Saturday, May 26, 2012

Broccoli Brain-Join Me!

The other day I cleaned off my counter a bit.  I already have more counter space than any girl should have a right to expect in life, but I get...cluttered feeling.  Plus, I need inspiration.  So the cookbooks that had become wedged into a corner behind the letter box and the crockpot came out of hiding, some went upstairs to be wedged into the bookshelves  and some became the newly displayed on Grandma's book table:


BTW, a brief aside:  Allow me to introduce you to the Food Lover's Companion. 


 A brilliant piece of gastronomic quick-reference, it's a dictionary--an encyclopedia, nearly--of food terms and ingredients concisely defined and elucidated. All entries contain phonetic spelling, Foreign-language terms are translated and referenced back.   Your romantic dinner menu for a new flame calls for Ostrica?  

"Ostrica [oh-STREE-kah]  Italian for Oyster."

The entry for Oyster being on the next page and beginning with reference to Jonathan Swift's appraisal of the first consumer thereof.  The Companion is a treasure.  This is no book for the Higher Gastronome, this is a pocket book for the people, demystifying and delineating.  I use it at work constantly and The Companion saves my bacon every time.

Oh, really, Who am I kidding...It wasn't just a Spring Cleaning, I am Deferring. 

I am Disturbed.  Deeply Disturbed.  

Joy has failed me.

No, Really.  Broccoli Salad has brought The Book low.  

The Scene:  Last week I sat in my nail salon (Strawberry Nails in San Jose for those on home turf, treat yerownself if possible), where they air Food Network allllll day long.  The Entrèe basket on Chopped included Catfish, and I became obsessed with frying dinner that night.  So I cruised through Lunardi's on my way home, grabbing some Cod (check Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch App for great recommendations on sustainable fish available in your area) and corn meal.  I remembered I had broccoli so I popped some raisins into the baskets too.  Southern peeps, you see my fever here.

Let me state here for all eternity the Most Sacred and Holy Writ of Broccoli Salad:  It shall contain, No More, and No Less than blanched Broccoli, Raisins, Bacon, Red Onion and Dressing. 

 I thought.

I get home, bouncing around the kitchen, setting up my fry station, fish station, heating the oven for the biscuits, then starting on the Broccoli Salad so it would have the requisite bedding-down time in the fridge.  I know, like I know the feeling of hand-knit socks on my feet, egg-zackly what this is supposed to be.  Each part, and the whole. 

I thought.

But I'm sketchy on the dressing.  So I swing over to the book rack and flip through the Joy (2006, 75th anniversary edition), straight to Broccoli. 

-Cheese Casserole

and five more of the like.  No salad. Check Salad; No Broccoli. Pardon, WHAT?  Vegetable salads, yes--Tomato, Cucumber and Waldorf. Period.  

Back to the 1975 edition-- Broccoli's Record in the age of Disco? Three, count 'em three entries: "Creamed, quick; deep-fried; timbale".  Salad includes "Cheese Ring"(bleurrrghhhh), but no cruciferous members.

Foxtrot back to the 1953 blue Joy.  Hooray!  Broccoli swingin' in the Salads!  "Cooked Broccoli; Raw Broccoli Stem Salad"!  Which basically consist of broccoli, in French dressing (the popularity of which between 1935 and 1965 is astounding in itself), served on a lettuce leaf.


So my lovely little blog post on yummy Southern Dinner night turned into OCD Days, heavy on the Obsession Sauce:


I went through Julia, Bon Appetit, America's Test Kitchen, two editions of Fannie Farmer and Better Homes and Gardens.  Then I went deep, to the cookbooks inherited from grandparents who would have long-hurdled 100 by now, to the odd-ball stuff like The Prudence Penny, the California Regional Cookbook, The Household Searchlight, TheWaldorf Astoria Hotel Cookbook, The White House Cookbook; pamphlets and hand-written notes on backs of envelopes; digging into a mayonnaise-and-canned-tuna-aspic laden first half of the twentieth century which should, for the most part, remain hidden.


Three winners emerged:  The Betty Crocker Cookbook, 10th ed. 2006 ( one entry- "Broccoli Sunshine Salad", pg 384);  the California Cookbook, Third Edition 1949 ("Raw Broccoli Salad", pg 8);  and the Grand Prize winner, with FOUR recipes, the Sisters In the Kitchen Cookbook, 2007 (pp 67-68),  from my sister's church in Kansas.


Now, to give you some small background on my madness (oh reaaaalllly,you say?),  at some point you will find I have had to return to university to obtain a degree in Food History solely to publish a Thesis on Potato Salad as Social and Historical Adhesive and Accelerant.  Meaning, I've been chewing over this idea for years that the complexity of the world of Potato Salad holds vast insight into the inner workings of social order, family structure, group migration and personal identity.  The variants of Potato Salad are infinite and someday I will invite you into this world.  

What I did NOT expect the other night, when I innocently set about my down-home dinner fixin' was to discover:  A) Broccoli Salad seems to be a quite recent invention;  B) It's permutations and social divisions appear to be in some sort of proto-Potato Salad state with regard to ingredients and dressings--Mayo vs. Miracle Whip, anyone??

What a mess. And it's fascinating.

I've been sitting here for days under piles of books, researching the internet for recipe variants and it's like watching a colony of Sea Monkeys suddenly start to ACTUALLY evolve.

And so far, no fun cook-along recipe and lovely photos for you from the other day. I tried a couple of dressings off the internet--one which shall remain un-referenced as it called for a HUGE amount of mayonnaise, a bit of balsamic and a small amount of sugar.  It tasted like the inside of a rancid Mayo bottle. So I found a couple more and improvised.  By the time I got the dressing together I was in a dead run to finish cooking dinner:


Sorry for the quality of the photo, but I only realized at the last minute I had no snaps to prove any of this happened.  The fish was not, in fact, plated by a Wolverine, I had only just forked it's crunchity flakiness when I grabbed my iPhone.

So, a delicious result, but a great deal of work ahead.  Hopefully by the end you'll love broccoli and begin to feel the wonder of how Cooking is a Living Art.  If you have a recipe for Broccoli or Broccoli-Cauliflower salad, please feel free to share, with full attribution for your genius, and maybe some info on who you got the recipe from, where you're from, how long you've been making it, etc.  Like I said, this is what makes Cooking Alive. Join Me? 

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