Michele Anna Jordan gave a presentation at the Sebastopol Coppefield’s on Saturday, October 17. Jordan has revised and reissued several of her classic food books, and she highlighted them for us.
This particular Saturday she had driven down from an event at Fort Ross where she fed over 150 people, along with two other chefs (she did the middle course). Jordan brought her two daschunds, Joey and Lark, to Copperfields with her because they needed a mom fix.
Jordan was excited about the growth of local resources, including butcher shops like the Sonoma County Meat Company which provides locally raised meat and also makes an ingredient called caul fat available in small amounts, for the home cook. Caul fat is the lacy membrane that covers many internal organs, and cooks wrap meatballs in it, holding them together, which reduces the need for bread crumbs and creates a different texture for the meatball. Jordan expanded from meat into artisan cheese-makers, mentioning Weyrich Farms from Petaluma among others.
She has reissued nearly all of her original books, including the Book of Days; The Good Cook’s Book of Days is now titled The Good Cooks’ Journal. I bought this as a gift for a few people when it was still Book of Days – it’s a great gift for an organized cook or entertainer. The photos are lovely.
The Good Cook’s Book of Mustard:
Not much has changed in the world of mustard since she wrote the original book, Jordan says.
The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes:
While not much has changed with tomatoes either, she said (which surprised me given the explosion of heirloom varieties) much has changed about her, and she brought a different sensibility to this revision. She did mention that a couple of varieties of tomato that were popular in the 1990s because they transported well and looked a certain way were no longer grown.
The Good Cook’s Book of Oil and Vinegar:
Jordan said that she published the original book in 1992. Within two months of that pub date, one firm statement she had made in the book, that California did not produce olive oil that competed with Italy and France, changed completely. The Cohn family was the first local family to start producing olive oil, but now several companies do. Jordan walked us through the olive-pressing process. She talked about other oils, saying she was surprised canola oil was still around and as popular. Vinegar hadn’t changed as much except maybe for the introduction of things like white balsamic vinegar.
The Good Cook’s Book of Salt and Pepper:
Jordan wanted to call this book “A Love Letter to Salt and Pepper.” Very little has changed with pepper, but much has changed with salt. Jordan is skeptical of the chefs and restauranteurs who have gotten faddish about salt. There are places now, she said, where the salt sommelier comes to your table with a rasp and shaves salt onto your portion from a big chunk “Guys, it’s a rock,” she said. She’d delighted that she can get Hawaiian salt easily now, though.
The best story of the evening, although the most disappointing, was why the US doesn’t get the best pepper in the world. Most pepper is grown in Malaysia and Borneo, on small family farms. The fruit is dried out in the yard of cloth mats, with someone raking it daily so that the fruit dries evenly. It’s subject to contamination by birds, chickens, and animals, so when it comes to the US it’s either irradiated or sterilized with some chemical that’s so harsh nobody but the US uses it anymore. This destroys the high, floral notes in the fruit. There is a large plant in Malaysia that buys pepper from local farmers and pays them a bonus if their crop is delivered within 24 hours of coming off the vine. They clean it using water and dry in under driers. They sell the bulk of it in China and Japan, and so none comes to the US. (I may have a connection in Japan… )
More Than Meatballs:
This is her new book and it’s gorgeous. I brought it home after the event and found three recipes I want to try in the next month. It does go beyond “meatballs;” there is a section on vegetable fritters. This looks like a pretty versatile collection and may become another go-to for me, the way her book Vinaigrettes did.
Any or all of these would make good gifts for the cooks you know. Jordan puts cooking basics in all her books, so they’re good for a young person moving out on their own. Copperfield’s should have all of them or be able to order them for you.
If you get a chance to see Jordan in person, take it (especially if she’s providing food as part of the event!) She is always interesting, and she’s a great champion of local food producers, artisans and farmers alike.