The recent summer solstice prompts lists of Must Reads for those stretched out in striped beach chairs, lazily sipping icy glasses of Frosé. As one who rarely brushes hot sand from freshly pedicured nails, seeing the words Summer and Read in the same sentence instantly conjures required reading lists from high school. Literary classics hovered over summer vacation like a relentless thundercloud. One summer in particular, instead of turning the pages of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I explored Everyday French Cooking For the American Home by Henri-Paul Pellaprat. Behind its glossy red and white broad striped cover, Pellaprat’s compendium was much more interesting than the trials of Rodion Raskolnikov. Attempting to complete Fyodor’s endless novel before the first day of school proved punishment enough.
On a recent Tuesday, standing at the kitchen counter tossing back large handfuls of cheesy puffs, I halfheartedly glanced at the most recent compilation of Best New Summer Books popping up on my iphone. The truth is my preferred summer reads are no different than the volumes stacked all over the house, regardless of the thermostat or the season.
I suffer from Cookbook Obsession Disorder. This is a self-diagnosed illness, a recurring malaise that refuses to respond to online food websites nor over-the-counter sleep remedies. Tracing symptoms back to early childhood, kitchen bookshelves weighted down beneath volumes of comfortably worn titles are to blame. The Joy of Cooking, The James Beard Fireside Cookbook, the complete set of hardback (and matching spiral softback) Time-Life Foods of the World and The Ladies Home Journal Dessert Cookbook, are all responsible. Ditto the aforementioned French tome by Pellaprat. Practical illustrations, whimsical drawings, and tempting full-color photographs fueled a young girl’s culinary inspiration, sparking a life-long penchant for the written recipe and accompanying visual.
It would be a lie to claim that I pored over the savory recipes with as much fervor as I dedicated to the desserts. In their early food styling glory, pies and pastries hypnotized, practically leaping off the pages. Anything boasting fresh fruit seemed simultaneously glossy, juicy, lofty. Even low slung pies and tarts were somehow more dramatic. I wanted to bake them all. More accurately, I wanted Jessie to bake them while I served as sous chef.
Summer vacation allowed additional time in the kitchen, a chance to pluck a cookbook from the shelf above my mother’s desk and offer dessert suggestions. It clearly tried Jessie’s patience. I was particularly smitten with Pellaprat’s recipe for Peaches Condé, a rice pudding of sorts, spiked with boozy peaches and glacéed cherries. Jessie would have nothing to do with it, wrinkling up her nose, telling me that rice pudding with raisins was just fine and peaches had no place in rice pudding. Crushed but not defeated, I suggested Peach Glamour Pie from the Ladies Home Journal Cookbook. Unimpressed by the title, Jessie vetoed my request following a quick glance at the recipe. Peering through black-rimmed half-moon glasses, Jessie read through the list of ingredients, shaking her head in disapproval when she arrived at canned peach slices and sour cream. I pleaded while Jessie remained steadfast. Our impasse was resolved when Rommy returned with a few pounds of just ripe peaches in a wicker basket. My mother had a knack for keeping peace; she was the Switzerland of the kitchen.
Jessie’s fresh peach pie with lattice crust was as welcome as fireflies on summer evenings. Without drama, sweet fruit and flaky crust bubbled over the humble Pyrex pie plate, refusing to hold itself in perfect slices. Glamour Pie, with its almond-coconut crust and canned peach slices never had a chance.
When peaches are finally bumped to the front of the summer produce line, I always think about the elusive Peach Glamour Pie that taunted with its star-studded name and glossy photograph. Staying true to Jessie’s peach pie philosophy, I gravitate to the same recipe she used, with one adjustment. Piling fresh peaches into a springform pan lined with pie pastry and covered in lattice offers a slightly dramatic presentation. One might even call it glamorous.