Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cooking as part of a balanced life

Pellegrini first published The Unprejudiced Palate in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II. While the US has been at war with two countries for over ten years, we have not had to mobilize our population in the way that we had to do in WW II. There has been no food rationing,and women have not been not encouraged to leave their homes and take jobs in factories to make aircraft and munitions. Rosie the Riveter does not exist in the 21st century.

However, in America of the 1940's, there was considerable rationing. Newspapers and magazines printed recipes for "wacky cakes", which didn't contain rationed eggs. Most recipes were designed to be quick and to use a minimum of ingredients because women were cooking them after spending a day at war work. Food was something just to be eaten quickly before chores and homework were begun.

The Italian-born Pellegrini had a completely different view of cooking. He states in The Unprejudiced Palate that the United States had unmatched resources of plenty in meat, fruits, vegetables, and grains which provided the materials needed for what could be one of the great cuisines of the world. However, he was mistrustful of cookbook authors:

"The American housewife has been convinced by these culinary fakirs that cooking is an art, and since she is at the moment in full revolt against the thesis that woman's place is in the home, she is quite willing to admit that her cooking isn't worth a damn - despite the spherical tendencies of her own and her mate's girth. She is in no mood to achieve distinction in the kitchen if to do so she must go snouting for truffles in the oak groves of Piedmont and preying upon snails in the vineyards of Burgundy. If cooking is an art, then by definition it can be mastered only by a select few – a conclusion which she has been quick to seize upon and exploit in defense of her admitted ineptitude. If excellent meals require exotic and unavailable ingredients, endless hours in the kitchen, and a lifetime to perfect, Mrs. Jones is content to whet the can opener and concentrate on bridge.” (p.10)

In contrast to the view of cooking as a complicated art, Pellegrini believed

“An accomplished cuisine is only one of the ingredients in the good life. It is perhaps the basic ingredient; but to look upon it as either more or less than that is to pervert its meaning…He knows, too, that simplicity and variety, both in ingredients and in their preparation, are the abiding principles on which the distinguished diet is based. A cup of broth, fine, crisp bread, good cheese, celery and chicory hearts, a bottle of wine – never mind the French names and ancient vintages – topped with coffee and brandy, make a pleasant and satisfying dinner.” (p. 14-5).
As a result, The Unprejudiced Palate, while it does contain descriptions of the food that he makes, is more of an exposition of  Pellegrini’s philosophy that anyone can cook, and cook well (whether male or female), with good American ingredients and a basic knowledge of simple recipes and techniques.

1 comment:

Julia C. said...

The fact that we've turned cooking into a competitive sport doesn't help, either. Between reality show cooking competitions and people trying to outdo one another with new dishes based on exotic ingredients, it's no wonder why many people just give up and pick up a takeout menu.