“American Cookery” by James Beard is a classic cookbook. Published in 1972 when the author was sixty five years old, it attempts to do much. Stretching nearly 900 pages, it is quite an encyclopedia of recipes.
In this work, Beard argues that there is a thing called American cuisine, and that it is worth celebrating and nurturing. He divides American recipes into chapters of related items. For example, all beef dishes are in the same chapter, all the pies and cakes are in one chapter, and all the fish are together. A very thorough index at the end will help readers find their way.
It is notable that Beard weaves little anecdotes into his recipes. Part of his focus is to promote regional cuisines in America- which is still a timely topic today! For example, in discussing the merits of Chinook Salmon (also known as King Salmon) he sings the praises of this Pacific Northwest species and explains how it is so delicious that a simple preparation is appropriate. Some of his advice deals with filleting fish, how long to age Lebkuchen before eating, or the merits of different forms of chicken pot pie. Certain recipes are versatile- such as his Loaf Cake recipe which is followed by various combinations of spices to use as flavorings- spice loaf, rum loaf, etc.
In general, Beard’s recipes have stood the test of time. He may not possess the name recognition of Julia Child among non-cooks, but for people who know cooking, this book belongs on the shelf. In fact, this book is likely to have a scorch mark from being left on a burner, and will have many pages with stains from making berry pies. It is currently available in hardback at $35- and it would be wise to buy it in hardback because it is likely to be used heavily and requires a good binding to last.
Adding a dimension to this book is Beard’s fascination with the history of American cooking. He clearly has performed substantial historical research in assembling the old recipes in this book, then testing them out in his kitchen. In total, this book contains fifteen hundred recipes! Note for health fans: Beard never skimps on the butter. His desert recipes tend to be rich and perhaps not very heart healthy- but it is also possible to treat those recipes as occasional indulgences rather than everyday items.
In conclusion, this book is golden, and belongs in most kitchens. If it wears out, replace it. Consider it strongly as a potential wedding gift.