“This is a basic cookbook. It is intended to help two sorts of people: first, those who are just beginning to cook and say they don’t even know how to boil water, and second, those who have been trying to cook for a while and wonder why their meals don’t taste like mother’s cooking or the food in a good restaurant.
Anybody who is conscientious enough to follow simple directions can learn to cook. For example, if you are among those who have never boiled water, this is what you do: Fill a saucepan with cold water and put it on the stove. Adjust the burner to high. Let the water heat until it bubbles and surges – and that is boiling water. I assure you in all seriousness that many of the recipes in this book are not much more complicated than these instructions for boiling water. Most cooking, even elaborate dishes, is merely the combining of a number of very simple operations.
A lack of knowledge about basic cookery can be somewhat inconvenient. Not long ago some young friends of mine started off from New York for several months’ stay in the near east. Their luggage consisted mainly of case after case of canned goods, package foods and mixes, and dehydrated soups. When all the cases were stacked up on the dock, the scene looked like the receiving platform of a grocery store. The pretty young wife perched herself on a case of soup and explained that they had to take their food with them because she wouldn’t know how to cope with the produce sold in Near Eastern markets. She had never really cooked, she admitted, except to fry hamburgers and use mixes and frozen dinners.
Now, there is nothing wrong, of course, with mixes and frozen foods. they are especially valuable when time is precious and shortcuts are necessary. But you’ll never achieve confidence in your cooking ability if your culinary skill depends on using ingredients that someone else has mixed or seasoned or pre-cooked. Like almost everything else – walking, driving a car, painting a picture – you learn by doing.
There are three very good reasons why you should learn basic cookery: practical, gastronomical, and personal reasons. On the practical side, it’s a stubborn economic fact that preparing your own food is cheaper than buying it pre-made. Gastronomically, it’s a fact that old-fashioned home cooking is tastier and more varied. As for the personal side, it’s a fact that cooking is fun, especially good cooking.
Cooking is one everyday task that can be creative. You become a creative cook by first becoming a good basic cook. Your transition from basic to creative cooking takes some doing, some actual experience in finding out what happens when you add this or change that. Once you have made this transition, you will never lack admirers. Good food has a magic appeal. You may grow old, even ugly, but if you are a good cook, people will always find the path to your door.
– James A. Beard