For weekend cooks, and that's what many of us are, there clearly are more cookbooks than Heinz has beans: regional cookbooks covering every taste and place from Gasparilla to Gaspe. Books to benefit the Philadelphia Orchestra. Books to benefit Julia Child. A Disneyland Cook Book that stops just short of Mickey's Mousse. Cooking with Paul Newman. Cooking without MSG. Kooking from your kayak. Cooking by mesquite in your microwave.
And now--in an obvious push to find some new distinction among this hard-bound bouillabaisse--come cookbooks from careers more associated with life's hardware than its noodles.
John Sineno, a New York fireman, has written "The Firefighter's Cookbook." The emphasis is on dishes with a plate life of two hours because 60% of firehouse meals are shelved by the bell.
"The Mayors' Cookbook," also published last month, is by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Weight-watching Mayor Tom Bradley offers the spinach salad and lemon chicken. Feeling lucky? Try the apple pie recipe of Mayor Clint Eastwood of Carmel.
And in planning is "The Unemployed Fighter Pilots' Cookbook; 101 Things to Do With a Dead Chicken," by unemployed fighter pilot Dave Elliott of Torrance.
"The biggest problem in teaching fighter pilots to cook is that they think it's more difficult than combat maneuvers," says Elliott, friend, fellow weekend chef, metal sculptor, retired Air Force colonel and a safety systems analyst on the B-1 bomber for Rockwell International. "When a fighter pilot has friends for Saturday night dinner he builds a fire and gives everybody a raw steak and a potato.
"Yet any fighter pilot worth his weight in Dos Equis has been exposed to some of the world's most exciting dishes, and they'll be in the book. Kadena soft tacos. Tan Son Nhut French onion soup. Ramstein sauerkraut. Base ops chili.
"Plus the favorite recipes of fighter pilots like Chuck Yeager and Robin Olds and Bob Hoover and Pappy Boyington and Joe Foss. And, of course, Dean's world-famous baked bread pudding recipe."
In truth, it is my mother's baked bread pudding recipe.
Cut into great sugared cubes and wrapped in waxed paper, it was my antidote to school lunches and mess meals through endless years of education and military service. Rich. Moist. Great glutinous clumps for gluttons. Scott would have made it back from the South Pole had my mother's bread pudding been waiting at McMurdo.
Privately, I consider it world class. Commercially, it could be marketed to duplicate the Famous Amos success story. It has busted diets from Old England through New England, and the recipe has become a family heirloom to be handed down with great-grandfather's turnip watch.
Here's the recipe as borrowed from my mother, who obtained it from my Grandmother Mortlock.
BAKED BREAD PUDDING. Ingredients: One pound of stale or day-old or otherwise obsolete whole wheat bread. Six ounces of dark brown sugar. Two eggs. Four ounces butter or margarine. Four ounces of currants. Four ounces of raisins. One pint of milk. A little nutmeg and grated lemon rind, enough to let you know it's there.
Method: Break the bread into pieces and soak in cold water for an hour. Squeeze thoroughly (the bread, not the water) and mix in a large bowl with the currants, raisins, sugar, lemon rind, nutmeg and melted butter. Also the eggs, well beaten with the milk.
Pour into a greased pie dish, set in a preheated oven (350 degrees) and bake for approximately 90 minutes. Approximately. That means until my mother says it is done, which translates to when the top looks crisp and the center wobbles only gently and the currants are ready to hiss.
It eats better if left in the refrigerator overnight and munched cold--as an apres ski appetizer recommended with buttered rum toddies from Stowe to Steamboat Springs.
It tastes better if topped with a hot custard sauce--as a dessert of Cockney custom eaten by Maurice Micklewhite before he became Michael Caine.
It certainly has made more days than Clint Eastwood's apple pie.