Jean Anderson is a cookbook author whose work I have long admired, but with the publishing of “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” her status, in my eyes, increased enormously. This is a cookbook to treasure forever, and the fascinating detail is reflected in the pages that took the author ten years to write. Other cookbook authors have written books in tribute to the past century, but Jean Anderson’s “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” easily outshines them all. It could not have been an easy task, to search out the most popular recipes of the 20th century, and to chronicle 100 years of culinary change in America. Look at the changes that have taken place in just the past twenty or thirty years!
Jean began her research for this book by writing to editors of food magazines, major women’s magazines and newspapers throughout the country, as well as home economists at major food companies, asking for their 10 most requested recipes of the century. The response, she reports, was overwhelming. It was logical, I think, for Jean to start with these resources. We know that food editors have their fingertips on the pulse of American cookery. Who knows better what recipes are most requested by their readers? And, it was a role that Jean herself had played for a number of years. (As a young adult, I was strongly influenced in my love for recipes and the stories behind them, by Fern Storer, who was for many years a food editor of the Cincinnati Post. After we moved to California, whenever my mother was getting ready to mail a box of favorite things to me and would ask what I wanted sent, I’d reply “Rubel’s rye bread and the food sections from the Cincinnati post”. After we settled in Los Angeles, I began collecting the S.O.S. columns in the L.A. Times for many years).
And, although I knew I had a few other Jean Anderson cookbooks on my bookshelves, it wasn’t until I read “THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” that I became curious – who is Jean Anderson, cookbook author?
Like so many other culinary artists, Jean Anderson is a southerner, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, who was born Helen Jean Anderson. For many years she lived in New York City, but a few years ago in the late 1990s, Jean returned to the south, to Chapel Hill, where she lives today. For many years, Jean lived in Manhattan; she worked as an editor of Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal. She was also a senior editor at Venture magazine. She traveled the world on assignments for magazines such as Gourmet, Saveur, and Travel and Leisure. Jean traveled extensively as a free-lance writer-photographer in Europe, parts of Russia, India, the Middle East, and Latin and South America (Her travel itinerary reminds me a bit of a couple of other favorite cookbook authors, Myra Waldo and Betty Wason).
Jean is a graduate of Cornell University, where she majored in food and nutrition and has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Her early career included working as women’s editor for the North Carolina Agriculture Extension Service.
Jean’s parents were both mid-westerners (who were considered Yankees at that time, in the south). Jean has said that she loved reading, writing and cooking from a very early age, something many of us can relate to. And like so many other successful cookbook authors, Jean credits her mother with allowing her into the kitchen and encouraging her interest.
“I can remember when my father gave my mother a copy of “THE JOY OF COOKING” she has recalled, “I thought, ‘I would like to write a book like that!” (And THAT rang a bell with me – I credit my mother with my love of cooking when she turned ME loose in the kitchen when I was about ten years old—but my mother’s cookbook was an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook, the only one she owned for many years).
Well, Jean has written a book like that–quite a few, as a matter of fact, and her childhood dream of winning the Pillsbury Bake-Off was realized in part, when she participated as a judge at the Waldorf Astoria for one of the Bake-offs, during the period of time when Jean was a managing editor of Ladies Home Journal.
Jean visited Columbia University’s School of Journalism with the staff of her high school paper when she was a teenager, and was so impressed by the school that, after earning her Bachelor of Science Degree in Food and Nutrition at Cornell University, she headed back to Columbia to receive her Master’s degree in Journalism. It was during Jean’s graduate studies at Columbia that she won the honored Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship, which enabled her to spend a year abroad.
Jean Anderson has received many awards in the course of her career, including being named “Editor of the Year” in 1992 by the James Beard Foundation; she was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food & Beverages in America in 1994, and into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 1999. She was a winner of the R.T. French Tastemaker Award, for Best Basic Cookbook of the Year, in 1975, and then for Best Specialty Cookbook of the Year, in 1980. Jean was a winner of the Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for Best Foreign Cookbook of the Year in 1986 (possibly The Food of Portugal, which was published in 1986), and was a finalist for the James Beard Cookbook Awards and Julia Child Cookbook Awards in 1998.
One can’t help but wonder—how does a girl from North Carolina, who spent most of her adult life in New York, happen to write a book about Portugal? Jean explains, in the introduction to “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL” that she never expected to find such bounty or culinary virtuosity when she first visited Portugal 25 years before writing her one and only foreign cookbook. As a matter of fact, “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL” was the only major cookbook in English ever published on the food of Portugal at the time it was published, in 1986. When people heard that she was writing a Portuguese cookbook, they invariably asked, “But isn’t it just like Spanish cooking?” to which Jean demonstrates, no, it isn’t.
She explains, that, although Portuguese and Spanish cooks both rely heavily upon many of the same ingredients—tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, to name three, the differences are subtle, such as the Portuguese gazpacho version being much thicker, brimming with crumbles of yeasty homemade bread so that it more closely resembles their ‘dry soups’ called ACORDAS. Jean says the Portuguese version of flan is smoother and spicier than the Spanish because they are often thickened with egg yolks as opposed to whole eggs, and flavored only with cinnamon. Rarely do they contain lemon or vanilla, seasonings loved by the Spanish “just next door”.
“It was the Portuguese,” Jean reminds us, “who launched Europe’s Age of Discovery in the early 15th century; the Portuguese who designed a ship that could sail both with and against the wind (the caravel); who charted the west coast of Africa; who rounded the Cape of Good Hope; who plucked Madeira and the Azores from the ‘Green Sea of Gloom’ as the Atlantic was then known; who discovered Brazil; and who, not least, found the water route to the East’s treasury of spices..”
Jean returned to Portugal every year since her original trip in 1961—sometimes two or three times a year and remarks that she knows of “no nation where the countryside, climate, produce and cooking all shift so abruptly in a few short miles…”
She says she learned much over the years from Portuguese cooks who not only gave generously of their time and talent, but also happily handed over cherished family recipes…the result being, “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL”.
“I have broken bread in castles,” Jean writes, “convents, sophisticated Lisbon restaurants and salty tascas (bistros). I have interviewed cooks trained and untrained, haute and humble; I have prowled markets in towns large and small, and returned to the fish auctions of Cascais, Portimao, and Albufeira more often than I can remember. And,” she comments, “I came away from Portugal this last trip convinced that we Americans know more about the cooking of the People’s Republic of China than we do about that of this ‘most foreign’ of Western European
countries despite the fact that there are many Portuguese communities scattered across the face of America….”
Now here’s a most curious thing: Jean writes, “I have dined both simply and sumptuously in Portuguese homes and shall never forget the caldo verde (the green cabbage soup that is considered the national dish of Portugal) served to be by a complete stranger in a one-room fieldstone hut at the end of a squiggy mountain road. I had lost my way in the northerly Minho Province in the fog that so often frequents its mountains in early spring, and had stopped to ask directions. An old woman swathed in black answered my knock, and seeing how cold and tired I was, insisted that I rest a bit, and revive myself before moving on. I sat on a scrubbed pine table beside the mound of intensely emerald cabbage she had been shredding, watched as she tossed handfuls of it into a pot bubbling over an open fire. She stirred the pot once, twice, let it mellow several minutes, then produced a brown pottery bowl and ladled the steaming jade liquid into it. She then cut for me a thick wedge of broa (the rough, yeast-raised corn bread of the north) and poured a glass of vinho verde (the region’s crackling green wine, so called because it comes from green mountains and valleys, and also because it is drunk young. I don’t know that I have ever enjoyed a meal more….”
Déjà vu! I remember cookbook author Myra Waldo’s story of her experiences while traveling in Hungary! I wrote the following for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange some years ago:
My favorite story is that of Myra and her husband, while in Vienna, walking past the Hungarian Embassy. They began to discuss never having been to Hungary, looked at each other and retraced their steps. Inside the Hungarian Embassy they presented their passports – and before long, despite what Myra describes as “a slightly disquieting feeling of nervousness” they were on their way. As they drove through the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, – the radiator boiled over because the fan belt had become loose. While wondering what to do, they noticed a farmhouse off in the distance, so they walked to it, where they encountered a peasant woman airing bedclothes.
They attempted to communicate in English, French, and German, and when that failed, made their needs known with sign language. They carried off a bucket of water, promising to return the bucket and when they returned, tried to pay the woman.
Myra explains, “The woman waved it aside and motioned us to come inside the kitchen. A delicious aroma filled the air, and always curious I wanted to know what was on the stove. But, it appeared, that was the very reason we had been asked inside—to have something to eat. It was a meal-in-one-dish, a sausage stew made with potatoes and sauerkraut, hearty and delicious. We were embarrassed about eating her food, for it was obvious the farm was a poor one, but we were very hungry, and she was watching us for expressions of enjoyment in the food. It was very good—delicious, in fact. We drank a light white wine with the stew and enjoyed both enormously.
My husband, who has his points, came up with the perfect method of repayment. The woman wouldn’t take any money of course, but my husband opened a suitcase and extracted a box of Viennese candy, which we had brought along. He was right! She was ecstatic with pleasure and quickly and enthusiastically recited a list of names, apparently members of her family who would enjoy the candies…’
Myra and her husband left “amid many words of thanks on both sides, which she couldn’t understand, and which we couldn’t understand, but which everyone did understand”.
Well, I guess my next question is, do all American cookbook writers who go to Europe have experiences such as these? And isn’t it strange that both Myra Waldo and Jean Anderson had such similar experiences in two totally different countries?
But, getting back to “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL” – if you can find a copy, grab it! I have to say, this is one of the most fascinating “foreign” cookbooks I have ever acquired. I want to try every single recipe! (I found my copy on Alibris.com)—and the photographs will take your breath away! (Jean is also a photojournalist in the field of food and travel—a love of photography is something else I share with her. Recently my 8 year old grandson asked me why I am constantly taking pictures of food. I replied “Because I like to”.
Two other cookbooks of Jean Anderson’s that I cherish are “THE GRASS ROOTS COOKBOOK” and “RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES”. I am especially fond of the former because it’s a collection of America’s recipes, completely unique, completely Jean. Jean’s style in ‘THE GRASS ROOTS COOBOOK” reminds me of the Browns, in “AMERICA COOKS”. I am charmed by “RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES” because it came to my attention shortly after I visited Hale Farm and Western Reserve Village in Ohio, with my brother and his youngest daughter, my niece, Laura. I had no idea there are restored villages such as these sprinkled all over the United States and it was quite an experience. “RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES” was published in 1975 and I don’t know if all of these places are still operating—but Hale Farm was, some years ago, when I was visiting my brother in Cleveland. And if you are looking for an all-around cookbook, may I suggest “JEAN ANDERSON COOKS/ HER KITCHEN REFERENCE & RECIPE COLLECTION” published in 1982.
Jean’s “American Century Cookbook”, my favorite of the lot, was published in 1997. Obviously not content to rest on her laurels, in 2000, William Morrow, published Jean’s cookbook “DINNERS IN A DISH OR A DASH”, which I am going to review for you separately at a later date.
After “DINNER IN A DISH OR A DASH” Jean has published a new book every few years. In 2003, it was “PROCESS THIS!” by William Morrow Publishing. (“Process This!” is all about learning how to make the most of a food processor. I’m assuming that Jean really loves food processors; in 1979 William Morrow & Company published her “JEAN ANDERSON’S PROCESSOR COOKING”. Then in 1983 her publisher, William Morrow & Company, published JEAN ANDERSON’S NEW PROCESSOR COOKING”.
In 2005, she published “Quick Loaves”, followed in 2007 with “A LOVE AFFAIR WITH SOUTHERN COOKING”, William Morrow publisher. Her latest cookbook is “FALLING OFF THE BONE” which was published in October, 2010. (I plan to order this cookbook and so will get back to you later on what I think about it. I can’t imagine not liking anything that Jean Anderson writes. Right now, I have thirteen of her cookbooks.
Not bad for a little lady who shows no signs of slowing down! While attempting to update my records and see what Ms Anderson had been writing about since “American Century Cookbook”, I discovered she has her own website! You can visit it at jeanandersoncooks.com.
What an inspiration she is!
GRASS ROOTS COOKBOOK, DOUBLEDAY DELL PUBLISHING, 1974, 75, 76, 77, 92 (*The Grass Roots Cookbook is a outgrowth of magazine pieces originally features in Family Circle magazine)
The Doubleday Cookbook VOL 2 (with Elaine Hanna). Doubleday: 1975. R.T. French Tastemaker Cookbook-of- the-Year as well as Best Basic Cookbook
RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES, Doubleday, 1975
THE GREEN THUMB PRESERVING GUIDE, WILLIAM MORROW & COMPANY, 1976
JEAN ANDERSON’S PROCESSOR COOKING, WILLIAM MORROW & COMPANY, 1979
Half a Can of Tomato Paste & Other Culinary Dilemmas (with Ruth Buchan). Harper & Row, 1980. Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award, Best Specialty Cookbook of the Year.
JEAN ANDERSON COOKS, WILLIAM MORROW & COMPANY, 1982
JEAN ANDERSON’S NEW PROCESSOR COOKING, WILLIAM MORROW & COMPANY, 1983
The New Doubleday Cookbook (with Elaine Hanna). Doubleday: 1985.
The Food of Portugal. William Morrow: 1986. Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award, Best Foreign Cookbook of the Year
The New German Cookbook (with Hedy Würz). HarperCollins: 1993
The American Century Cookbook. Clarkson Potter: 1997
The Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook (co-edited with Sara Moulton). Hyperion: 2000
Dinners in a Dish or a Dash. William Morrow: 2000
Process This! New Recipes for the New Generation of Food Processors. William Morrow: 2002. James Beard Best Cookbook, Tools & Techniques Category
Quick Loaves. William Morrow: 2005
A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections. Foreword by Sara Moulton. William Morrow: 2007
Falling Off the Bone, Wiley Publishing, published October 19, 2010
Also by Jean Anderson:
THE ART OF AMERICAN INDIAN COOKING (with Yeffe Kimball)
FOOD IS MORE THAN COOKING
HENRY, THE NAVIGATOLR, PRINCE OF PORTUGAL
THE HAUNTING OF AMERICA
THE FAMILY CIRCLE COOKBOOK (with the Food Editors of Family Circle Magazine)
This list is as comprehensive as I could make it, based largely on the dozen or so Jean Anderson cookbooks in my personal collection. I also checked with Google.com and Amazon.com for titles. I have ordered “Quick Loaves” and plan to purchase both “A Love Affair With Southern Cooking” and “Falling off the Bone”. People who know me well are aware that I have had a running love affair with southern cooking for many years also and wrote about it way back when in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, an article that was titled “That’s What I like about the South”.
Happy Cooking! And when you aren’t cooking, read a good cookbook!
–Sandra Lee Smith