This morning we have Jeffree Wyn Itrich back on the blog. You likely remember her from her recent visit when she talked about her novel Destiny at Oak Valley. Today she’s changing gears and talking about her food-ish background and how it inspired her to write a cookbook. She even has a recipe from the cookbook to share with us. Please make Jeffree feel warmly welcomed by leaving your questions and comments for her in the comments section.
Jeffree On The Writing Of Spice It Up!
People often ask me how I had time to write a cookbook, my novel Destiny at Oak Valley, a sequel to the novel, and four children’s books in addition to a demanding full-time “day” job. In short, writing is something that is in my blood. I don’t have a choice. I also have to confess; I wrote the cookbook in the mid-80s. It was published under my previous married name as The Art of Accompaniment. It was a sweet little book that was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Another book club chose it as well. I think it was Better Homes & Gardens Book Club, but forgive me if I don’t remember correctly; it was a long time ago. It had a nice run and I thought that was all there was to it.
Then I moved to New Mexico in 1989 and a publisher there, Border Books, asked to republish it with a different title, new cover and under my new name. (I got remarried.) It came out as Spice It Up in the early 90s under my present name. Again, it had a nice little life and when it seemed to run its course I thought it was over and the book would cede into memory.
You can still buy both versions of the book used online at various book seller websites. But when the opportunity came up for this guest blog my husband and I decided to give the book a third life. I wanted you, the readers, to be able to buy it new, if you wished. We had a very talented designer come up with a new cover which is my favorite cover of all. The title and guts are all the same. Never did I think that this book would keep coming back. Feels like a cat with the proverbial nine lives.
I’m sure you’re wondering how I came up with the concept for this book. I mean really, a book about condiments? Before I answer that I should tell you that I came from a foodie family, long before anyone ever used that term. My mother was a phenomenal cook who took great pride in being able to make anything at home that you could find in the fanciest restaurant. Eating and cooking were a huge part of our household. We also ate out a lot because my parents liked to try new dishes and cuisines. Besides that it gave my mother an opportunity to duplicate a new dish. We kids learned to expect the exotic from our mother. Mama didn’t much appreciate gravy, except on Thanksgiving, but she was such a wiz at sauces that had it been around I’m sure the Food Network would have come calling. For my siblings and I, food is intrinsically linked to our childhood memories. We can’t think of our childhoods without remembering her Funny Chicken (a story in and of itself), her Kugel (a Jewish noodle and raisin pudding that was my brother’s annual request for his birthday dinner), Marinated Grilled Flank Steak, Cheesecake to rival any cheesecake in the country, Gumbo, and killer Hollandaise Sauce, to name just a few. I was probably around 11 when she taught me to make salad dressing and I’ve been making my own dressings ever since. I was the official salad maker in our house and I became darn good at it. From her I learned to can, make jams and pickles and look beyond the ordinary. In fact when I was a kid and would have dinner at friends’ homes where they served plain vegetables I thought, ‘Where’s the Hollandaise for the vegetables?’
But back to the book’s genesis: In the mid-80s when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I was teaching a cooking class on how to make your own condiments. I taught my students how to make salsa, mustard, ketchup, salad dressings, chutney, jam, sauces, spice rubs, lemon curd, specialty spice mixtures, and a litany of other items. The second to the last class my students asked if I could recommend a book on making condiments. I told them I would look around and let them know at the last class. Well, we’re talking ancient history here, long before the internet. The only way I could find out if such a book existed was to check local bookstores and the library. What was available wasn’t anything I would recommend they buy. Everything was very outdated and pretty boring. I mean, how many recipes for grape jelly and sweet pickles does a person need? The recipes were rooted in the Great Depression when people canned everything they grew. The food wasn’t fancy but met a subsistence need. At the last class when I told the students what I’d found they encouraged me to write a book with more sophisticated recipes such as I’d taught them in class. At first I blew it off but in the weeks after their encouraging words kept coming back to me. I finally decided to give it a go. I won’t go into all the details but basically I wrote a book proposal and submitted it to an agent in New York who specialized in cookbooks. She secured a publisher and so began my sojourn as a cookbook writer.
Over the course of the next year I wrote and submitted one chapter at a time. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? Well it was because not only did I develop each recipe through trial and error but had to test it several times to make sure that when readers made the recipes they would come out exactly as I’d written them. And back in those days of ancient technology I typed them on a typewriter and delivered them to the publisher. How much easier it would have been to email them a Word document!
Early on in the process I moved to a darling little house in the town of San Leandro in the East Bay, across the water from San Francisco. I was in heaven. On the property were a bevy of fruit trees: meyer lemon, orange, white fig, peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, cherry, and a couple of others that I can no longer recall. I also planted a lot of vegetables. I could have stayed in that house forever but it wasn’t meant to be. I will always be grateful to that property for the abundance of produce it gave me for the book. And the ghost in the house added some diversion as well. But that’s another story for another time. On days when I was stumped with cookbook writer’s block all I needed to do was walk around my little orchard and inevitably something would jump out at me.
Staring at the peach tree one day I came up with Honey, Peach and Brandy Butter. Some one-on-one with the cherry trees led to Cherry Conserve, which if I do say so, is divine. Many Meyer lemons (which aren’t quite as tart as a traditional Eureka lemon) ultimately became English Lemon Curd.
One of my dogs at the time was particularly helpful. I planted an artichoke in the orchard because I wanted to develop a recipe using artichokes. The first year it didn’t grow very large and I got only a few sad artichokes. That winter my shepard/malamute mix named Sitka decided to use the dormant plant as his “spot.” I would holler at him to leave his doggy do somewhere else but he ignored me. Ya would have thought he was a cat. The following spring a colossal number of artichokes appeared on the plant. The ones that I didn’t use for the marinated artichokes recipe in the book grew to be the biggest artichokes I’d ever seen. I kid you not, they were huge. Who knew that doggy do is superior to chicken manure when it comes to fertilizing? After that I let him fertilize to his heart’s desire.
As much as I’d like to say that I came up with every recipe, I didn’t. Several friends who were outstanding cooks provided some stellar recipes. Plus I had a few favorite recipes from other cookbooks that I obtained permission to use. And then there were a few family recipes such as the Sapp Family Dills that my mother made every year. My nephew Jordan who now lives in San Francisco has made those very dill pickles with great pride. He loves that the pickles connect him to his grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother. The recipe was brought to America by my great grandmother when the family emigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century.
And now we come to the present. While the book is called Spice It Up, it is much more than spices. There are chapters on vinegars, oils, salad dressings, pickles, chutneys, sauces, dairy items like crème fraiche, preserves and a really fun miscellaneous chapter with recipes for things like tapenade, frosted fruit, sun-dried tomatoes, and curry powder. There are over 170 recipes in all.
There are a couple of other unique aspects to the book. At the beginning of each chapter is a title page with an illustration of the topic followed by a quote pertaining to the topic. For example on the Chapter Four title page for Sauces, there is a quote by Chaucer: “Woe to the cook whose sauces had no sting.” I was thrilled to find that quote (in the library). Who knew that Chaucer was such a gourmand? After each chapter face page is some background on the topic and some history. For example, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the ancient Persians and King Sardanapalus of Assyria were also great lovers of sauces. Keep that bit of trivia in mind for your next dinner party. Needless to say a great deal of research went into the book. For those recipes that have a canning symbol I provided detailed instructions on how to can. Not many people can much these days but if you’re interested the instructions are there to help you along. It’s a lost art but one that can be easily learned. And if you don’t can you can refrigerate anything you make, although it won’t last as long in the refrigerator as canning.
I could go on for hours and have probably been too verbose as it is but before I go I want to leave you with one of my favorite recipes from the book, English Lemon Curd. It’s easy to make and so delicious I’m betting that you’ll be making a second batch within a week. Bon Appetit!
English Lemon Curd
1 cup sugar
½ cup plus 2-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (don’t use bottled)
3 whole eggs, beaten
3 egg yolks, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons minced lemon zest
Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Whisk continually while the butter melts and the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon. Take care that it does not boil. Keep the water at a simmer, no higher.
Use the curd immediately over fresh berries or other fresh fruit. It’s also lovely spooned over warm gingerbread, pound cake or spread on your morning toast.
13 Responses to Cookbook Author Jeffree Wyn Itrich Joins Us To Talk About Spices, Condiments, & Writing A Cookbook
Leave a Reply
Hit Counter provided by Skylight