Books share what's cooking across the nation

April 21, 1993|By Peter D. Franklin

Books on Italian cooking, which dominated the cookbook field last year, continue to be produced at a lively pace, but there are plenty of American alternatives.

Three valued volumes that get down to the American basics are: "Bernard Clayton's Cooking Across America," by Bernard Clayton (Simon & Schuster, $25); "America's Best Recipes: A 1992 Hometown Collection," Janice L. Krahn, editor (Oxmoor House, $17.95); and a third that is more than a year old, "Farmhouse Cookbook," by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Workman; $22.95 cloth, $14.95 paper).

Mr. Clayton, who has authored a number of best sellers on breads and soups, took a three-year jaunt around the country in search of its best cooks. "I am as interested in the cook as a person as I am in the thorough, step-by-step presentation of the recipe," he wrote.

He gives us tales of wonderful people who are wonderful cooks and more than 250 of their favorite recipes. Many hours of reading pleasure within "Cooking Across America" are interrupted only by the burning desire to fire up the stove and try each of the recipes. This is, without a doubt, the finest achievement of this outstanding author's career.

"Farmhouse" is somewhat similar in that Ms. Loomis spent a couple of years down on family farms, where the preservation of the land is understood for the bounty it produces for the nation. And from morning to night, Ms. Loomis was peering into pots and undoubtedly licking them in search of a way of life.

Although not quite as detailed in her presentation as Mr. Clayton, Ms. Loomis' "notes from the farm" are insightful and delightful.

"America's Best Recipes" is a collection of more than 400 recipes from the best regional community cookbooks. A highlight of this annual is the potluck dish -- everything from "Mississippi sin" from the Union Baptist Church in Tylertown, Miss., to red, white and blueberry party salad from Lincoln, Neb.

What's missing here is any commentary on the origins of the recipes or those who prepare them.

Debbie Vanni is a "professional" amateur recipe-contest entrant who has won numerous times on a national level. This recipe, from "Cooking Across America," won her a microwave oven from Midwest Living magazine. When corn is out of season, canned peg corn may be substituted for the fresh ears of corn.

Corn and sausage chowder

Makes 6 servings.

3 ears of fresh corn (2 cups kernels)

1 pound bulk pork sausage

1 cup chopped onions

4 cups potatoes, cut into 1/2 -inch dice

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups water

1 (16-ounce) can cream-style corn

12 ounces evaporated milk

parsley, chopped, to garnish

Cook the corn in boiling water. If picked in the garden and raced to the kitchen, 4 minutes will be enough. If store-bought, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool before cutting.

Brown the sausage in a 4-quart soup pot over medium heat for about 8 minutes. After 5 minutes of cooking, add the onions to the pot.

Add the potatoes, salt, marjoram, pepper and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes test done, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add both corns and the evaporated milk and bring to a steaming heat. Don't boil. Ladle the chowder into warm bowls, garnish with chopped parsley.

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