The New York Times reported the death March 28, 2011, of Bernard Clayton Jr., who passed away in Bloomington, Indiana. He was 94.
Before bread machines (and you know what I think of those) we had chefs like James Beard and Bernard Clayton Jr teaching us the art of baking breads the traditional way. I would add to that Elizabeth David’s “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” and “The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book” but unquestionably, Beard and Clayton were at the top of the list. Clayton’s detailed dependable recipes guided novices and experts alike through the nuances of baking good bread and making many other dishes.
Everyone knows who James Beard was but you may not be quite as familiar with the name of Bernard Clayton, Jr. He was a native of Indiana, a journalist and a foreign correspondent, and you may not be aware that he was also the author of at least eight cookbooks.
Bernard Clayton was a senior editor and writer for Indiana’s University News Bureau. He was formerly the Time-Life Bureau chief in San Francisco and war correspondent for the magazines during World War II. Later, he was vice president and director of public relations for two major San Francisco firms.
Clayton began his career as a journalist and foreign correspondent but began writing cookbooks nearly 45 years ago. (You may think it quite a jump from journalist/foreign correspondent to cookbook author but I can think of at least one other person who did the very same thing; Betty Wason. And, coincidentally, Betty Wason was also born in Indiana and grew up there).
Clayton is, perhaps, best known for his cookbooks on breads and I have to confess, I don’t have any of them in my collection –yet. I do have two of Clayton’s books, “The Complete Book of Soups and Stews”, – and, one of my favorite’s “Cooking Across America”. I am partial to all cookbooks with “America” in the title and have amassed quite a collection of them. These are the closest you can get to understanding and appreciating true regional America, which is disappearing fast as we become more and more homogenized.
Clayton’s first cookbook was “The Complete Book of Breads”. This cookbook won the coveted Tastemaker cookbook award and was praised by Craig Claiborne as perhaps the best book on the subject in the English language. Clayton’s Complete Book of Pastry also won the Tastemaker cookbook award.
Clayton experienced a bread-baking epiphany while bicycling across Europe with his wife in 1965. The quality of the breads, gratifying to appetites sharpened by a hard day’s ride, impressed him. Although he had never baked so much as a muffin in his life, he embarked on a quest to explore bread and pastry making. His hobby developed into an obsession, then a career.
Over the next decade, he traveled around the world and logged countless hours in his home kitchen, newly outfitted with a professional oven, mastering the techniques and the recipes that he presented in “The Complete Book of Breads.”
Clayton is also the author of “The Breads of France” and “Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Bread”. A 7,000-mile research trip that took him to bakeries all over France led to “The Breads of France” (1978), a comprehensive cookbook that guided the reader through French bread in all forms, from the leaf-shaped fougasse of Provence to the bagels served at Goldenberg’s deli in the Marais neighborhood of Paris.
“The Complete Book of Pastry,” published in 1981, dealt with its subject on a truly global scale, with recipes for strudel, South American empanadas, Italian pizzas and calzones, Greek baklava and Russian piroshki.
It was during his travels all around the world that Clayton collected recipes and put together a collection of 250 soup and 50 stew recipes for his cookbook “The Completed Book of Soups and Stews” published in 1984 by Simon & Shuster. I was charmed by his comment “Cookbook authors, like cooks, collect cookbooks…” Clayton wrote that he surrounded himself with several hundred volumes and their places on the shelves around the room are so familiar to him that he could reach for them in the dark. He lists, in The Complete Book of Soups and Stews, nearly twenty five of his favorite cookbook authors and their cookbook titles that were especially meaningful to him. A few names are not so familiar to me while others are—James Beard and Diana Kennedy, Mollie Katzen and Irma Romauer. One author I was surprised to find on his list was Ann Seranne for her editing of the Southern Junior League Cookbook. I knew who Ann Seranne was but I can’t say I’ve seen her name anywhere else recently. Then, too, this cookbook was published in 1984. He also listed some of his favorite reference volumes which included Larousse Gastronomique and The Escoffier Cook Book.
This was something I could truly relate to, as my two desks and the floor near my computer—along with several bookcases of reference material –are all within reach…periodically, I go on a rampage to put the books back on their respective shelves but before long I am surrounded by stacks of cookbooks again.
In “Cooking Across America” Bernard Clayton and his wife, Marje, decided to take to the road in search of North America’s best cookbooks. He posted this note on the wall above his typewriter: “This will be more than a book of recipes. I am as interested in the cook as a person as I am in the thorough step-by-step presentation of the recipe. I believe these together have been the principal reasons readers have found pleasure in reading and cooking with my books”.
So, for three years, this sentiment defined Bernard & Marje’s days. They drove a GMC van and set out on the odyssey of a life time, what the author often called a dream assignment.
In the beginning, Clayton thought the project would be difficult but he found that every community is as proud of its good cooks as they are of the town band or the high school basketball team. They met over 100 of North America’s best cooks and collected 250 of their favorite recipes.
I like “Cooking Across America” for the same reason I am so fond of the Browns’ “America Cooks” – these are authentic regional collections of recipes that help define what American regional cookery is all about. And, “Cooking Across America” is as much a cook’s travelogue as it is a cookbook.
The following is a list of Bernard Clayton Junior’s cookbooks along with some sources for locating his books for your collection:
The Complete Book of Breads, Alibris.com $8.00
The Breads of France and how to Bake them in your own kitchen 1978, Bernard Clayton & Patricia Wells, Amazon pre-owned starting at $25.00
The Complete Book of Pastry, 1984, Amazon pre-owned starting at $3.00
The Complete Book of Soups and Stews, 1984, Amazon new and used from 1 cent., Alibris.com $4.00
The New Complete Book of Breads, Soups, and Stews 2008, Amazon new $14.98, used $9.99 and up.
The Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, 1984, Alibris, pre-owned $8.95, Amazon starting at 4 cents, pre owned.
Cooking Across America, 1993 Amazon new from $5.99, pre-owned starting at 59 cents
The Complete Book of Small Breads, 2006, Amazon new from $12.34, pre owned starting 9.20.
I hesitated to list the higher prices; you can discover these for yourself on any of the cookbook websites. I generally consult Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Jessica’s Biscuit.
Do you suppose that Bernard Clayton Jr is now teaching the angels in heaven how to make angel’s biscuits? (Recipe is on pages 32-33 of Cooking Across America).
–Review by Sandra Lee Smith
Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!