One of the small things that charmed me about our San Diego neighborhood when I first visited it, was the presence of a small, independent used cookbook store. Sadly, it’s closing this Christmas. The owner explained to me that she can make more money working less hours by selling rarer cookbooks from home on the internet in four hours than working full-time running her shop. That’s what’s happening in America right now.
Sad as it is to lose another bookstore, let alone an independent one specializing in one of my favorite pastimes, I’ve managed to make up for lost time by visiting frequently and taking advantage of the sell-out prices. I picked up four vegetarian cookbooks for the price of $13. My German husband was not as enthusiastic as I was about these particular meatless bargain purchases. The next time I stopped by to browse, I couldn’t resist a ’70s relic which was a fondue and chafing dish cookbook. And last week, while I was waiting for my children to finish their music class around the corner, I wandered back in and succumbed to making some more unessential yet irresistible purchases: two German cookbooks. There was a third one but even I had to admit at that point that a third would have been excessive. Especially as I realized, the main point of this post, that the culinary styles of all three books were all the same. The same despite the fact that one was published in the ’60s, another in the ’70s and the last in the ’80s. On two of the covers: meat, sauce, and veggies. Exotically, at least I think to an American crowd, one of the veggies is fennel.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a reason why I bought these books, not just because I have a weakness for cookbooks. As I paged through them, I felt nostalgia and hunger for “Roast Pork with Crackling” from Oetker’s German Home Cooking and Schweinebraten from Bernhard Kaiser’s Das Goldene Kochbuch. I concede that these are all meant to be traditional cookbooks, but it made me think how little has changed in the way of German cooking over the decades. Sure, while watching Das Perfekte Dinner during the time I lived in Germany, I might have observed some elevation that might have incorporated the use of exotic fruits such as avocado or passion fruit or variations on traditional themes, usually an Italian one. But the basis of a good home-cooked meal, i.e. meat and potatoes, has largely remained the same. I feel that in America, pot roast and meatloaf might have gone out of style giving way to the likes of pesto and hummus at one point and have come back again. But have Frikadellen, Goulasch, and Sauerbraten with Knödel or Spätzle ever fallen out of vogue? A visit to any butcher or canteen at lunchtime in German will indicate otherwise. Gott sei Dank.