Debra's Reviews > Outlaw Cook

Outlaw Cook by John Thorne
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Jul 30, 2016

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bookshelves: foodie-reads

Thorne had me hooked in the preface. As he wrote about the fact that he “couldn’t have too many recipes,” I knew I was reading the words of a kindred spirit. I, too, am a hoarder of recipes, cookbooks, clippings, and I am constantly finding loose envelopes on which I have jotted down a recipe or simply an idea for a dish. One would think with all the technology at my fingertips, I could come up with an organizational plan for my recipes. Instead, I have an empty box that I try to throw in all these loose tidbits (with the exception of a wayward envelope or two).

I also identified with Thorne using cookbooks to “inflate my sense of self as a cook.” Yes, how often I buy a cookbook because it is the next foodie trend. I have Dorie’s and Ottolenghi’s books languishing on the shelf. It is pretentious I know, but the perception put out there is “I must be a great and serious cook. Just look at all the books I own.”

Thorne relates that cooking is a process of self-discovery, a personal journey to find one’s palate, style, knowledge and practice in the artistry of food.

The essay that spoke the most to me was “Plowman’s Lunch.”

I was raised a farm girl and have spent time as a “plowman.” Some of the most vivid memories I have are during the harvest. When I was too young to be any significant help in the field, I was relegated to Grandma’s to “help” in the kitchen. We would pack up simple sandwiches and Mason jars full of iced tea to take to the field. There, Dad and Grandpa would stop the combines just long enough to inhale a sandwich and chug down gulps of tea. We would then return to the kitchen to start work on the evening meal, sometimes eaten long after dark, especially if rain were in the forecast. Most generally, this meal would be a casserole of some sort, something that could withstand setting and being reheated as needed. These recipes were hearty and simple: homemade macaroni and cheese (with onions, I might add), hamburger casseroles (often made with Campbell’s soup), smothered steaks, Swedish meatballs, meatloaf. There would also always be a dessert, sometimes pie, but most often home-canned peaches or pears with a drizzle of cream. These were our “Plowman’s” lunches and dinners.

Iced tea again always accompanied these meals, never beer (as Thorne writes of a traditional peasant’s lunch).

As I perused his essay, a couple of other memories washed over me. One was of “Welsh Rabbit” (pg. 43) which we learned to make in home economics class in junior high. We thought it was the weirdest dish we had ever seen (and tasted). I actually think we made it too with Campbell’s tomato soup. (A travesty, I know, but I am sure we did not use ale, port, whiskey or stout.) As I read on about the beverage accompaniment to these simple meals, I was reminded of a high school English teacher (a rebel in his own mind) who taught us that beer was basically liquid bread. (I am sure our parents were thrilled about that tidbit.) And finally, there is a brewery in Hayes, Kansas, the halfway point in our travels to family in Colorado, that is named Lb. They pay homage to immigrant farmers and the “days of the settlers where beer and bread sometimes played interchangeable roles. When in the field, workers couldn’t always stop to eat lunch. So, they drank it. Hence ‘Lb.’ for ‘Liquid Bread’. ” I guess my old English teacher did know what he was talking about. (Imagine that?)

So, forgive my ramblings, but I had many experiences like this as I read Outlaw Cook. Thorne’s prose would lead me on my own mental journey about cooking, food, and comfort.

I look forward to delving further into Outlaw Cook and Thorne’s other works like Mouth Wide Open and Serious Pig. There is much food wisdom in his writing: "Maybe what all this means is that we don’t really start learnng how to cook until we begin noticing what gives us pleasure in the kitchen. Cooking is about eating, of course, but it’s also about doing…"

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2012 – Finished Reading
July 30, 2016 – Shelved
November 15, 2016 – Shelved as: foodie-reads

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