Friday, March 02, 2012

Kitchen Wisdom from James Beard

One of my favorite vintage cookbooks is James Beard's Menus for Entertaining. I love Mr. Beard's no-nonsense advice on entertaining, including this admonition about the cocktail party, what Beard considered to be an "inferior form of entertaining":

"By all means have your house looking its best, use your best crystal and china, and have the food impeccably turned out, but don't be chi-chi. The results may be silly."

While many of Beard's recipes have aged quite nicely, others seem more like relics. Case in point- Lihamurekepiiras, otherwise known as Swedish Pâté en Croute. What doesn't seem dated, though, is Beard's kitchen wisdom. I found a few tips of his that I think many of you cooks might appreciate. While some seem a little obvious, others are really rather clever. Call me clueless, but I had no idea that cooking curry in oil for a few minutes helps to develop the flavor. Did you?

"Chopping blocks are always kept clean with a pastry scraper and damp cloth, or after preparing fish, rubbed with a half lemon, then rinsed."

In Beard's kitchen, "Vegetables and pasta are kept on the floor in large earthenware crocks, eggs at room temperature in a wire basket, oils in splendid cologne bottles with ground glass stopped. A French marmite holds spoons and ladles; and a pewter beer mug, pastry brushes."

"Mr. Beard puts 6 to 8 vanilla beans to steep in a small bottle of cognac- the result, vanilla flavoring with a beautiful aroma, superior taste."

"Black Italian or Greek olives are pitted quickly, simply by squeezing them."

"Curry powder, even if it is to be used in a salad or other cold dish or sauce, is first cooked in a little butter or oil over very low heat for about 2 minutes to develop the flavor."

"The bottom of a cooked pastry shell for quiche is glazed with egg yolk and baked 2 minutes more to keep the pastry from becoming soggy later."

"If raisins and currants are called for, Mr. Beard plumps them up first with a drop of Madeira. 'Much better than adding water,' he says."

Tips from House & Garden, April 1970.


  1. I have a vintage paperback edition of this book and I've used it more than pretty much all of my other cookbooks combined.


  2. I lived on the block directly south of his in G. Village and always peeked into his townhouse vestibule as I walked past, wallpapered in a gigantic scaled black & white pineapple motif.

  3. Cooking curry spices in oil takes away the rawness -something I learned years ago when first I cooked Indian food. If I were to make curried chicken salad, I'd still cook the curry powder first in oil rather than butter. It does make a difference.

    I agree with Mr Beard about plumping raisins especially in madeira or sherry first when I make fruit cakes which I do twice a year. One of the best combinations of dried fruit and alcohol is prunes simmered slowly in red wine. Cooled, allowed to stand a few days to mature the flavor this compote, with whipped cream, is a delight.

  4. Love this. Sometimes I feel cooking and entertaining--in some quarters--have become contrived, putting off those who might try or fostering pretense in those who do. Thank you Jennifer and James for reminding us that common sense and the basics work every time.

  5. these actually are some really great tips! But for that kind of storage he must have had a KITCHEN (yes, capitals neccesary)

  6. What grand tips from Mr. Beard + who knew those pearls of wisdom? Thank you.

  7. Anonymous6:44 PM

    I love these tips! Adding layers for maximum flavor.

  8. Great tips!! I knew a couple of them--but the raisins in madeira sounds amazing. Have a great week-end. Mary

  9. wonderful tips! Didn't know about the curry but interesting. Love the line "results may be silly"- super!

  10. I am so glad I put off reading this post until tonight - I am rested and have a clear head; AND will remember Mr. Beard's tips! Vanilla beans added to the Cognac sounds wonderful! Now I'll have to find out for how long.

    Thank you Jennifer for once again posting something worth reading. You are the best!