First-Rate Writing features a passage from one writer, a passage that I believe done so well that I want to share it. At age 40, going through a divorce, I realized the blindingly obvious fact that I would have to learn how to cook. Back then, my English professor's salary wouldn't have permitted the contemporary, urban solution: take-out or eat out. Cooking was a craft employing tools, I soon realized, and, like any craft, good tools made a difference. So I began to read not only cook books but books that described the equipment one needed to cook.
One of the most informative accounts I found was Pots & Pans etc. by Gertrude Harris (101 Productions, 1975). For the most part, Harris is practical and down to earth, but she can also conjure up another mode at once informative and imaginative. One passage that I've remembered for over thirty years concerns saucepans made not of copper but of silver:
In a booth at the famous flea market in Clignancourt in Paris, I once found four silver saucepans in heavy gauge in graduated sizes. They had come, the dealer told me, from the kitchen of a "princely house," and I could well believe it. In a long life of active coveting, I don't think I ever coveted anything more than those silver saucepans I simply could not afford to buy. Some time later I asked a friend, the proprietor of a renowned Paris restaurant, about them. His grandfather had two, he said; they had disappeared during the war. "Ah, oui, Madame, silver saucepans . . . " he mused. "To make a sauce in a silver pan is never to forget it, like one's first ride in a Rolls Royce! The heat comes on so evenly--so evenly. And it comes rapidly to a boil, not here and there, but all over at the same time, and as one stirs, it is like making music, for the sauce thickens almost imperceptibly, gradually, gradually, and just as it should, as one always hopes it will. And the flavor, Madame. It tastes only of the ingredients one has put into the silver saucepan. Do you understand? Just of the ingredients you want to taste, nothing else . . . une cocotte d'argent---" A long pause, and I remembered that a cocotte was many things besides a saucepan: a child, a little chicken, a darling, a sweetheart, and a "fast woman,"--all these, and perhaps more. His tongue moved delicately over his lips, as did mine, I found. "Copper, now, Madame. Well, copper is superb. A heavy copper pan is . . . " Gallic shrug. "Yes, copper is superb. Superb, Madame, but it is not silver."