The First Person in Food Writing

Because I am a part-time food writer, I occasionally read about food.  Nothing gets my morning blood pressure elevated like a boring gastronomic account of soup, butter, or bacon.  But is all food writing worth the paper or bytes consumed to produce it?  I think not.  The current tendency of kitchen dwellers calling their diary entries “food writing” is an unfortunate display of the 21st century disease called “look at my cookies.”  Please…don’t boil some vegetables in a stock pot for an hour, puree it with an immersion blender, and tell me you’ve made soup!  That’s a vegetable smoothie, dearest, not a soup.

Put that in your plastic mobile goblet, aka sippy cup, and take a deep draught.

This morning, I’m thinking of the food writer, Cecily Brownstone.  Brownstone was the Associated Press Food Editor from 1947 until 1986 and her syndicated food features appeared in papers across the United States, including the Lewiston Evening Journal.  Her most memorable recipe is “Country Captain Chicken,” a curried chicken dish that has waxed and waned in popularity since Brownstone first published it.

Brownstone knew how to cook and fortunately, she was also skilled in journalistic forensics.  She traced the curried chicken recipe to an 1857 Philadelphia cookbook and then offered her readers an interpretation by Delmonico chef Alexander Filippini.  The internet is full of articles about Brownstone and this chicken recipe; interestingly, no current food writer or blogger has noted the recipe’s first date of publication.

Brownstone was a friend to Joy of Cooking writers Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.  They featured it in their classic cooking volume and the 1975 edition prefaces the recipe with “this dish has become a favorite in America, although it probably got its name not from the sea captain who brought the recipe back from the shores, but from the Indian officer who first made him acquainted with it.  So says Cecily Brownstone, a great friend; this is her time-tested formula.”

There.  After a flavorless bowl of vegetable smoothie and two shots of espresso coffee, I’m back on the beam.  2018 is just around the corner and there will be interesting chefs to interview, local food growers and producers to meet, and maybe even a cookbook author speaking interesting words I can put inside quotation marks.

Carry on.

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