The Great American Writer’s Cookbook: Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates

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As the old saying goes, “Writers write,” and, so I suppose, Cookers cook, and some times they do both. When I’m in the mood for a laugh or even a self-indulgent “I can do better than that,” I turn to one of my most-treasured books: The Great American Writers’ Cookbook. 

Inside this 1981 spiral-bound beauty are 200 “recipes” from 175 writers, including those alive back then, and those not (Ernest Hemingway, for one). The recipes range from Appetizers and Beverages to Soups, Stews, Meats, Poultry & Game, Seafood, Eggs & Pasta, Vegetables, Breads & Cereals and (as all’s well that ends well )- Desserts. The 221-page book has an introduction by Craig Claiborne, which gives it legitimacy as an authentic cookbook, since he was both writer and chef. Although some recipes are more legitimate than others.

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Take, for example, Joyce Carol Oates‘ recipe for “The Career Woman’s Meal” – “1 Campbell Soup can (any variety), 1 can-opener, 1 saucepan, 1 can water, 2 soup bowls”. (and now you can see why I laughed). And how about Allen Ginsberg‘s “Mushrooms & Steak Pork Fish Etc Broiled“? He writes, “Whenever you broil a meat, etc. scatter a dozen mushrooms in,  5-6-7 minutes before the cooking’s done. The mushrooms retain their juice but are dry-broiled outside.” I think this recipe is a Howl – or, at least, a Hoot.

Speaking of Mushrooms, one of the more complex recipes contained herein is from Norman Mailer :”Stuffed Mushrooms.” This is a five-paragraph recipe, longer than I am allowed to quote in a blog, but if you would like more description, please consult your Larousse, as Mailer’s Mushrooms are a derivative of recipes in that venerable French cookbook.

Lest I leave you with the wrong opinion, there are, however, some fine recipes from other writers, including Tom Wolfe, who offers up his “Ten O’Clock Compote” (a breakfast dish) and Katherine Anne Porter‘s “Variation On My Feesh Deesh.” (8 raw lobster tails, a pound of raw shrimp and a pound of raw scallops to start).

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Although I’ve owned and coveted this book for more than a few decades, if I didn’t own it, I I’d surely want it –  for one recipe alone: Hunter S. Thompson‘s “Open Face Cigarette Special Hot and Cold Sandwich With Artichoke Appetizer.” This recipe is even longer than Mailer’s, with a step-by-step guide to creating it, including “Drink good whiskey while boiling artichoke and frying bacon”… and so on. I suppose a glass or two of good whiskey might well pave the way for Dr. Thompson’s finished dish, which consists of ingredients like cold cottage cheese, a can of Orega green chilis and toasted dill rye bread, among others.

Perhaps I’ve whetted your appetite for the recipes, including one from the late Ernest Hemingway (it’s a cocktail, natch) and, likewise, for those from William Faulkner and F. Scott Figzgerald. (Hint: none of the three required a stove).

In the long run, all of these recipes  have something to say about what writers put in their mouths when they weren’t writing, or even when they were.

Cheers for a vintage cookbook, like this,  that can make our mouths water – for all the right reasons

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