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Classic Cookbooks: The James Beard Cookbook

Book CoverAbout a month ago a headline on Gourmet.com caught my eye: What Ever Happened to James Beard? Once indisputably the central figure in American food, today James Beard is for most people the name attached to a cookbook award or perhaps associated with some foundation’s financial scandal. It was true, I realized, that all I knew about him came from anecdotes in other people’s memoirs and histories. He is always depicted in such books not just as the “dean of American cookery” but as an involved and gossipy connector of people and giver of advice. Because he mentored and shaped so many important food careers, Laura Shapiro says, his influence is still with us today, even if his vibrant personality and many books no longer occupy center stage.

I decided it was about time to try The James Beard Cookbook. Although it has undergone some light revisions in the intervening half century, the edition available today from Marlowe & Company is, for the most part, the same comprehensive and unintimidating collection of recipes that Dell published in 1959 as the first trade paperback cookbook. Since one of Beard’s aims here was to encourage new cooks, I chose something slightly intimidating that I had never made before—soufflé. Spinach soufflé, to be exact: moist and light and, in the end, not tricky at all.

About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.

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