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Jack Smith

Cook's Library Heavy Burden on Light Eaters

December 27, 1988|Jack Smith

My friend John D. Weaver's wife, Harriett, died recently after a long and cruel illness, and John is trying to adjust to life without her.

He called the other day to say that he was trying to dispose of Harriett's things in a way that she might approve, and that he was going to give my wife her collection of cookbooks.

My blood turned cold.

John recalled that I had once written that my wife had the world's largest collection of cookbooks, but he had doubted it.

"Harriett had the world's biggest collection," he told me. "When Denny gets it there'll be no doubt that her collection is the world's biggest."

I begged him not to give it to her. "There is no place left in this house for anything ," I said. It was true. We don't even have room for the new Book-of-the-Month. We have books piled up in stacks on the floor. We have cardboard cartons full of old magazines that I have not been able to recycle yet. We have stacks of old Home magazines two feet high. I have bins of unanswered letters. My files are so crammed that I can hardly get anything out of them, much less stuff in anything new. We have just about been dispossessed by our impedimenta.

I have just made a rough count of my wife's cookbooks. They are contained in three bookshelves--two with six shelves each, one with five. Each shelf is about 30 inches wide. Thirty times 17 is 510; and 510 divided by 12 is 42.5. So she has 42.5 feet of cookbooks. Let's say the books average one-half inch in width. That means she has more than 1,000 cookbooks--an estimate I consider minimum. If they average 100 recipes a book (again, a minimum) she has no fewer than 100,000 recipes.

Let's say we live another 15 years (which is not likely), and my wife used one recipe per day, that would be a total of 5,475 recipes. In other words, 94,525 recipes would go unused.

The fact is, she uses only about one recipe a month. Recently, for example, she made a turkey meat loaf that I thought rather good. I used the leftovers for lunch for three straight days.

Usually, however, day in and day out, she comes home from work and pops a frozen dinner into the microwave while I open a bottle of wine. Dinner is then placed on trays in the living room and we watch sex and violence on the tube while we eat it.

It isn't really a bad routine. I find most microwave dinners edible. It saves my wife a lot of work, and meanwhile her cookbooks remain in mint condition, untouched by greasy human hands.

At this moment our freezer contains at least two of each of the following: chicken burritos, spaghetti with Italian style meatballs in sauce, scalloped potatoes and ham, chicken enchilada suiza, crispy fried beef burritos, chicken Dijon, veal Marsala, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots with cheese sauce, rotini cheddar, pasta and vegetables with creamy cheese sauce, continental style pasta, and fish fillets.

I usually prepare my own breakfast and lunch, so I make no demands on her culinary skills beyond dinner. So we now have enough microwave dinners to sustain us for almost two weeks. What lies beyond two weeks no one can foresee.

I hope this does not sound like a complaint. I am a light eater and I am not very picky about food. I thrive on microwave cooking. I don't care if my wife never makes another recipe from her cookbooks. (Sometimes on Sunday mornings she cooks sausage and eggs for me; but sausage and eggs is easy, and one doesn't need a recipe.)

But I am jealous of our remaining wall space. I would profoundly resist the addition of another 1,000 cookbooks to her collection.

I make this public appeal to John Weaver to find some other beneficiary for his wife's legacy. Maybe the UCLA Research Library could use her cookbooks. Or some high school home economics department. Or don't they teach home economics anymore? They seem to have abandoned English grammar.

Otherwise, I warn Weaver, sooner or later his wife's cookbooks will sink his ship, as my wife's are sinking mine.

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