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Going for Silver

May
14
2007

A few days before Mother’s Day in 1981, Workman Publishing released a cookbook by two women who had a deli (for lack of a better word) in Manhattan. The book was named after their shop: The Silver Palate, which they’d opened in 1977. The Silver Palate Cookbook, featuring recipes for the food they sold in the store, was a huge success and had a great impact on home cooks throughout the country — including me. The publisher has just released a 25th anniversary edition celebrating the founding of The Silver Palate 25 years ago by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
Click to view larger versionMy mother gave me a copy of the first edition for Christmas the year it came out and it quickly became my go-to book for recipe ideas, as it did for many other cooks. A couple of years later The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook was published, followed in turn by The New Basics Cookbook. By this time my siblings also had copies and we took to calling them the White Book (because of its white spine), the Red Book (because of its red spine), and the Big Book (because it was big).
Aside from my mother, no one has had more influence on my style of cooking than Rosso and Lukins. Their recipes are usually straightforward to prepare with straightforward flavors. The food has clear Mediterranean influences and yet is undeniably American in attitude.
Not everyone liked the books as much as I did. A friend of mine points out that some of their recipes are missing instructions, an example being the lamb bones one carefully browns when making cassoulet and then apparently simply throws away. I concur that missing instructions is a serious error, but it’s not one I had particularly noticed during the years I was using the books (I haven’t referred to them in some time, now).
I suspect this reflects a difference in the way I approach recipes. I look to them for ideas, but not instructions. Give me a list of ingredients and a cooking method and I’m usually in good shape. In fact, I almost never follow a recipe exactly, except when baking. For this reason the format of Joy of Cooking drives me bats. You have to read the entire recipe carefully to be sure you haven’t missed something. In fact, you have to read the recipe just to figure out if it’s something you want to make as opposed to a quick scan of the ingredients.
But it wasn’t simply The Silver Palate recipe ideas that I liked. The books were filled with quotes about food, sidebars on ingredients, menu ideas, stories and a collection of funky line-drawings by Lukins. Whether I found something I wanted to make or not, the books were just plain fun to browse. So was I looking forward to the new revision to see how things had changed in the past 20-plus years? The answer: Not much.
The recipes were retested (now you know what to do with those lamb bones after roasting them). The overall editing tightened up and some new stories and sidebars were added, along with 15 or so new recipes. They added a page on various sausages to the charcuterie section. But the main change is the inclusion of color photographs, the use of a cleaner font and printing on heavier paper (required for the photos). In short, it’s essentially the book I already had.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good book and if you don’t have a copy I recommend it without qualm. But if you have the original you don’t need this one — especially if, like me, you have notes on the dog-eared pages reminding you how the recipes should be done.

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