Eggs are a horribly misunderstood food. Almost all of us cook them at one time or another, and almost all of us cook them the wrong way.
I don't mean to get started on a bad foot. I'm not...
When I started working for the Joy family, I had no idea that people in food circles don't talk about the Joy of Cooking much anymore. Not that they don't respect the book, but the general consensus seems to be that JOY is traditional, and most people nowadays want something modern with pictures. And JOY is, in spite of her girth, a humble book, for the seeker in us who wants to know what to do with jicama and how to perfectly carve a turkey. No food manifestos, no dogma, just the facts and the food. But whatever the consensus may be, I'm a huge JOY fan, and not just because I work for the family.
The first cookbook I bought for myself was the Joy of Cooking. I wanted a cookbook that I could learn from. I wasn't necessarily after the recipes, although I've turned to those many a time. I was after the information contained in the book. How to make a meringue, how to use a water bath, how to truss and roast a chicken. JOY is always my first source for that sort of thing, and I'm rarely disappointed.
But JOY is about more than that, and it always has been. When Irma self-published the original, 1931 edition of the Joy of Cooking, she did it not because she possessed culinary expertise. She did it, rather, on the strength of her entertaining abilities. People knew and loved Irma for her gracious hospitality, and she was known for being able to whip up something out of nothing in less time than it takes to tie your shoes. She was not a hostess who spent countless hours in the kitchen, fretting between courses. She cooked food that was good but simple and quickly made so that she could get back into the parlor and chatting with the guests.
Irma's hospitality and practicality were translated into the Joy of Cooking, which was, fittingly, entitled The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat. Sure, there are plenty of recipes to be had, but the most important thing about the book, and the reason it has stuck with American cooks for so long is because when you use the book it's almost like having a dear friend in your kitchen, guiding you along. Irma's voice can still be heard in the book, even in its latest incarnation.
When Marion began to help her mother with the book, she brought her own style to it. There are those who insist that JOY was better before Marion got involved, but just like any family heirloom it changed and became more than just a cookbook. It became nuanced and burnished, just like your favorite Dutch oven or that silver serving spoon that's been in the family for six generations. Marion brought something a little subtler to the book. A sensibility and aesthetic eye that Irma lacked. This did change the Joy, but we like to think it was for the better. We strive for this as well--not avoiding change, but trying to make sure that the changes we make are for the better.
This morning we got word that the 1975 (the last edition published before Marion's death) edition of the Joy of Cooking received an IACP Culinary Classics Award. Needless to say, we're all a little lightheaded. To celebrate, I made a little something.
Marion was allergic to strawberries, but she loved Strawberries Cockaigne (dip strawberries in sour cream, then in brown sugar, eat, repeat) so much that she would suffer the consequences every now and then and have some anyway. We share her love for this blushing beauty of a fruit. In fact, strawberry love seems contagious. Maggie Green, one of JOY's best friends and editor extraordinaire, published a truly lovely strawberry recipe in her newly minted cookbook, The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. The recipe caught my eye on my first skim through the book, and when we received the good news this morning, I could think of no better way to celebrate than with Fresh Strawberries with Vanilla Bourbon Zabaglione.
In the headnote to the recipe, Maggie notes that strawberries are one of the produce items that tend to have more pesticide residue on them. With this in mind, I encourage you to splurge and buy organic strawberries. This dessert is worth it. I couldn't resist playing just a tad with the recipe. After quartering the berries, I mixed them with a wee bit of sugar (no more than 2 tablespoons) and the zest of one lemon. It's a respectful tweak that I allowed myself, but honestly, the recipe is perfect as is. I just happened to have the urge to add lemon zest.
Here's to the JOY, to the end of strawberry season, and to Irma and Marion.
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
In a saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a glass or stainless steel bowl slightly larger than the saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar about three minutes, until pale yellow. Whisk in the bourbon and vanilla. Set the bowl on the saucepan so it sits over but not in the simmering water. With an electric mixer beat the egg mixture constantly for about 10-12 minutes, until the volume of the eggs triples and becomes very light in color. First the eggs will turn frothy; then as they heat and cook, they will stiffen. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. In a chilled bowl beat the heavy cream until stiff. Fold in the cooled egg custard until well-blended. To serve, put a dollop of zabaglione in a pretty serving dish or glass, such as a wine or martini glass. Add fresh strawberries. Finish with another spoonful of zabaglione and a fresh sprig of mint, thyme, or lemon balm.