Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, James Beard

I've been thinking of seeing a hypnotist. I remember huge numbers of food-related details from my early life. For example, when I was 13, I went to Europe for the first time. Soon after we landed in the Netherlands we stopped at a cafe by the freeway, where I had a black currant soda. Later, I ate rhubarb sauce on the side of pork--I'd never had it outside of a pie before. I ate frogs legs at Chez La Mère Blanc (now Georges Blanc). They didn't quite taste like chicken, and I was mesmerized by the large woman wearing a skirt over her swimsuit, with a dog on her lap. I also stayed at the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth , and still remember the green Chartreuse soufflé (and not being used to wine with dinner, and passing out after). At my distant relatives in Chiomonte, a village in the mountains outside Torino, I was served two crostatas the morning we left--one was with chunks of chocolate, the other with jam.

But still I need to see a hypnotist. Because what I can't remember, no matter how hard I try, is my breakfast with James Beard. I was on a family road trip, returning to California from Canada. We detoured to Gearhart, where we had somehow been invited to breakfast at Beard's house. I remember entering the house, and being introduced. My Dad mentioned that I'd been teaching myself to cook from his book, The Best of Beard, Great Recipes from a Great Cook (it had been a Christmas present the year before). The last thing I remember of that morning is James Beard looking fairly unimpressed.

I have a few other scattered memories of that trip. We stopped at the Portland farmers market on a rainy morning. It was a ghost of the market Beard describes in his book, Delights and Prejudices , and a ghost of today's market. But it was new to me--I don't remember seeing a farmers market before then. It was (I think) somewhere along SW Yamhill. This was in 1975, so probably before the Yamhill Market Place existed. I wonder if the market we visited was a remnant of the Farmer's Cooperative Market (a rival to the grand--apparently the world's largest in its time--Portland Public Market on Front Street) at the site of the original Carroll Market? Or was it an early attempt at restarting the market tradition here?

Of course, I had no idea then that in only 12 years I'd be moving to Portland, nor that I'd end up living a few blocks from the site of Portland's first municipal market, the Albina Public Market.

But back to Beard. I so want to remember that breakfast. What did we eat? Did he serve his mother's cream biscuits? What did we talk about? But I'm thinking instead of seeing a hypnotist (God only knows what other things he might dredge up--best let sleeping dogs lie!), I'll revisit my first cookbook and cook some early favorites (I remember especially liking the chicken braised with green olives). Then I'll explore James Beards' Portland and Oregon a bit more, with Delights and Prejudices as a guidebook. I've never eaten at Huber's, though I've enjoyed their Spanish Coffees more than once. Perhaps immersion will jog my memory, and my breakfast with James Beard will slowly return.

What remains of my book


Laura said...

Ooooh...cream biscuits? Sign me up! Don't suppose you have the recipe to pass along?

Giovanna said...

The recipe is in James Beard's American Cookery. Basically, it's a baking powder biscuit made with 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt. But no butter or shortening. Instead, you mix the dry ingredients, add 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream (or use all cream) to make a light dough. Pat or roll to 1/2 inch thick, and cut into squares (fewer scraps)or circles. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Dip biscuits into melted butter, put in pan or on cookie sheet, bake at 450 for about 12 minutes.


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