Christmas, 1992. We ate a spiced beef roast that I had cured with juniper, allspice and salt for two weeks and a Country Christmas Cake, a heavy, dark fruitcake swathed in marzipan that had been aging since October. I’m sure they were wonderful, but I can’t quite remember how they tasted. What I do remember is knowing that I had to make them, next Christmas, as soon as I read “How to Face the Holidays” by Laurie Colwin in the December 1991 issue of Gourmet magazine. It began:
When Thanksgiving has passed and the leaves are off the trees, the harried modern person looks to the winter holidays like someone slumped across a railroad track contemplating an oncoming train.
She has found two splendid things to eat that can be made long in advance. “There is nothing else like them. They must be made by hand. And they cannot be bought.”
The cake will amaze your friends:
Most impressive is the fact that you have made this gorgeous, amazing, traditional cake yourself from an ancient recipe. Hands down, it is the best cake I have ever made—and also the best I have ever eaten.”
The spiced beef, from a recipe by Elizabeth David “…is perfectly expressed, perfectly correct, and perfectly delicious. The fact that I produced this rather magnificent thing shocked even me.”
Laurie Colwin was a well known novelist by the early 1990s, when she began writing a series of columns for Gourmet. Their irresistible combination of food writing, memoir, and life advice made her immediately beloved by Gourmet’s readers, including me. She was funny, opinionated, personal, and, most of all, forgiving. She wrote about simple, delicious food that could be flung together easily by a frazzled cook. She also told wonderful stories about bad food: kitchen experiments gone awry (a pudding that tasted like “lemon-flavored bacon fat”) and repulsive dinners (“There is something truly triumphant about a really disgusting meal.”). Several of the recipes — fried chicken, tomato pie, creamed spinach, gingerbread — were instant sensations that are still kept in many cooks’ clipping files.
The Gourmet columns are collected in Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. The second book was published after Colwin’s untimely death in October 1992.
Long before the term “comfort food” came into fashion, Colwin understood and relied on the consoling power of food and, by extension, food writing:
… for those of you who are suffering from sadness or hangover, or are feeling blue or tired of life, if you’re not going to read Persuasion, you may as well read Italian Food by Elizabeth David.
Or, better yet, read Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.
Check the WRL catalog for Home Cooking.
Check the catalog for More Home Cooking