Book Review: “Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen” by Laurie E. Colwin


Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, 1988,
“Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen,” by Laurie Colwin, 1988

I first heard of Laurie Colwin from an online magazine editor (Denise Landis at The Cook’s Cook), who kindly published my first piece of work. While editing my piece, Denise mentioned that I should read as much as I could, about as many topics as I could. She specifically mentioned Laurie Colwin, and her book, Home Cooking. She said that Laurie had a way of writing that was informal, yet captivating and she thought I would enjoy reading her work. It didn’t take long for me to get online and buy Home Cooking, and Colwin’s later work, More Home Cooking.

Overview/Summary

So much more than your typical cookbook, Home Cooking is a collection of heartfelt tales of life experiences, which also happen to feature great recipes.  Colwin tells us of her wonderful wins and her disastrous fails, both in the kitchen and in life.  She offers us great recipes with side dishes of humor and joy.

She dedicates the book to her family – sister Leslie Friedman (whom she calls a great cook) and, husband Juris and daughter Rosa (both of whom she calls great eaters).  The Table of Contents is a wide-ranging affair, and includes humorous titles such as Bread Baking Without Agony, How to Disguise Vegetables, and Kitchen Horrors. However, she also dedicates several chapters to one food, with titles such as Potato Salad, Red Peppers, Bitter Greens, Chicken Salad, and Black Cake.

In the foreword, not only does Colwin thank a multitude of others for their inspiration and companionship, but she also reminds us that cooking and eating are inherently social activities.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
Laurie Colwin

Shown below are a few quotes from the back cover, which indicate the positive reception of this book:

“A delightful tribute to food, friends and kitchen memories…This charmer is as irresistible as homemade shortbread.” – The San Diego Union-Tribune

“A very funny book. Funny enough to make you giggle out loud.” – Newsday

About the Author

Who is Laurie E. Colwin?  She is an American short story writer, novelist and essayist. In addition to writing, she also worked as a translator and a book editor. She wrote a food column for Gourmet magazine and contributed regularly to Mademoiselle, Playboy, Allure and Redbook. In addition, she worked for various literary agents and on publishers’ editorial staffs. She sold her first story to The New Yorker at the young age of just 25.  Her honors included a Guggenheim Fellowship and an O. Henry Award. Posthumously,  “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking” were honored at 2012 James Beard Awards.

Laurie Colwing at her Garden Gate, Photo Courtesy Nancy Crampton
Laurie Colwin at her Garden Gate, Photo Courtesy Nancy Crampton, Luarie Colwin Facebook Fan page

Colwin’s husband, Juris Jurjrvics, was the editor-in-chief of Soho Press for 20 years and wrote a novel, The Trudeau Vector, published in 2003. Their daughter, Rosa Jurjevics, works for a New York publishing house and is a contributing writer for the San Diego Reader.  Sadly, Colwin died unexpectedly in 1992, in Manhattan, from a heart attack at the age of 48.  All of her books are still in print, although in various versions and cover art.

Born: 1944 in Manhattan, New York USA
Deceased: 10-24-1992 at the age of 48
Education: Bard College, Columbia University
Spouse: Juris Jurjevics
Children: Rosa Audrey Jurjevics, daughter
Religion: Judaism

Critical Analysis – What I Liked Most

I especially liked that Home Cooking is a cookbook, disguised as a thoughtful memoir, which happens to serve up some great recipes. I often describe myself as a person who likes to read cookbooks like others like to read novels – with Home Cooking, I get the best of both worlds.

Beef, Barley and Leek Soup, before cooking, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Beef, Barley and Leek Soup, before cooking, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Also, I appreciated that there is an alphabetical index in the back of the book, making it easy-as-pie to find a particular recipe featured in one of the delightful chapters. If you would like to try one of Laurie’s recipes, but you aren’t sure where to start, I suggest the Barley, Beef and Leek Soup.  I tried it and loved it, with the addition of more liquid than the original recipes calls for.

Finally, I related to the informality of Laurie’s prose. She puts on no airs and has not a hint of pretentiousness often found in cookbooks. For example, she says of her recipe for Braised Fennel, Celery, Onion and Red Pepper, “It is clear that I have come a long way from the days when I would eat a bag of peppers on the street, but considering that I can eat a mess of them straight from the frying pan, perhaps I haven’t come that far after all.”

Critical Analysis – What I Disliked

Because Home Cooking is not a traditional cookbook, you’ll not find a “soup to nuts” recipe trail. Instead, you’ll find a variety of interesting, but somewhat haphazard recipes. Yes, I found most of them to be a delight, but they are not strung together to form a cohesive collection.  For example, although there are several dessert recipes (gingerbread, black cake, etc.), you won’t find a chapter dedicated to desserts.

In fact, many of the recipes at the end of each chapter come as a surprise. For example, in the Friday Night Suppers chapter, I found recipes for both Potato Pancakes and Orange Ambrosia. What an eclectic duo, not meant to be served together, yet listed in succession.

Verdict – Yes, No or Maybe?

A resounding YES!  As long as you adjust your expectations to prepare for a memoir with recipes, and not a cookbook with stories, you’ll enjoy Home Cooking.  Because her works have been republished by a variety of publishers, you’ll find varying covers – don’t let that throw you off – the contents are the same. Also, set aside some time to read this book – once you start, you won’t want to put it down.

If you read it:

Genre:  Cookbook, Memoir
ISBN:  0060955309 (ISBN13: 9780060955304)
Original Publication Date: 1988, this edition published June 1st 2000
Paperback edition: 184 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial

Other books by this author:

Novels:

  • Happy All the Time
  • Family Happiness
  • Goodbye Without Leaving
  • Shine On Bright and Dangerous Object
  • A Big Storm Knocked It Over

Short stories:

  • Passion and Affect
  • Another Marvelous Thing
  • The Lone Pilgrim

Essays:

  • Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen
  • More Home Cooking – A Writer Returns to the Kitchen

***

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen” by Laurie E. Colwin

Please Share a Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s