Forty years ago a young anthropology graduate student named Merry White published a book of recipes she'd used as in the catering jobs she worked to put herself through school. The book was accidental: A publisher saw the sheaf of recipes she'd left lying around, and commissioned a young artist he knew to do black-and-white drawings in the frizzy style that would be come a trademark when Ed Koren became one of The New Yorker's best-known contributors.
As a sign of the suitability of the match, White, known as Corky, came to resemble a Koren drawing (of a person, as opposed to the adorable frond-topped carrots and parsnips gathered round a feast table). And she went on to be a distinguished specialist in Japan, including as author of the marvelously interesting and recent Coffee Life in Japan (which I blurbed). Now Cooking for Crowds (Princeton University Press) has been reissued, and it's not just enormously charming but useful, full of sturdy recipes that can still seem mildly exotic no matter how much we flatter ourselves at the sophistication of our palates, each of them scaled for groups of six, 12, 20, or 50.
Yes, White was living in Cambridge, where as she points out in a new introduction most everyone had already lived somewhere else, and cosmopolitanism was assumed. But the extent of her adventurousness remains startling: substituting ground beef and pork, for instance, for the horsemeat she had used in Nepal when learning to make momos, meat-filled dumplings. Yes, we all have our own recipes now for spanakopita and salmon with dill. But do we all have an easy rabbit stew? Her recipes for chicken tandoori, for instance, are reliable without being dumbed down, and fermented watercress soup is right in line with today's fermentation mania. Others I want to try right away, like stuffed cabbage whose filling is miles away from my grandmother: chicken liver, chopped salt pork, ground pork, bacon fat, and plum tomatoes. This is more, that is, than an artifact of Brooklyn avant la lettre. It's full of practical dishes and tricks you'll call your own, like tossing fresh-roasted almonds in maple syrup to serve on ice cream.