Not long ago, an editor reminded me, "A cookbook can't be everything to everyone." Has this always been true?
My mind immediately flashed back to 1982's "The Silver Palate Cookbook," by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. It was a comprehensive source for a generation of home cooks in America. More than three decades after it was published, I wondered whether it, and a few other influential cookbooks of that same year, would hold up in a drastically different culinary era.
According to the owner of New York's Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, where she sells rare and vintage titles, a lot of people still use "The Silver Palate" as a basic cookbook. "They don't have Fannie Farmer, 'Joy of Cooking' or Betty Crocker," Slotnick says. "Not only do people continue raving about it, but they continue to buy . . . copies to replace the ones they've worn out, and they're buying it for their children." The first printing of "The Silver Palate Cookbook" was 37,000 copies; that tally now stands at 2.7 million and includes the 25th anniversary edition.
Named for the gourmet takeout and catering shop the authors opened in 1977 on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the cookbook combined recipes with Lukins's whimsical drawings, select quotes from notable figures, proposed menus and stand-alone technical notes. Looking at chapter headings such as "The Charcuterie Board," "Chicken Every Which Way," "Soup's On" and "Piping Hot Pasta," which has a pasta glossary to help you choose the best noodle to suit your purposes, one realizes an entire cookbook could be built from any one of those concepts.