Simple Food for the Good Life by Helen Nearing [download great books]

  • Full Title : Simple Food for the Good Life: Random Acts of Cooking and Pithy Quotations (Good Life Series)
  • Autor: Helen Nearing
  • Print Length: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication Date: January 1, 1990
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1890132292
  • ISBN-13: 978-1890132293
  • Download File Format: azw3


Fifty years before the phrase “simple living” became fashionable, Helen and Scott Nearing were living their celebrated “Good Life” on homesteads first in Vermont, then in Maine. All the way to their ninth decades, the Nearings grew their own food, built their own buildings, and fought an eloquent combat against the silliness of America’s infatuation with consumer goods and refined foods. They also wrote or co-wrote more than thirty books, many of which are now being brought back into print by the Good Life Center and Chelsea Green.

Simple Food for the Good Life is a jovial collection of “quips, quotes, and one-of-a-kind recipes meant to amuse and intrigue all of those who find themselves in the kitchen, willingly or otherwise.” Recipes such as Horse Chow, Scott’s Emulsion, Crusty Carrot Croakers, Raw Beet Borscht, Creamy Blueberry Soup, and Super Salad for a Crowd should improve the mood as well as whet the appetite of any guest.

Here is an antidote for the whole foods enthusiast who is “fed up” with the anxieties and drudgeries of preparing fancy meals with stylish, expensive, hard-to-find ingredients. This celebration of salads, leftovers, raw foods, and homegrown fruits and vegetables takes the straightest imaginable route from their stem or vine to your table.

“The funniest, crankiest, most ambivalent cookbook you’ll ever read,” said Food & Wine magazine. “This is more than a mere cookbook,” said Health Science magazine: “It belongs to the category of classics, destined to be remembered through the ages.”

Among Helen Nearing’s numerous books is Chelsea Green’s Loving and Leaving the Good Life, a memoir of her fifty-year marriage to Scott Nearing and the story of Scott’s deliberate death at the age of one hundred. Helen and Scott Nearing’s final homestead in Harborside, Maine, has been established in perpetuity as an educational progam under the name of The Good Life Center.


About the Author

Helen Nearing left city life with her husband, Scott, nearly sixty years ago to move first to Vermont and then to their farm in Harborside, Maine. The Nearings’ food and living philosophies have provided the guidelines for many who seek a simpler way of life. Helen is the author of Wise Words for the Good Life: A Homesteader’s Personal Collection, Loving and Leaving the Good Life, Simple Food for the Good Life, and co-author (with Scott Nearing) of The Maple Sugar Book.



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irst-class food in a few minutes with no trouble. Good food is always a trouble and its preparation should be regarded as a labour of love, and this book is intended for those who actually and positively enjoy the labour involved in entertaining their friends and providing their families with first-class food. Even more than long hours in the kitchen, fine meals require ingenious organization and experience which is a pleasure to acquire. A highly developed shopping sense is important, so is some knowledge of the construction of a menu with a view to the food in season, the manner of cooking, the texture and colour of the dishes to be served in relation to each other.

The proper composition of a meal being a source of continual anxiety to the inexperienced, I have thought it would perhaps be helpful to include a short chapter on the subject; and as there is no French cooking without wine, its use in the kitchen, unfamiliar to many, is explained in a separate chapter.

The respective merits of Haute Cuisine, Cuisine Bourgeoise, regional and peasant and good plain, Italian and German, Scandinavian, Greek, Arab or Chinese food are less important than the spirit in which cooking is approached; a devoted, a determined, spirit, but not, it is to be hoped, one of martyrdom.

1950 E. D.


Delicious meals can, as everybody knows, be cooked with the sole aid of a blackened frying-pan over a primus stove, a camp fire, a gas-ring or even a methylated spirit lamp. This book, however, is for those whose ambitions lie in the direction of something less primitive in the way of food, so the question of stocking the kitchen with good pans and the right implements is of the first importance.

If you are starting from scratch, the most satisfactory method is to see that you have the basic necessities to begin with and buy gradually as you find out which style of cooking best suits your talents. (If, for example, you have no particular flair for cakes and pastries, it is pointless to clutter up the kitchen with a whole range of pastry boards, cake tins, tartlet moulds and icing sets.)

One thing is quite certain, and that is that if Englishwomen paid more attention to having the right equipment in their kitchens, we should hear a great deal less about the terrible labour of good cooking. How many times have I been told: ‘Oh, I haven’t time to fiddle about with that kind of thing’, just because a recipe called for putting something through a sieve or chopping up a few vegetables. Don’t hamper your cooking and waste time and materials through lack of the right tools for the job.

First, and these are essential to any kitchen, come the very best quality of cook’s knives. You need a small vegetable knife, razor sharp, a medium one for trimming meat and fish (known as a filleting knife), a large one for cutting up meat and poultry, and a long, thin-bladed ham knife for cold meat, and anything which has to be thinly sliced. A first-class bread knife goes without saying; keep it for bread. Take the greatest care of your knives; don’t cut with them on an enamel or marble-topped table or a plate; have a good steel for sharpening; keep your kitchen knives in a special box or compartment of the knife drawer; wash, dry, and put them away, with the points stuck into a cork, as soon as you have finished with them. Let it be understood by all members of the household that there will be serious trouble if your knives are borrowed for screwdriving, prising open packing-cases, cutting fuse wire or any other purpose for which they were not intended.

Your saucepans will, of course, depend upon your personal preference – or prejudice – as well as upon your cooking stove.

Many cooks, professional and amateur, still cling to the tradition that for serious cooking copper pans are unequalled. While it is true that copper is the best of heat conductors and is exceedingly hardwearing, the almost superstitious belief that possession of a set of copper pans of itself constitutes some guarantee of successful cooking has led to the widespread sale in this country of lightweight copper pots which are soon discovered by the aspiring cook to be of little more than ornamental value. On the other hand the recent dramatic rise in world prices of copper has put saucepans of the requisite heavy gauge copper beyond the reach of all but the most luxuriously equipped of kitchens – not invariably the kitchens from which emerges the most inspired of cookery. I would therefore advise those seeking the best value in basic kitchen equipment to confine their initial purchases of copper to one or perhaps two heavy copper sauté pans about 4 inches deep and 10 to 12 inches in diameter, with or without an improvised lid (the professional chefs’ sauté pan does not have, and if used only for its specific purpose, does not need, a lid). Such a pan serves many uses, from the rapid sautéing of small cuts of meat to the lengthy cooking of a fish stew or matelote or of a coq au vin, and stands up well to roughish treatment.

A straightforward saucepan of 1–2 pint capacity, of heavy quality and with a well-balanced handle, is another asset to anyone who intends to practise serious sauce-making. If this pan is to be a copper one, it is important that the tinning be kept in good condition, so for stirring use a wooden spoon or spatula rather than a whisk which scratches and quickly wears out the tin.

The more experienced cook, progressing to specialized work, may want to invest in the traditional untinned hemispherical copper egg bowl which is unequalled for the successful beating of egg whites but not easy to keep in immaculate condition. An untinned heavy quality (and unless it is heavy quality, a minimum of one-sixteenth of an inch thick, don’t bother with it) preserving pan is another worthwhile buy, and so, for the ambitious pastry cook or confectioner, is an untinned, lipped, sugar-boiling pan. It should be noted that it is because the melting point of tin is lower than the boiling point of sugar that copper pans for jam-making, confectionery and sugar-work generally are never tinned. To clean untinned copper, rub with a cut lemon dipped in fine salt, or with a soft rag dipped in a strong solution of vinegar and salt.

Certain silver-lined copper pans of Swiss origin now to be found on the English market are of very fine quality and design. These elegant casseroles, sauté pans and marmites are hand finished and have a great allure. They are the modern equivalents of, and will last as long as, the beautiful silver or Sheffield-plate kitchen and dining room treasures – the brandy-warmers, the butter melters, the chafing dishes – of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In other words they are collectors pieces at collectors prices.

Silver linings of copper pans tarnish quickly but are easy to clean (use a silver-polishing cloth) and need less frequent renewal than tin linings. Better than either are the heavy stainless steel linings which need no upkeep at all and should last for ever.

Heavy copper, cast aluminium, and cast iron pans with machine-turned bases are all suitable for all types of cooking stoves. So is stainless steel, but it is a bad heat conductor and to be efficient a stainless steel pan must be heavily copper-clad on the base, which makes for enormous and, it seems to me, unnecessary expense.

Whether you choose cast aluminium, enamelled steel, tinned copper, enamelled cast iron or stainless steel, be sure to have at least two deep stew pans, one large and one small, with a small handle at each side; in these all manner of soups and stews can be put in the oven as well as on top of the stove, an essential requirement for anyone who has other duties than those of a cook to attend to. For boiling potatoes keep one special pan with an enamel lining. Another essential is a shallow oval or round fireproof pan which will go under the grill or in a very hot oven for dishes which are to be browned quickly. One large pan of a minimum 1½ gallon capacity is a necessity for cooking rice and spaghetti, and for anything over four people you must have a still larger one, say 2 to 3 gallons’ capacity, and this will do for the boiling of chickens and for making stock. Shallow, two-handled pots from seven to ten inches in diameter and about three inches deep for risotto, pot roasts, various forms of ragoûts and vegetable dishes are a blessing. These can be found in copper, cast aluminium or, better still, enamel-lined cast iron with machine-turned bases.

Earthenware casseroles and terrines for oven cooking should be in every household; for some of the French farmhouse and peasant dishes described in this book they are essential; cassoulets, choux farcis, daubes and civets, lose something of their flavour and a good deal of their charm if cooked in an ordinary saucepan. Earthenware pots can be put on the top of gas and electric stoves, provided an asbestos mat or the more solid modern fire-clay simmer-plate is put underneath. The important point to remember is never to pour cold water into one of these casseroles while it is hot, or it will crack.

For eggs, good frying and omelette pans are obviously needed, and little dishes for eggs en cocotte. Plain white, fireproof porcelain or glass egg-dishes can be found in various sizes, and these are the most satisfactory for baked eggs and eggs sur le plat, as the egg does not stick as it does to earthenware. The larger sizes are useful for an infinite variety of little dishes. Three frying-pans and one omelette pan are not too many, and they should all be heavy, with a perfectly flat bottom, or the food will never be evenly fried. Have one general-purpose ten- to twelve-inch frying-pan, preferably with a lip so that it is easy to pour off the fat; one which is kept for steaks and cutlets and so on; one small one (say six inches) for frying a few croûtons for soup or anything else to be done in small quantities.

Heavy wrought-iron pans with curved inner walls are still used for the cooking of omelettes and for many other routine frying purposes in most households and in every restaurant in France. Professional chefs, however firm their attachment to copper stewpans and saucepans, do not use copper omelette pans except for the table-lamp cooking of crêpes Suzette, steak Diane and similar flambé dishes. Iron pans for omelettes or restaurant frying are now imported in some quantity from France. English-made frying-pans of the same type are to be approached with caution. Although cheap they are often unsatisfactory because the manufacturers have failed to grasp the importance of balance where the weight and the angle of the handles are concerned. A frying-pan with an over-heavy handle looks and feels impressive in the hand but topples sideways when put on the stove, and to the household cook is just one more source of unnecessary aggravation.

A certain amount of superstition still hangs about the so-called ‘proving’ and maintenance of iron pans. There are still those who recommend that a new pan be rubbed with coarse salt (a first-class way of ensuring instant wreckage of a new pan) or be filled with salt and water to be left boiling for an hour or two. Such advice should not be taken seriously. Salt corrodes, pits, and discolours the burnished metal. Perhaps it is not generally understood that when these pans leave the factory they are coated with a protective film of grease which should be left undisturbed until the pan reaches the customer’s kitchen. A preliminary cleaning with a rag, detergent, and hot water removes the superficial grease and any remainder is easily dealt with by heating a generous amount of oil or lard in the pan for a few minutes. Leave this to cool, pour it off, rub the pan clean with newspaper or kitchen tissues, and dry it thoroughly. Once cleaned of its grease the pan is used like any other pan, but when not in use should be kept greased or oiled so that the risk of rust is eliminated. The legend that an iron omelette pan should never be washed owes its origin and perpetuation to this risk and to the high incidence of scratching and scoring induced by drastic scouring, incomplete drying, consequent rust spots, and eventual ruination of the smooth surface of the pan.

Because a correctly made omelette comes away clean from the pan, a pan used and kept exclusively for omelettes by a deft cook does not require washing. Should the necessity arise (and it is unrealistic to assume that we are all perfectly accomplished cooks all of the time) it is infinitely preferable to give your pan a mild scrub in soap and water than to scrape away at it with a knife or savage it with coarse wire wool (fine steel wool should do no harm, but a well-worn Scotch-Brite or Scat pad is better) in the mistaken belief that so long as no water touches your pan no harm can come to it. Whatever method of cleaning is adopted, whether it is a quick rinse or a rub with paper, remember to dry the pan thoroughly and unless it is in daily use to brush the inside with a film of oil or fat before it is put away. The same treatment should be applied to iron paëlla pans and pancake pans.

Anyone who feels that there is too much palaver involved in the regular use of an iron frying-pan would perhaps do best to invest in a heavy cast aluminium all-purpose frying-pan and keep an iron pan only for omelettes. Personally, I use cast aluminium, French enamelled cast-iron and plain iron with impartiality and do not reserve one pan exclusively for omelettes.

For a two-egg omelette, use a 6 to 7 inch pan, for three eggs a 9 to 10 inch pan, for five eggs a 12 inch pan. After that, unless you are a professional omelette cook, make two or three omelettes rather than attempt the tricky task of making a gigantic omelette in a 14 to 15 inch pan which, however well-proportioned, is cumbersome and unwieldy until you become accustomed to the handling of large and heavy pans.

A deep frier with a basket is necessary for chips and for the deep frying of fritters and fish, and for lifting fried food out of the pan you need a perforated ladle or wire skimmer.

When frying is finished, pour off all fat through a small strainer kept specially for this purpose. Keep different kinds of fat separately – a bowl for bacon fat, another for beef dripping, one for mutton and one for pork fat; each has its individual use and should never be mixed.

For poaching a whole large fish, such as salmon or an outsize bass, you need a long narrow fish-kettle with an inner drainer on which the fish rests, so that it can be lifted out of the pan and drained without fear of breakage. Fish kettles are expensive, but are to be found now and again at sales and in junk shops. Oval gratin dishes in varying sizes for baking and grilling fish are easy to find, in earthenware, china or metal, or enamel-lined cast iron. A long platter for serving fish is important; the appearance of a fine salmon, trout or bass is ruined by being brought to table on too small a dish.

The question of kitchen tools is one which must depend on personal preferences, and I cannot do more than enumerate those which through long use and the saving of countless hours I regard with especial affection.

First of these is a purée-maker or food mill. For soups, sauces, fruit and vegetable purées this is absolutely invaluable; in two minutes you have a purée which would take 30 minutes’ bashing to get through an ordinary sieve. The best and cheapest of these is a French one, called the mouli, and the medium size, about £1.50, is the one for a small household. Even if you have an electric blender you will probably find that you still need, and use, a mouli. Then there is a vegetable slicer which goes by the charming name of mandoline. If you have ever spent an hour slicing a cucumber paper-thin, or cutting potatoes for pommes Anna or pommes soufflés, go and buy one of these – a whole cucumber can be done, thinner than you could ever do it with a knife, in a minute or two.

Vegetable choppers are now obtainable in England; called in France a hachoir, in Italy a mezzaluna, these instruments are crescent-shaped blades with a handle at each end. They make the fine chopping of onions, meat, parsley and vegetables the affair of a second. For small quantities of parsley and other fresh herbs a solid wooden bowl with its own crescent-bladed knife is invaluable. This is called a hachinette.

Electric mixers, mincers, vegetable shredders and potato peelers proliferate on the market. For the small household and for beginners the French Moulinex machines offer the best value, the widest choice and the maximum ingenuity. Their recently introduced Moulinette automatic chopper is a particularly valuable machine which performs just what it promises. That is, it chops raw as well as cooked meats without squeezing out their juices or turning them into an emulsion. The new Mouli large-capacity electrical potato peelers are useful if not precisely beautiful.

A good pair of scales, a measuring jug, a first-class pliable stainless steel palette knife, a perforated slice, a pepper mill and a salt mill are obvious necessities; so is a selection of wooden spoons and a pair of kitchen scissors, two or three fine strainers in different sizes, and a clock. A perforated spoon for draining anything which has cooked in deep fat is a great boon; a good solid chopping-board, at least twelve inches by eighteen inches, you must have, and either a wood or marble pestle and mortar.

A rather large selection of cooking and mixing bowls I insist on having – there can’t be too many in any kitchen – and the same goes for a collection of air-tight plastic boxes for storing vegetables, salads and fresh herbs in the refrigerator. A supply of muslin squares for draining home-made cheese and for straining aspic jelly, an extra plate rack for saucepan lids, some oven-proof plates and serving dishes, glass store jars in all sizes and a supply of heavy quality greaseproof paper are all adjuncts of a good working kitchen. Aluminium foil we now take for granted, but less well known, and very clean and satisfactory for storage as well as for cooking, are Porosan bags – also ideal, incidentally, as sandwich and picnic food wrappers.

As time goes on you accumulate your own personal gadgets, things which graft themselves on to your life; an ancient thin-pronged fork for the testing of meat, a broken knife for scraping mussels, a battered little copper saucepan in which your sauces have always turned out well, an oyster knife which you can no longer afford to use for its intended purpose but which turns out to be just the thing for breaking off hunks of Parmesan cheese, a pre-war sixpenny tin-opener which has outlived all other and superior forms of tin-opening life, an earthenware bean-pot of such charm that nothing cooked in it could possibly go wrong.

Some sensible person once remarked that you spend the whole of your life either in your bed or your shoes. Having done the best you can by shoes and bed, devote all the time and resources at your disposal to the building up of a fine kitchen. It will be, as it should be, the most comforting and comfortable room in the house.


Nobody has ever been able to find out why the English regard a glass of wine added to a soup or stew as a reckless foreign extravagance and at the same time spend pounds on bottled sauces, gravy powders, soup cubes, ketchups and artificial flavourings. If every kitchen contained a bottle each of red wine, white wine, and inexpensive port for cooking, hundreds of store cupboards could be swept clean for ever of the cluttering debris of commercial sauce bottles and all synthetic aids to flavouring.

To the basic sum of red, white and port I would add, if possible, brandy, and half a doze


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