Every day for sixty-two weeks the members of a group that called itself Pomodori e Vino, working in rotation, made one of the more than 400 recipes from the fourth of my six cookbooks. They posted the results of their work, candidly describing predilections and aversions, trials alternating with successes, laying out the procedures they followed in strict observance of my published instructions, and documenting their efforts with photographs that were unfailingly lucid and often potently evocative.
That they should have set themselves such a task excited wonder. That they accomplished it exactly in the terms that they imposed on themselves – absolute fidelity to the recipes as they appear in my book – arouses amazement. They held me spellbound for fourteen and a half months. Their posts were often so felicitously anecdotal, that Victor and I pulled them up, gripped by the kind of anticipation with which one might follow suspenseful episodes of cliff-hanging adventures.
Will Irene overcome her loathing of eggs and taste the frittata? How can Palma get past cooking a whole fish that is looking at her in the eye? Is Jerry about to touch those lamb kidneys with his ungloved hands? How is Doug going to fulfill his assignments if there is nowhere in Ontario that he can get caul fat, cranberry beans, or maraschino liqueur? Can Deborah make smothered lettuce with that hateful Boston variety?
During its life, and even before its existence in its present form, my book was itself pushed to the edge of a few cliffs. A substantial part of it was first published in 1973 as The Classic Italian Cook Book. It nearly perished in the indifferent hands of its original publisher until it was rescued and reissued by Judith Jones, Julia’s editor at Knopf.
In 1992 I updated the recipes of that first cookbook, combined them with those of my second, More Classic Italian Cooking, added a long chapter on the fundamentals of Italian cooking and fifty new recipes, and titled this compilation Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, the book through which the Pomodori team have cooked their way. Curiously, it did not win the heart of the editor who had once been so supportive, and Essentials might have been stillborn had it not found immediate favor with cooks everywhere. The last time I looked, it was in its 28th printing and going strong. It has been equally successful in its British edition and in several translations.
The history of Essentials reaches its zenith in the odyssey of the Pomodori, who lifted it out of its pages and brought it to their kitchens and onto their tables. It felt as though two decades and more had fallen away and I was living again, day after day, a significant part of my productive life. No author could ever expect such a gift.
Thank you Beth, thank you Irene, thank you Doug, thank you Cindy, thank you Sandi & Jan, thank you Jerry & Palma! Thank you Deborah, peerless photographer, irresistible persuader, supreme organizer. Friend.