You are about to be introduced to my favorite cookbook author. It is not Bobby Flay. It is not Nigella Lawson, or Julia Childs, or Deborah Madison, though I love them all. It is none other than the lately underappreciated Bert Greene. He, my friend, was a real cookbook author.
He was born into creativity and an artistic flourish, and although the thrust of that was to be exhibited in the kitchen, he found an outlet for even more of it through cookbook writing, restaurant ownership, TV appearances, and radio and newspaper syndication. He reminds me a bit of Lynne Rosetta Kasper (of “Splendid Table” fame), including the nostalgic, calm, and decadent air, not to mention a pure love for food which is enhanced by their love of (and talent with) words.
Bert Greene’s cookbooks are not just recipes. Every chapter and every recipe includes an introduction which is part anecdote, part history, and part entertainment. And his use of language is nearly flawless. It can be beautiful, but it mostly just stays out of the way as you are whisked off to Depression-era New York, or a mid-century restaurant on the salty East Coast, or an interview with an eccentric centenarian. I feel completely at home in Bert Greene’s Kitchen, no matter what form (at which stage of life) that is taking.
But of course, one should also judge a cookbook by its recipes. Still, Greene’s remain my favorite books. We seem to have a lot of culinary loves in common, which is most evidenced in his choice of ingredients for the subjects of Kitchen Bouquets. Cinnamon? Lemon? Whiskey? Yes, please. And even after he lures me in to making just about every recipe in his cookbooks, I then love the results. Sometime a bit rich and complicated, there are some recipes that I come back to again and again and again (like his Baked Beans, Corn Salad, and Minted Peas). I am currently cooking all dinners from my newest acquisition, Kitchen Bouquets, and just re-warmed the Yucatan Chicken Mole and Baconed Beans and Rice for lunch. Yum!
As a rule, his recipes turn out as you expect, which is what you want from a recipe, although he is more detailed than I would like. And man does he love bacon and cream! (Who doesn’t?) Don’t go looking for a coffee table book with these, however. This was before the era of photo-riffic recipe books (which, incidentally, are not a favorite of mine.) It just leaves more room for actual recipes.
Tonight it’s Pork Meatloaf. Tomorrow it’s Potato Ham Soup and Warm Spinach Salad. And for a lifetime, I’ll have his award-winning books within reach.
I have copies of three of Bert’s five books, and all of them need to be found second-hand. I will procure copies of the other two as I find them. My copes are: Bert Greene’s Kitchen (Workman Publishing, 1993, publishes posthumously), Greene on Greens (Workman Publishing, 1984), and Kitchen Bouquets (Fireside Books, 1979), all by Bert Greene. The other two are Honest American Fare (Contemporary Books, 1984) and The Grains Cookbook (Workman Publishing, 1988).