Joyous Cooking: The Feminine Art of Cooking Writing

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Photo by James Stefiuk
Photo by James Stefiuk

Recently, I was invited to speak about women’s changing roles in the food business with a focus on the Triangle. UNC American Studies professor Marcie Cohen Ferris, who addresses this topic in her latest book, The Edible South, would have been the logical choice for this presentation, but the organizers somehow got stuck with me.

A day or so after I nailed down my topic – “From Servants to Star Chefs” – the News & Observer’s Andrea Weigl came out with an article titled, “Meet the other women of Raleigh’s food scene,” featuring our own James Beard award winner, Ashley Christensen, and seven other female restaurateurs in Raleigh. A few days later, The New York Times published Kim Severson’s fascinating “The North Carolina Way: A Food Sisterhood Flourishes in North Carolina,” which showcased chefs, farmers and food artisans we already know and love.

Bingo! Andrea and Kim had done all my research for me – except for the servant part. I already knew about that. I lived it – back in the days when chefs, both male and female, were just cooks.

So much has changed since the ’70s when women were desperate to get out of, not into, a kitchen. Yet even then, women ruled the world of cookbook writing. At my house, they still do.

Julia Child, Simone Beck, Marcella Hazan, Irma Rombauer, Perla Meyer, Edna Lewis and Paula Wolfert have paved the way for modern cookbook writers including the Triangle’s own talented Sara Foster, Nancie McDermott, Jean Anderson, Mildred Council, Karen Barker, Andrea Reusing, Sheri Castle, Sandra Guiterrez and many more.

My go-to cookbooks are all written by women, especially the generation that followed Julia and friends. Among them: Alice Waters, Patricia Wells, Ina Garten and Dorie Greenspan. Unlike so many star chef books (dare I say, mostly written by men?), these authors stress flexibility and common sense in cooking. They demystify rather than strive to impress. I can’t swear this perspective is tied to X chromosomes, but it’s what makes them so user-friendly.

Simple Rice Pudding 
Dorie Greenspan’s glorious Around My French Table is a treasure trove of simple-to-make classic recipes, including this one. The orange and cinnamon here are my additions, purely optional.

½ cup Arborio rice
4 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
generous pinch of salt
2 cinnamon sticks
a strip of orange peel, 2-3 inches long
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Boil the rice in 3 cups water for 10 minutes. Drain. (Basmati or plain Carolina rice can be used without this step.)

In a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the milk, sugar and salt. Add cinnamon, orange peel and rice. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat.

Simmer at a medium-low heat, stirring very frequently, for 30 to 50 minutes, until the rice is tender. The pudding should have thickened slightly, but the milk should not been completely absorbed. Remove from heat, add vanilla, extract the cinnamon sticks and orange peel, and let cool to room temperature, or chill in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. The pudding will thicken as it cools.

Dorie serves the dessert in bowls with a caramel-apple sauce. I like it topped with raisins soaked in rum or dried cherries soaked in cognac.

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Moreton Neal

Moreton Neal is an author and interior designer who lives in Chapel Hill. She is a lifelong foodie, having co-founded LA Residence in 1976. 
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