Sunday, November 1, 2009

Extra Helpings: Jane Snow Cooks

[Ed. Note: While I consider myself to be a relatively recent friend of Jane Snow, I bought my own copy of her new book, Jane Snow Cooks. Neither Jane nor her publishing company have asked me to talk about her new book here on the blog.]

Jane Snow, food editor for the Akron Beacon Journal for twenty-eight years and two-time James Beard award winner for food writing, recently undertook a project that has occupied her for the better part of 2009. She spent the first several months of this year combing over the enormous number of articles that she wrote and even more numerous recipes submitted to her during her tenure at the Beacon selecting recipes and anecdotes to include in her newly released book, Jane Snow Cooks.

Tonight I had the chance to attend a talk and book signing at the Akron Public Library. After a brief introduction, Jane took the stage and kept the audience captivated for nearly an hour, regaling us with stories, both funny and serious, that she was fortunate enough to experience during her career. She started out the talk by reading us the short essay she wrote to introduce the fifth chapter of the book, On The Road.

After the short reading, Jane took a somewhat structured approach to the remainder of her talk, but veered off every now and again to talk about some of the crazier antics she was privy to over the years. One of my favorite stories was about her experience winning her first James Beard award. It seems that her work regarding salmonella tainted raspberries from South America was worthy enough to get her not only nominated, but also included in the group of three finalists who were flown to New York City for the announcement of the winner. Of course, before they announced the winner, a lavishly thrown dinner with the creme de la creme of the New York Food Illuminati was held in honor of the finalists. Not thinking she had actually won, Jane fully took advantage of the free-flowing champagne.

When the announcement was finally made, a wholly-unprepared Jane Snow was introduced and essentially thrust onto the stage to make some witty remarks. With that deer-in-headlights look, she looked over the crowd, opened her mouth, and quipped, "Food poisoning has been very good to me." Fortunately, this opening line tickled the crowd and relieved the palpable tension in the room.

Ironically, when Jane was attending the reception for her second James Beard award, she happened to be casually talking with someone connected with the James Beard association and in a more serious tone asked what one should say in their acceptance speech. The woman replied that while most acceptance speeches were pretty forgettable, the most memorable speech she could remember happened several years ago. Apparently the winner had gotten up onto the podium and thanked food poisoning for her win, clearly unaware of the irony of her answer.

After the bulk of Jane's talk concluded, she did a brief Q & A session with members of the audience. We then all adjourned to the hallway outside the auditorium where a table was set up to sell copies of her new book:

Having already picked one up earlier in the day, I simply got in line to have my copy signed. While I stood in line, bite-sized samples of Lou & Hy's cheesecake (or at least, cheesecake made from the Lou & Hy's recipe) were passed out:

Samples were either plain or topped with cherries or pineapple. A quintessential New York style cheesecake, these were every bit as good as I remember from the original Akron deli. I tried both the cherry (which I've had before) and the pineapple (which I hadn't). I have to say that the candied pineapple version was quite delicious.

My copy now signed, I hopped back into my car and drove home, eager to devour the contents of her new book. Here was a shot of the cover:

I think what I like the most about this book, and Jane alluded to this in her talk, is that the contents represent a specific time and a specific location, essentially Akron over the last thirty-plus years. Many of the recipes you'll find inside her book detail flavors and experiences you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the country. While all of the recipes come from Jane's impressive nearly three decades as food writer and editor at the Beacon, they form a very diverse culinary tapestry of local traditions, local cooks, non-local cooks and a bit of kitchen wizardry Jane herself threw together in her own kitchen.

Each chapter opens with a witty essay detailing what you will find in the following pages. The first three chapters focus mainly on local traditions and cooks: Local Favorites, Ten Most Wanted, and Winners. After that, the remainder of the book is broken down into various categories of food: Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Vegetables, Entrees, and Desserts. In addition to two chapters devoted to her all-time favorite personal recipes and the recipes of chefs and home cooks outside of Akron, she also thoughtfully included a final chapter called "How To . . .", detailing steps required to roast the perfect turkey or cook the perfect chicken breast.

With over one hundred fifty recipes covering local, regional, national and international cuisines, you are certain to find many tasty dishes in Jane Snow Cooks that will please you, your family and impress your friends. Personally, as a food writer living in Akron, I am happy to use the book as a epicurean guidepost in helping me to demystify and properly evaluate the food traditions I find when I eat out in Akron restaurants. That it is chock full of tried-and-tested recipes simply makes it that much better. If you enjoyed the work that Jane Snow did during her tenure at the Akron Beacon Journal, then I am sure you will enjoy this book, too.

Jane Snow Cooks: Spirited Recipes & Stories
Written by Jane Snow
Published by Ringtaw Books
ISBN: 978-1-931968-65-2
List price is $19.95

The book is available locally (I purchased mine at the Barnes and Noble in Montrose, Ohio) or on-line at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

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