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To serve poets: The cookbooks of Ronald Johnson

By Harriet Staff

Samuel Amadon wants you to remember Ronald Johnson for more than just his great poetry. Writing for the Gulf Coast blog, Amadon is appreciative of what Johnson’s Simple Fare (1989) taught him about scrambled eggs, but it’s his commentary on each recipe and the way that they “feel gathered out of his experience” that sets his books apart. These aren’t recipes that call for expensive, impossible-to-find ingredients that won’t even be used to make the final food-like prop that ends up in the glossy color photo of the dish. This is real, regional food with stories behind it, like how Johnson’s mother stretched her stewed butterbeans during the Depression by pouring them over a slice of bread. Amadon comments, “Reading through them, I get a sense of Johnson as a curious and interested person, someone I would like to have eaten a meal with.”

It’s worth noting that The American Table is pretty poet-friendly in terms of the cost of making these meals. There is nothing too expensive or exotic, and generally the recipes don’t call for that many ingredients. Johnson also makes suggestions on how to use excess food leftover from cooking. After his “My Mashed Potatoes,” he writes: “Vitamins aside, this makes quite the most possible of an already good thing. It probably is a sin to waste anything as good as these peelings. In fact, even when you prepare other potato dishes remember they can be cooked as they come from the peeler in large strips to make an excellent appetizer. They can also be prepared from baking peel (about five minutes), or boiled peel (about 20 minutes).”

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.