provide, the world is your kitchen. Here are some more of my favourites:

Although High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America (2010, Bloomsbury Publishing USA) is one of the most recent cookbooks I have read, I am beginning my cookbook summaries with its description because of the scope of the book and the culinary history that is described. The centuries-old food trail from Africa has developed into a major pillar of American and Caribbean cookery. The author, culinary historian and cookbook writer, Jessica B. Harris researches the provenance of foods from all over the world, including foods from the African diaspora that have found their way to North America. Africans who were kidnapped from their homes and forced onto slave ships managed to take with them seeds and roots that were then planted and served as a source of nourishment to supplement the meagre and often foul slops they were given on the plantations. In her book, Harris ferrets out origins and details of foods and food preparers resulting in an in-depth history of famous slave and freedmen cooks and chefs during slavery, as well as those who have come along in the decades since, who influenced the trajectory of American food. Included are several recipes, however, the meat of the book is the knowledge imparted through careful research with visits to Africa and the Caribbean to paint a more complete picture. It is fascinating. See what you think.

A Pinch of Soul: Fast and Fancy Soul Cookery for Today’s Hostess, Pearl Bowser and Joan Eckstein (1970, Avon Books)

The beautifully written, highly descriptive but succinct introduction to A Pinch of Soul is marvellous to read, conveying in a few paragraphs the essence of what soul food is with music as the metaphor. Many people in the United States and elsewhere have an idea about what soul food is when they see it but are hard-pressed to describe it in a manner that non-initiates would grasp. This essential information about the history and culture of African American cooking begins as “Soul food is a kind of music.” The authors go on to give examples of melody, tunes, blending, grace notes, harmony rhythm and so on—all to illustrate the disparate but necessary elements of foods that evolved from Africa through the Africans and other groups in the Americas writ large—all culminating in a unique cuisine that is both simple and complex.

The many excellent recipes require few ingredients, almost all to hand and inexpensive, but, they must be carefully flavoured. The slice of fat back or ham, the salt and pepper with chili sauce on the side, the bacon fat for the skillet are what lend the savour to many recipes culminating in a tasty concerto. Many of these foods have blended into a medley of indigenous, French, English preparations. However, “the soft beat of Africa and the American Indian contributions provide the rhythm.”

Soul food is comforting and perfect for family and friends to sit and visit at a meal. It is home-cooking.

I know from experience how difficult it is to cook astonishingly delicious food with almost no props from an array of spices and exotic ingredients. I have tried many times to replicate the simple but irresistible flavours in a pot of greens, chuck roast or delectable, light, fluffy biscuits with virtually nothing but salt, pepper, flour, shortening as the case may be. My attempts have never matched those of my mother and other relatives. Deep flavour takes a knack.

The one recipe I’d like to try—my father loved these—is for beaten biscuits. The recipe is in this book. I could never find it before. Beaten biscuits take stamina, muscle and time. They must be beaten at least twice, one time for 30 minutes. I’ve not yet attempted them because I don’t believe I have the upper body strength.

The Darden sisters’ approach in writing their cookbook, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine: Reminiscences of a Family (1978, Anchor Press), couldn’t have been more personal. Norma Jean and Carole travelled through the United States in search of their roots and family food favourites. They begin with their grandfather, Charles Henry Darden of Wilson, North Carolina, who was born a slave. His recipe for Strawberry Wine is included in the cookbook. The aim of the work the sisters undertook was to record their family traditions in as broad a manner as possible. Recipe favourites, traditional and celebratory foods, beauty secrets, rare photographs are all part of the book and are presented with warmth and generosity. Norma Jean and Carole discovered precious family history and present it with many delectable recipes representative of African American food culture such as the more well-known dishes and those that are more unusual or family specialties.

I can attest to the delectable, savoury foods contained in the book. I have prepared many of the recipes. What is more fascinating for me, in this case, is the family history discovered by Norma Jean and Carole. They are my cousins as are those members they discovered. I am so proud to have my accomplished family.

Check out their 25th anniversary edition from 2003 (Harlem Moon, Broadway Books).

This cookery book, The Heritage of Southern Cooking (1986, Workman Publishing Co. Inc., New York, N.Y.), by the cooking teacher, chef and cookbook writer, Camille Glenn whose base was Louisville, Kentucky, is an additional compendium of southern favourites as well as her own inventions and treatments. This is a tribute to southern America, extolling not only the types of food, but also the use of fresh ingredients and the desirability of using good, seasonal foods. While Camille Glenn does occasionally allude to the influence of slave and Afro-American food practices, my impression is that of crossing to the other side of the tracks. I tread carefully here because I do not want to bias anyone against what is a marvellous book of recipes and lore.

Camille’s style is friendly and accessible. Her writing is heartfelt, inviting and encouraging. In the introduction to the book, Camille concludes with advice about how to build a roster of favourite menus so they become second nature for the cook. This builds confidence in the beginner and saves time when preparing the meal again. This is such good advice...

Read my full review here.

Before travelling to a non-English-speaking country, I try to learn as many of the practical phrases of the language as I can before and during my trip. A language that I knew very little of turned out to be one I took to quickly. It was all Greek to me. Now, I can speak, read and understand demotic Greek at a basic level. Being away from Greece and native speakers is a hindrance to improvement, but I continue to love the language.

So, sitting at our table, ecstatic as always to be in Greece again, I happened to overhear a group of older men discussing the best method to cook green beans. I thought how marvellous, not only did I understand what they were saying, but these men were very interested in food preparation. The men gesticulated, slapped the table, raised their voices arguing passionately to support their positions. It was refreshing to hear each one extoll the virtues of one cooking method over another: One might say this was an unassuming vegetable they were championing....

Read my full Greek Cookbook: Traditional recipes tested for today’s kitchens review here.

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