Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Lately, I've had some time to play in the kitchen.  This means I've been chopping and peeling a lot, and that means making stock.

One of my most cherished books is Tassajara Cooking.  Edward Espe Brown, the Soto Zen priest who was head cook and a manager of the Tassajara Zen Center , wrote it.

It is, I believe, a first-edition copy of the book, which was a follow-up to his famous Tassajara Bread Book.  The edition I have is a paperback, dated 1973, given to me in 1998 by Rebecca when I took ten precepts at Providence Zen Center.

It's a lovely thick paperback book that shows signs not only of age, but of being used in kitchens. 

The book has a distinctly home-made feel about it, even including some of Brown's handwriting.  It has a lovely introduction by a young Baker roshi, before all the trouble; a prose poem about cooking, and a beautiful section about caring for kitchen implements entitled "Good Friends."  There is a section on caring for knives, and a guide to good chopping; some words about different cooking methods.  There are no recipes, in the form we recognize from typical cookbooks.  There are very brief sections about various vegetables, fruits, other ingredients, soups, sauces, and so on.  It makes some suggestions but sends the reader on their way to experiment, pay attention, and learn from direct experience.  Like zen practice.  In fact, this is better than a whole lot of beautiful zen books.  There aren't even photographs, except for one lovely hippie picture of the author and his family at Green Gulch farm.  There are hand-wrought illustrations throughout. 

And since I've been making vegetable stock lately, here is a taste of this book, from its advice on making stock.

vegetable scraps: almost anything -- ends, tips, tops, trimmings, roots, skins, parsley stems, outside cabbage leaves, limp vegetables.  Go easy on the green pepper centers.  Some people find a large amount of onion skins or carrot tops makes too strong a flavor.

water to cover

Place all the vegetable scraps, which may be chopped up first, in a saucepan or stockpot and cover with water.  It's important that this brew simmer rather than boil.  Simmering means a few wee bubbles are popping gently to the surface -- a quit, subdued leaching process, while bouiling means that the entire surface is in turmoil, bubbling and frothing.  Vegetables do not endure boiling very well, soon yielding their more rank flavors and aromas, so bring the stock to a simmer and then turn the heat down low enough to keep it there, or you will have a harsh-flavored stock.

Let the stock simmer an hour or more, and then strain out the vegetables, squeezing or mashing out the last juices.  Use in place of water for soups, or for cooking vegetables, grains or beans.  If not using immediately, leave uncovered until cool, then cover and refrigerate. 

To make the most of your vegetable trimmings, make this stock every day.  Start it while you are preparing the meal, adding all the trimmings as you go.  Use a little water from the stock to rinse out each pot.  Simmer through the meal and then strain it afterwards.  This kind of stock will keep indefinitely if it is simmered (with new additions) at least once a week.  To give it a lift add a few onion, garlic or ginger slices.  

The whole book is like that.  This is the kind of book I would give to anybody wanting to try cooking for themselves.  It is written in just the right kind of voice, with just the right amount of information, without leaving any crutches.


Kelly said...

This "cookbook" sounds like a wonderful guide! And when they have those cooking stains in/on them, you KNOW they are good.

Brook said...