In my baking cupboard, at the very back of the top shelf, there is an open bag of wheatgerm. It has survived one house move and more than six years of ownership, and it is depleted by only one loaf’s worth. Laurie Colwin is to blame.
I first read Colwin’s Home Cooking (1988) right at the start of my journey into food and cooking, long before I’d jacked in my career to train as a pâtisserie chef. At the time, I’d never baked a loaf. In one of the essays in that book – ‘Bread baking without agony’ – Colwin describes her own first foray into baking, in which a friend guided her through an exhausting day of proving, kneading and shaping. She wrote, ‘The result was a perfectly nice loaf of bread, but after spending an entire day in its service, I expected something a little more heroic.’
This candour marks much of Colwin’s writing and, as someone new to the food world, I found it deeply refreshing. She wasn’t romantic or pretentious about food, as other food writers were. She was honest and practical, and she didn’t stand on culinary ceremony. She found another way to bake bread, one which allowed her to fit the bread around her life, rather than the other way round. This sounded more like my kind of cooking. So I followed her recipe, even going so far as to track down the wheat- germ that she used, which I eventually found in a health-food shop (and never again encountered in a bread recipe) – and much to my surprise, I ended up with a delicious loaf of bread. Imbued with a newfound confidence, I quickly moved on to other recipes, hence the forgotten wheatgerm. But without Laurie Colwin, I would never have got started.
Laurie Colwin was an American writer who produced five novels, three collections of short stories and two volumes of essays and recipes, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (1993). She wrote for the New Yorker and was a regular and much-loved contributor to Gourmet a
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