Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Recipe Double Down

Yesterdays Wall Street Journal pointed me to the latest battle against portion distortion - cookbooks. So since I have a few hundred laying around, I thought I'd do my own un-scientific study to see if recipe quantities (and calories) are indeed rising. Among cook book authors, I compared Craig Claiborne (NY Times Cook Book, 1961 vs, Best of CC, 1999), Helen Corbitt (Helen Corbitt's Potluck, 1962 vs. Best from HC's Kitchens, 2000), Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking 1961 vs. 1971) and Betty Crocker (Cookie Book 1963 vs. 1998). In none of these books did I find a distortion of quantities or ingredients, almost all were exactly as had been published in earlier editions.

The article spotlights the classic Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, in comparing my two copies (1973 vs. 1997's "All New, All Purpose" re-write by Irma's grandson Ethan Becker) the two dozen recipes I compared were in fact larger portions. Either the quantity of ingredients went up, or the number of servings went down, or in some cases both.

In their defense, the rewritten (1997) edition has a far more in-depth discussion about caloric intake and balanced eating. In the almost 80 years since originally published things like the food pyramid, official dietary guides, and a gazillion fad diets have changed eating habits. In the section called "About Calories" it discusses the importance of matching eating to the amount of exercise one expends each day (as I sit here typing), AND they have a handy chart called "What Counts As A Serving". While perhaps some of their older recipes have grown in quantity, the book also expanded it's number of healthier Asian and Vegetarian recipes.

I don't know which cookbook is correct, the older Joy of Cooking "Calorie Values" section begins with a quote from Jane Austin:

"Personal size and mental sorrow have certainly no necessary proportions. A large, bulky figure has a good a right to be in deep affliction as the most graceful set of limbs in the world. But, fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain - which taste cannot tolerate - which ridicule will seize. "

Pretty, but not exactly scientific. The following pages go on to (yawn) list the 1963 USDA caloric guidelines, closing with the following reminder:

"Two martinis before dinner count as much as a generous slice of pie for dessert and, if you are trying to keep your weight constant, second thoughts are better than second helpings. "


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