James Beard's 1964 classic, Delights and Prejudices, has been reprinted in a newly illustrated edition. This is wonderful news for all who love food and food writing. Erudite yet intimate, Delights and Prejudices is, first, the memoir-with-recipes of a great American gastronome. It's also fascinatingly panoramic on good meals taken worldwide; on ingredients as diverse as the potato and the truffle; on great food places, markets to restaurants; and on food people, from Beard's cantankerous, food-muse mother to many of the stars of the last century's food firmament, including Julia Child. This is not only Beard's greatest work but also one of the best books we have on food and what we know about it.
Beard's gastronomic life began in bounteous early-20th century Portland, Oregon, where his mother cooked for several hotels. An early culinary memory has the near-infant Beard relishing an onion, skin and all. From there the story captures a world of gastronomic likes and dislikes from "sensational" veal roasts to the gherkins known as cornichons, "one of the mistakes the French make in eating." Beard's love of French food is, however, usually unmitigated, matched only by his adoration of traditional, locally produced American cooking. Recipes for this fare, including clam soufflé and candied-ginger pumpkin pie, are among the 150 formulas offered, a Beardian crème de la crème that also encompasses hors d'oeuvres, breads, and cakes. The book also chronicles Beard's ascent to fame, beginning with his 1940s appearance on I Love to Eat, TV's first cooking show, to the arrival of his many influential cookbooks. It ends, characteristically, in his kitchen, "the place where [he] can best satisfy the eccentricities of [his] own palate." The journey makes am enthralling read. --Arthur Boehm