Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is Hooptedoodle Saving Cookbooks?

(Note: this entry was originally posted on 6/17/2010, but it was invisible to some readers for reasons that I don't fully understand. Sorry about that.)

Mark Twain once famously said "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated," in response to persistent rumors that he was no longer with us. A recent article in the Hartford Courant, "The enduring cookbook," by Bill Daley takes a similar tone, noting that despite the presence of enormous volumes of free information from cooking Web sites, hard-copy cookbooks that you have to pay for remain extremely popular. As with Mark Twain, there have been persistent rumors of the impending death of print media for some time now in response to the growth of free stuff on the Internet. To explain the non-death of cookbooks, Daley quotes Bill LeBlond, editorial director of food and drink at Chronicle Books, who notes that cookbooks provide stories that you don't find from other sources.

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing makes a strong argument against "hooptedoodle" in his last rule: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Noting, however, that Steinbeck's novel Sweet Thursday included chapters with titles "Hooptedoodle 1" and "Hooptedoodle 2," Leonard concludes with the following confession:

"Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters?

Every word."

In the same spirit, it is just possible that this kind of "extraneous" material is exactly the sort of intellectual and emotional spice we need occasionally, in the midst of the necessary tablespoons of this and reductions of that on which cookbooks are founded. What follows, then, are a few of the Noodle Doodler's favorite cookbook hooptedoodles.

Bill Neal's Southern Cooking

I bought Bill Neal's cookbook the first time I visited his restaurant, Crook's Corner, in Cary, North Carolina. It was one of the more memorable meals of my life, both because it was the first time I had ever tasted shrimp and cheese grits and because it was the first time I had ever had dessert wine. Along with Crook's Corner Style Shrimp and Cheese Grits, the book includes recipes for a lot of other delectable edibles: everything from Dog Bread and Natchitoches Meat Pies to Tipsy Parson and Burgoo. But names like these demand explanation, and Neal's book positively brims with informative hooptedoodle that does not disappoint. Burgoo, for example, is a southern stew made from mutton with an assortment of regional vegetables, and along with the recipe, Neal includes a brief discussion of some of the regional rivalries it engenders
("And, a little to the west, in Arkansas, it's said - though Kentuckians disagree - they make a pretty good burgoo as well.")

Being Dead Is No Excuse, by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays

Between the title of this book and its equally provocative subtitle ("The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral"), it should be clear that hooptedoodle abounds here. What may be less obvious is that this is, in fact, a cookbook, replete with recipes for everything from Bourbon Boiled Custard and Aunt Hebe's Coconut Cake at the end of Chapter 1 ("Dying Tastefully in the Mississippi Delta") through Fried Walnuts and Methodist Party Potatoes in Chapter 2 ("The Methodist Ladies vs. the Episcopal Ladies") to Faux Dieter's Antipasto and Reincarnation Shrimp Dip in the last chapter ("The Restorative Cocktail"). I have tried several of the recipes in this book and some of them are delicious, but even if you never touch a tablespoon of anything described there, the outrageous hooptedoodle makes it a glorious read. The discussion of "The Crocheted-Bedpan- Award Chicken" in Chapter 5 ("Comfort Foods: There Is a Balm in Campbell's Soup") is, by itself, probably worth the price of the book.

Sugar Cookie Murder, by Joanne Fluke

Bill Neal's book is a classic example of a really good cookbook that adds a touch of historical and cultural hooptedoodle to pique your interest. Being Dead Is No Excuse is about equal parts cookbook and hooptedoodle, but with at least a slight majority emphasis on the food and recipes. Joanne Fluke's book is a mystery novel with a really surprising twist ending: after the 200 page novel ends, she includes about 160 pages of recipes, a baking conversion chart, and instructions for preparing Werner Herman's Catfish Bait, clearly labeled as "not for human consumption." All of these recipes are mentioned in the novel, which centers around the murder of somebody's glamorous new wife at a snowy Minnesota holiday party. Here, it could almost be argued that the recipes constitute the hooptedoodle, included to spice up the text. It must be admitted that these recipes are not in the same league with Bill Neal's, but if you're in the mood for Waldorf Salad Jell-O, Can Bread, or Barbecued Anything, some of them might just appeal.

No comments:

Post a Comment