I’m Eric Burkett, the guy who’s taken it upon himself, without authorization or encouragement, for that matter, to rewrite an American culinary classic, Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer.
It’s actually not an unreasonable question and certainly no more unreasonable than questioning my presumptuousness. Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer was published in 1969 and, unlike many books written for the beginning cook, it’s probably more grounded in the culinary basics than the vast majority of cookbooks intended for beginners.
Claiborne believed firmly in giving his readers a solid foundation in basic French culinary technique. Once you were comfortable with those, he seemed to reason, you’d be ready to tackle just about anything else. Even today, perhaps even more so today, in an era of convenience foods and meals eaten on the run, his approach makes sense. When Claiborne wrote Kitchen Primer, Americans had been seduced by convenience foods and a generation of cooks – primarily women – had been led to believe that cooking was drudgery and frozen and canned foods – in addition to other forms too bizarre to seriously consider – were liberation. This was, more or less, the same era that promised us food in pill form a la the Jetsons and gave us Tang, the drink of astronauts.
Kitchen Primer is a wonderful little book. It’s thorough, detailed, beautifully illustrated, and filled with great lessons in cooking. It’s encouraging and presumes its reader is intelligent and up to the challenge of learning to cook. So what on earth needs to be changed?
It’s also a bit dated.
Americans’ eating habits have changed quite a bit over the past five decades. Our tastes, like Americans themselves, are far more international in their scope and we’ve become much more sophisticated about food (Conversely, our eating habits have deteriorated and food related health problems among the general population are skyrocketing). Rather than we reaching for cream or butter, as we might have back in the late 1960s, we’re more inclined nowadays to go for a bottle Sriricha or pre-made salsa. For that matter, even the tools with which we cook have changed. Back when Claiborne published Kitchen Primer, the blender was still cutting edge (I have among my hundreds of cookbooks a copy of Ann Serranne’s Good Food With a Blender, published in 1974), and the microwave oven – which doesn’t appear at all in his book although it had been on the market for about two years by that point – is now present in about 90 percent of U.S. homes. In other words, the way we cook, in addition to what we cook, has changed.
Kitchen Primer is a wonderful book. With this blogging project, I’m hoping to bring it to a new generation of new cooks.
Thanks for reading!