A batch of recipes from McCormick's pantry fill a cookbook Spicy Reading

January 11, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

When folks at McCormick started putting together the spice company's first new cookbook in 30 years, they knew exactly what they wanted. They also knew -- thanks to decades of calls and letters and recipe brochures -- exactly what consumers wanted.

The result, "McCormick/Shilling's New Spice Cookbook," pays homage to decades of experience with spices and seasonings, but has its culinary feet planted firmly in the '90s.

"We tried -- after reading a lot of cookbooks -- to make this one as simple and easy visually, so that someone who isn't a trained home economist, or isn't a well-trained cook, can use this book and have good success with it," said Jack Felton, retiring director of corporate communications for McCormick, who was the driving force behind the book.

About a dozen people, along with designers and testers and proofreaders, assembled the cookbook, which is sort of the offspring of the 1964 cookbook "Spices of the World." (The older book was revamped in 1978.) But the new book has plenty of up-to-the minute touches.

"We tried to make it user friendly," said Diane Hamel, manager, communication arts for McCormick, who was involved in the book's design.

"It's in three sections, and the first section is easy family recipes," Mr. Felton said. Many of these came from the company's "Quick Tips," recipe cards with easy-to-prepare dishes that were offered to consumers at the spice shelves of stores. The "easy family" section of the cookbook is designed to allow busy people to return home from work and prepare a meal that makes the food taste "like it's been cooked for hours," Mr. Felton said. "But you can have a meal in about 20 minutes."

"We had over a hundred of these cards that rotated through the retail grocery stores through the years," said Camille Appel, McCormick's manager of consumer communications, "and there are some that were much more popular than others." McCormick also used studies and focus groups to choose the most popular, and most useful, recipes. "We know consumers want easy recipes, they want fewer ingredients, not a whole lot, they want the ingredients to be readily available in the grocery store, no exotic things that they can't find, and they want easy directions and nutrition information.

"The other thing we tried to do," Mr. Felton said, because the company has always gotten so many questions about spices, is to give a brief history of spices and then a date line of spice lore. The time line starts with 2600 B.C.: "Ancient records show that onion and garlic were fed to laborers who build the Great Pyramids." It also makes note of 50 B.C. ("Romans introduced mustard seed to England") and A.D. 1835 ("Chile powder was invented in Texas") and 1971 ("Spice trading with China reopened"). There's also a section with details about each spice, including pictures, and a section on "General Cooking Instructions" -- everything from storing spices, to food safety, to how long to roast a goose. "So it's a pretty complete reference book," Mr. Felton said.

The goal was to make the most of spices in each recipe, not to load up every dish with a lot of different ones. "We said, let's make sure the spices make the difference in the recipe, but let's just use the ones that make that difference," Mr. Felton said.

Nor did they want to hop on the "hot and spicy" bandwagon. "Spice use is up 5 percent in this country, which is a tremendous increase," he said. "A lot of that is due to people eating hotter food -- Mexican and Thai and some Middle East things that have a lot of seasoning. But we didn't just deliberately try to load this one up with all the hot spices. It's got a lot of variety."

The second part of the book is "Fine Dining." "Here we did a survey from the old cookbook and some friends we have a lot of respect for," Mr. Felton said, asking, "if you're going to do some entertaining, and have maybe one or two couples over, what would you serve?" Some of the recipes are based on ones in the old cookbook, though they've been updated to meet today's nutrition sensibilities, with less fat and salt. " 'Fine Dining' is a lot of classic food, done again in easy steps, but they take a little bit longer to do, and you have to have a little bit more skill," he said.

But "Fine Dining" also has an international dimension, because McCormick asked its overseas employees to contribute. "We asked what are favorite ethnic recipes in Singapore and Hong Kong and in the Philippines and in Mexico City?" Mr. Felton said. "They've been adapted to American tastes and American ingredients."

The last part of the book is "Entertaining." "So many cookbooks give you recipes for 8 or 12 people, but not hors d'oeuvres for 24 or 30 people," Mr, Felton said. "This does. And it sets up a simple way to entertain -- for instance, there's a Chesapeake brunch, and it gives you all kinds of alternatives as to what you might serve."

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