The January 2006 anniversary issue of Gourmet magazine has always been one of my favorites. After 65 years of publishing, the magazine celebrated by featuring the best recipes from every year.
Like anyone who was around when celery stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with paprika, and onion soup mix mixed with sour cream were the rage, I’ve always known there were trends in food, but it took that Gourmet for me to see how much has happened in the nation’s kitchens.
For instance, in the 1940s, Americans were starting to cook “ethnic,” and the magazine had recipes for Indonesian fried rice and duck a l’orange with homemade duck stock. This was, after all, Gourmet, and if you were going to caramelize sugar and sieve vegetables, you might just as well make stock.
Ten years later, the magazine announced that baking was making a comeback, and readers were treated to butterscotch pie and galette des rois (almond butter cake), which took almost a whole page of instructions and hours to make. Beef was also popular, and there was a steak au poivre with four 10-ounce steaks, half a stick of butter and heavy cream — a recipe that should have come with a health warning.
Over the next couple of decades, home cooks tiptoed into vegetarianism and chefs into nouvelle cuisine — small servings of “light” food arranged like works of art. I remember a man who said his only question after eating a very expensive nouvelle cuisine lunch was how many hands it took to “plate” his food.
By the ’80’s Americans had enough of mini-portions and were back into layer cakes and cheese grits, and by the ’90’s Gourmet’s cooks let down their hair and printed a black-bean chili from Fog City Diner in San Francisco and pizza with three cheeses and onion. For readers with time on their hands, there were homemade cheese crackers, and from Quaglino’s in London, where an order of fish can run to $75, there was apple charlotte with vanilla custard sauce.
At the turn of the century, Gourmet was focusing on zippy flavors — chocolate, chili and coffee. In the anniversary issue there is a full-page picture of a chocolate souffle cake that’s a culinary pin-up, and a cauliflower gratin with horseradish crumbs that I’m thinking about for Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, I flipped back to the 1940s and found a chicken cacciatore that sounds great. I know I’ll get to it someday, but I draw the line at celery stuffed with cream cheese.