Quarantine Cuisine | Newberry

Quarantine Cuisine

So how about a butterscotch pudding pie with a top crust constructed of those otherwise unnecessary extra skinny peanut butter cups?

It’s a perfectly natural impulse. No, not the desire to eat anything that doesn’t try to get away when you’re sitting at home all week long. It’s the Cookbook Impulse. One thing our ancestors did in a crisis, at least for the last hundred and fifty years or so, was make it into a cookbook.

A lot, if not all, of those cringeworthy local cookbooks were built to service a particular need. The school was too small for the little products of the Baby Boom, and the city council didn’t want to waste the money? Raise funds by selling a cookbook. The church burned down, and a new one was needed? Cookbook sales would answer the call.

Today, those crisis cookbooks are collected by the discerning, who see that hundreds of recipes which start “1 pound processed cheese, 1 jar pimientos” express a specific time in our history. So too do all those cookbooks which magazines like Ladies Home Housekeeping turned out during major wars. Recipes for meatless meat loaf, apple-less apple pies, and butter-free butter cookies would bring back memories (and shudders) to those who had lived through those trying times.

(It also created a massive number of people who didn’t know what food tasted like. There were, believe it or else, small children born and raised during wartime, who developed a taste for “apple” pie made with soda crackers and lemon juice, and didn’t LIKE apple pies made with apples. And yet scholars wonder about all those Spam-in-aspic recipes they produced when they were old enough to make their own cookbooks, come the 1950s. I still run into people who don’t believe it’s a REAL party if there’s no pimiento cheese.)

We should be inspired by these relics of previous generations. We, too, can preserve this moment in time in a cookbook which reflects our current experience. Eating has become a new adventure, what with dining out becoming nigh impossible, and grocery stores so complex to visit. (It’s not trying to order from six feet away at the meat counter, and it’s not the limit of one or three items in the high demand aisles. It’s trying to get through the place. How am I supposed to figure out which aisle has the jars of Tang while watching those one-way arrows on the floor? People have suggested these occasionally at the Book Fair and I’m glad we never gave in. Their main purpose seems to be to distract you while someone coming the wrong way plows into you with a cart full of egg cartons.)

So people are going into those cupboards and the back shelves of the fridge to cry “How long have we had this jar of kumquats? Do kumquats go bad? And would we know the difference?” People are discovering the joys of peanut butter and maple syrup sandwiches and pizza topped with Spam and kumquats.

I don’t like to brag, but I think your uncle Blogsy would be the perfect purveyor of such a cookbook. Did you ever think, Chocolate Chip Chowder, that one day all these epithets I use in this column would be used for recipe guidance? (By the way, chocolate chips which have been on a shelf for more than ten years are no longer semi-sweet. They’re totally nauseating. This is one of the tips that will go into the foreword to our Covid-19 Cookery Classic.)

The book will be organized by section of the kitchen: Back of the Freezer, Back of the Refrigerator, Back of the Cupboard, Back of the Pantry, Bottom of the Storage Locker. There will be little tips of how to tell if that can has been there until it should be disposed of in a federally secured dumping area, and then useful recipe suggestions (mix that red pepper jelly Aunt Booney sent you in that old boxed cornbread mix).

And to judge by some of my correspondents, the new cocktail recipe section will fill a third of the book. Apparently you can eat just about anything, Pimiento Cheese Crepe, if you’ve mixed some things together from the back of the liquor cabinet while cooking.

Here, sip this. I call it the Covid-19. One drink, and nobody will come within six feet of you.