Side Dish: Marion Cunningham

The news that cookbook author and culinary star Marion Cunningham died July 11 at age 90 brought back memories of the role she played in my learning to cook.

My earliest cookbook library consisted of “Talk About Good!” by the Junior League of Lafayette, “River Road Recipes” by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and “McCall’s Cook Book” (Random House) — all wedding gifts. Several years later, I decided I needed inspiration and was ready to tackle more classic cooking. I purchased “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” written by Julia Child with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck and first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1961. A quick read-through left me overwhelmed and I closed the book.

I turned to another book a friend had recommended, “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook,” originally published as “The Boston Cooking School Cook Book” in 1896 and first revised by Cunningham in 1979. I quickly realized the American reference cookbook classic was what I needed. Any time I wanted a quick explanation of a cooking term or a simple recipe I turned to my well-thumbed copy of the all-purpose “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.”

That explains why I was more excited about meeting Cunningham than Child and winemaker Robert Mondavi. The trio were in Natchez, Miss., in early 1992 to try to form a Mississippi chapter of the nonprofit American Institute of Wine & Food which Child and Mondavi had formed in 1981. I had begun writing about food a few months earlier and wasn’t very confident about questioning such culinary giants as Child and Mondavi. But, Cunningham was different; she was someone I’d met in the pages of her book.

Cunningham, who also wrote several other books, including “The Breakfast Book,” “Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham” and “The Supper Book,” was in the lobby of the Natchez Eola Hotel when I introduced myself. A charming, quiet woman, she laughed when I told her how as a young wife, I’d much preferred her cookbook to Child’s. I suspect she was quite pleased, but too polite to say so.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.

Advocate-tested recipe

Southern Green Beans

Serves 4. Recipe is from “Lost Recipes: Meal to Share with Friends and Family” by Marion Cunningham and published by Alfred A. Knopf. “For the past few years, most of us have been following the recommended way of cooking green beans until just tender, because we’ve been told that long cooking destroys flavor and vitamins. But these green beans, with potatoes and a hint of bacon, have a fullness of flavor and depth of character that crunchy beans just don’t have.”

3 or 4 slices smoky-style bacon, diced

1 lb. green beans, washed, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

Salt and black pepper, to tastew

1 cup water

2 scallions, sliced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1. Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add the bacon and cook over medium-low heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the green beans, salt, pepper, and water. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.

2. Add the scallions and potatoes, stir to mix, cover and cook for 30 minutes more. Check once or twice to make sure the liquid hasn’t all evaporated. Serve hot.