What a formidable task Amanda Hesser set for herself: a comprehensive review of 150+ years of New York Times recipes. Good thing she had no idea what she was getting into. As she says herself: “Had I known then that it would take six years and entail more than 1,400 recipes, I might never have gotten started.” In the middle of it all, she had twins.
For the more modern recipes, she sent out a broad appeal to New York Times readers to recommend their all-time favorites. Believe it or not, that was the easy part. But that just covered part of he 20th and 21st centuries. Representing 1850 through the early 1900s was trickier. And these recipes apparently came from a time not only before computers, but also before editors paid much attention to this part of the paper. Like the modern Internet, anyone could submit anything and all were treated equally. Yuck! I often chastise my husband for this type of behavior. He’ll make a disappointing dish and when I ask him where he got the recipe he’ll say “the Internet.” Wow, how could something as trustworthy, foolproof and rigorously curated as the Internet let you down?
For the period of time that pre-dates anyone living today, she had to read through files and lists and use her own judgment. She chose recipes to test based on “voice, interesting details, and ingredients and technique that promised a successful outcome.” Luckily for all of us, she left out the many treatments of terrapin (aka, turtles).
The result of Hesser’s work is 1000+ recipes representing, as closely as reasonably possible, 150 years of American cooking and eating. I am excited to dive into them and see which have stood the test of time.
If you own this book and have suggestions for me, feel free to send them on. To say it’s hard to decide where to start is a gross understatement of how I feel looking at this weighty volume. Maybe with a Martini (p. 35)?