Laurie Colwin was a talented writer and had a real feel for the essential qualities of great food. Though not a chef or professional cook, she used her writing skills to delve into the mysteries of what makes good food great. And she did that with some of the funniest, sharpest, best writing since M.F.K. Fisher.
Alas, Laurie died in 1992, much too young, so you have to savor every scrap of writing she left us, in essays for Gourmet Magazine, and these, in her Home Cooking volumes. Colwin wrote some novels as well, but really, her food writing is what I appreciate the most.as
Colwin's writing is opinionated and passionate: she goes into raptures over things most 7 year olds (and quite a few adults) would gag over; succotash, beets, goat's milk yogurt. Yet her sense of what makes food essentially wonderful will have even the most confirmed vegetable-a-phobe at least thinking about trying her succotash recipe or maybe even looking at a raw beetroot with calm impartiality. In case you are certain you will still shun beets and lima beans, at least read her description of how to roast a duck. It's splendid.
'More Home Cooking' by Laurie Colwin is the kind of book that really makes you wish you could become friends with the author. Unfortunately, the author is no longer with us and I believe this volume was published posthumously, so there is a lot more than the usual barrier between celebrity and mere mortal between reader and writer.
Like the first volume, 'Home Cooking', chapters in the book are essays composed of both culinary and autobiographical material, although the book is not a memoir a la Ruth Reichl's two books. It is also not culinary criticism or exposition in the style of John Thorne. It is most similar to the kind of essays written by M.F.K. Fisher and Elizabeth David, one of the author's heroes.
In one of her essays, Ms. Colwin puts her finger on a reason for the popularity of cookbooks and cooking shows in the face of what some people claim to be the disappearance of home cooking. Reading about cooking is simply very comforting and reassuring. I find that I may not learn a whole lot from a particular Ina Garten or Paula Deen or Sara Moulton show on the Food Network, but it is certainly reassuring to watch, if even for the fourteenth time, how Ina cooks salmon so she can have it at two different meals with her guests being none the wiser regarding the doubling up on the effort.
Ms. Colwin gained this insight by reading Elizabeth David's 'Italian Food' while under the influence of a particularly acute hangover. And, her admiration of David's style is well demonstrated in the way Ms. Colwin writes recipes. There is none of the formal list of ingredients at the top with neatly laid out prep instructions so one can do their mise en place in true French brigade fashion. This is straight from Elizabeth David's spare recipe writing style done at a time when home cooks knew a lot more about cooking than they do today, or that at least is the patter among the Cassandras of modern culinary journalism.
Fortunately, Ms. Colwin's writing is less about cooking technique than it is about how we do and should think about cooking and food. It is to culinary journalism much like the editorial pages are to political journalism.
Like all very good culinary journalism such as that done by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman, this is stuff you can read and reread on rainy March afternoons. It is doubly good in that Ms. Colwin is speaking from a quarter she knows well, the slightly atypical American housewife.
Very highly recommended culinary reading. Recipes are more for inspiration than real life cooking, unless you just love to deconstruct Elizabeth David recipes.
on July 29, 2000
I think I've read every book Laurie Colwin has written, and I miss her. I refer to both her food books frequently-- both for recipes and for her down-home wisdom about what's good (if not necessarily good for you. Her strong opinions are not necessarily mine-- I still haven't acquired a taste for paprika, and she uses way too much butter, but her gingerbread recipe is the one comfort food I turn to on snowy days, and her essays on roasting chicken are a treasure. Having this book (both of them, actually) is like having a really good friend who loves to cook and eat as much as you do.
on June 23, 2004
It's been many years since I've actually indulged my love for cooking. My food preparation had long been limited to two choices: (1)add Lawry's seasoning salt and bake/fry/broil, and (2)fast food. Recently, I became reacquanited with my inner chef and became obsessed with cookbooks and books about food. I came across More Home Cooking during one of my recent trips to the local bookstore. I was intrigued by the tag, "A Writer Returns to the Kitchen." (I love good writing and I love good food.) The chapter titles sounded promising: Why I Love Cookbooks; The Case of the Mysterious Flatbread; How to Cook Like an American; Turkey Angst...Plus, the book had recipes! This was clearly a writer who had more than a passing interest in food; this was a true believer. So, what of this book? It's simply wonderful. It's not a book you rush through all at once, but rather one you can carry with you and savor in those brief windows of time throughout your day: during lunch break, while waiting in a line, in the car wash...Colwin's writing is so well-done it seems effortless and comes across as a conversation with an articulate friend who loves to talk about food. She's opinionated, good-humored, and honest in her essays about the merits of certain foods, the drawbacks of others, advice about food and living, and events from her own daily life. From her chapter entitled, In Search of Latvian Bread, regarding her attempt to replicate this bread: "The results were, to my mind, mixed. An Estonian came for supper and said it tasted exactly like the bread he had had in Moscow. I was not sure that this was a compliment. A dancer friend, also at dinner, tasted it and said he liked the other bread (miche from the greenmarket) better. My husband said that it was wonderful, but that I should have added rye flour. The Estonian said this bread would keep forever. I was not sure that this was a compliment." It's these little moments about her curiosity about food, her willingness to experiment, and her genuine fondness for food and the people it nourishes that make this book one you'll read through once and then pick up every now and again, just to enjoy a chapter or two once more. Incidentally, it wasn't until I was nearly finished with this book that I read the "About the Author" paragraph on the back cover. That's when I learned that Laurie Colwin had died in 1992; I felt a flicker of sadness. I would certainly have looked forward to future "conversations" with this engaging writer.
on June 12, 2011
I am a professional home economist with 40 years experience in the kitchen and 28 cookbooks to my name. Every single one of Ms. Colwin's recipes I have tried have been absolutely excellent. Her recipe for succotash is inspired. The onion flatbread is one of the best things I've ever tasted. And her Lemon Rice Pudding should be awarded the Nobel prize.
But that's not why I love this book. I love this book because of her writing. I can't quite pinpoint what is so wonderful about her writing style. She doesn't waste words. She doesn't add unnecessary words. She doesn't use contractions. And she has the most wonderful way of putting together a list. Her writing is almost like poetry. I read this book for her writing style, and for the wonderful way she describes food and comfort.
She will always be my favorite writer. I can say this because, after 20 years of searching and a home library with more than 5000 books, I have never found a writer to equal her. Michael Lee West's "Consuming Passions" comes close. I really wish she had lived longer so she could have given us more of her gifts.
on January 24, 2016
I love Colwin's writing- her novel "Happy All the Time" would be on my desert island list! And she writes brilliantly and beautifully about food, and family and friends, and the connections among them all. It's a joy to read, even if one does not cook from it.
But oh! how can anyone resist cooking from it??? The recipes are straightforward and accessible, and generally pretty easy; Colwin is fond of soups, for instance, which once put together cook all on their own- freeing up the cook for other pastimes. And I really do want to try her approach to roasted chicken, which she cooks long and at a low temp.
While she died in 1992, sadly, much of her writing anticipates our more normalized concerns about agribusiness and anticipates the farm-to-table movement.
Very highly recommended, if you like reading about food and family life, or read cookbooks for fun, or just want some delicious and easy recipes!
on September 2, 2006
another unique and interesting cookbook that is hidden inside a great read. I read this after her first book, Home Cooking, and I felt they complimented each other very well. As in the first book; the recipies are traditional but not really used anymore, sadly enough...easy enough to make, and practical in my opinion. A very very good book to curl up with.
My friend Cindy- who is an absolute sweetheart- surprised me one day with two books she thought I should read- Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, and the aptly named followup, More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen.
Colwin was a popular and prolific novelist with a loyal following, but these two collections of essays are, I suspect, even more popular than her novels. She is a writer with an easy style, and an unpretentious voice that draws you in to her world. Consider this opening to the first essay in Home Cooking:
"Unlike some people, who love to go out, I love to stay home. This may be caused by laziness, anxiety, or xenophobia, and in the days when my friends were traveling in Nepal and Bolivia, I was ashamed to admit that what I liked best was hanging around the house.
I am probably not much fun as a traveler, either. My idea of a good time abroad is to visit someone's house and hang out, poking into their cupboard if they will let me."
Colwin comes across as very much the homebody, and very much a fan of home cooking. You have to love a food writer who has chapter titles like Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir. And you can't help being captivated by a writer who explains her love of reading cookbooks by describing her discovery that good cookbooks have all the great food descriptions of a Barbara Pym novel, but without all the messy plot details. Colwin's books are full of wonderful stories of cooking and dining with friends, and recipes. They're mostly simple dishes that don't require any special technique, and that can be counted on to delight company. Some seem a bit dated now- the book came out of pieces written for Gourmet Magazine in the 80s and 90s- but they're still all good, even if a bit evocative of the spinach-dip-in-hollowed-bread era.
If your favorite social activity is dining at home with friends, if you like home style cooking rather than exotic "foodie" cooking, or if you just like reading about cooking from someone with an unpretentious enthusiasm for good, simple food, I think you'll be delighted by these books.
on February 4, 2015
Last night I was at a book club meeting and I admitted that I liked to read cookbooks. Everyone thought that was odd, but they have not read Laurie Colwin. Her books tell the story of her life with cooking, and just happen to have some great recipes. It's really interesting to read about her take on healthy food from a few decades ago in comparison to what we think now. Her love of food and family shines in this book and has encouraged me to read her other non-cook books as well. I've also started trying her recipes. Most are simple, but elegant. So far every one I've tried has been a hit.
on October 31, 2015
I LOVE cookbooks, my preference being with a bit of "backstory" along with the recipes. Many of these things I'll probably never make but I like the author's style and relationship with food.