1940s Archive

Come and Cook It!

Originally Published July 1948

This broad and long America of ours has developed many outstanding food traditions. The Americas, as a whole, have a heritage that is at once astounding and rich beyond imagination. Her gastronomic gifts to the world are generous and numerous. It is true that many of them have returned to us after long schooling in Europe much more sophisticated and polished, but we should take pride in their origin. On the reverse side, I feel we of the Americas can walk off with the honors for the development of outdoor cookery and barbecuing.

The New England clambake, the cioppino of the California coastline, the fabulous barbecues of South America and our own Southwest have all developed from foreign inspiration. But the growth of alfresco meals as a more or less habitual procedure is, we are certain, a thoroughly hemispheric development.

Imagination, that most priceless ingredient in good cooking, enters into our outdoor cuisine in a most honest and straightforward fashion. Here are no mountains of molded salads, no bubbling vats of cream sauce, no pastry-tube designs—nothing but a predominance of honesty. This quality is something sadly lacking in the average American kitchen's character.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to have grown up in pioneer households learned a great deal of the background of outdoor cookery. This is true of all the American countries, though in a most varied way. We know that simple methods suit themselves most comfortably to outdoor living and that simplicity of menu and service is absolutely essential. The auxiliary kitchen in the out-of-doors, no matter how elaborate you make it, is no place for sole bonne femme or quenelles. It is the spot for grilled foods, for pungent barbecue sauces, for perfect roasts, for dishes cooked en brochette. It is to the house what the grill room (in the correct usage of the word) is to a large hotel.

Outdoor meals require the same careful planning as indoor cookery. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a complete kitchen in your outdoor unit with stove, grill, refrigerator, etc., be certain that when you plan your meals you also plan your steps. There are some things, despite the fun and novelty of using the grill or fireplace, that require slow, careful cooking. These things are best done indoors and added to the menu from the kitchen. Sauces, including most barbecue sauces, are much more simply prepared in the kitchen and reheated at the grill or served at once. Vegetables, with the exception of those which may be roasted or fried, may be found a little difficult to cope with on your grill. Salads, too, unless you have great working space and are definitely a show-off cook, may be prepared in the kitchen, albeit you may have the honor of mixing the dressing dramatically before the admiring eyes of your guests.

Desserts, which should be of the simplest variety for outdoor meals, are with few exceptions much better prepared in the house. Even though there may be a good oven in your cooking unit, it is no place to play with soufflés or cakes or pies. Furthermore, it is sinful to embellish hearty simple meals with such things. Fruit, either fresh or cooked, served with cheese or with the addition of a bit of liqueur to the cooked fruit, is the perfect ending to a meal in the garden. If your sweet tooth calls for something else, then settle for ice cream. Leave all the chiffon pies, monumentally iced cakes, and whipped desserts to the kitchen and dining room and give yourself a summer change.

Drinks should be hearty and plentiful, especially when you are cooking something which requires time and attention. Your audience should be given something to tide them over the strain of the watching period. Potables and munchables should be theirs, but not yours. You can relax and beam when the job is finished. Of course, if it is a roast of some kind which you are preparing—a barbecued pig, a ham, or a turkey—you will have plenty of time for relaxation and chatting, but when you are grilling over coals, every minute is important to the final result.

I am often asked what one should have in the way of condiments, herbs, and handy equipment for the barbecue pit or outdoor grill. That depends entirely upon the amount of space you have for storing and keeping things at hand. Naturally, it is obligatory to have salt and pepper handy. I find ideal a large shaker for salt which can be sealed when not in use. Have a jar of cracked pepper, which gives the same results as the freshly ground and which is much more convenient to use when cooking. Such pepper may be found under several reliable labels and is a seasoning to buy in quantity. A selection of the really vitally useful herbs and seasonings is most desirable. Thyme, tarragon, chili powder, curry powder, paprika (as a flavoring, not as a touch of color), Worcestershire sauce, and perhaps a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce for additional seasonings. Dry mustard is a must, and a tin of olive oil is something you will want to use often. These should find a place on a handy shelf which can be covered and left that way between performances so that they do not have to be carted back and forth to the house.

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