ABOUT THE RECIPES
When I grew up, written recipes were nonexistent in our home. The traditions and circumstance of our dinners and their preparation were handed down with explanations like, “A little of this and a little of that.” You had to be there, side by side in the kitchen with the cook, to learn the ingredients and their measure and to taste the cook’s stew.
That’s how my grandmother and my mother learned to cook. There was always room for personal interpretation and creativity. And the aroma in our kitchen, with golden onions sizzling, cinnamon apples steaming, and banana bread baking, made the alchemy they practiced irresistible.
As a teenager, when I married Jim Croce, my husband was the cook in our family. Fueled by generations of the Croces’ and Babuscis’ scrumptious Northern Italian cuisine, Jim was as passionate about preparing sweetbreads and pastas as he was about playing his songs. Well, almost. But again, nothing was put down in writing. Good food was about trial and error and often depended on the talent or mood of the cook.
I had never used a formal recipe until our son, Adrian James, was born, and Jim Croce’s father gave me my first Fannie Farmer Cookbook. From that primer, I practiced making bread, roasted colorful legumes for frittatas, prepared hearty vegetable and chicken stocks, mixed organic salads, and baked fresh fruit pies.
During the summer of 1971, I became the chef in our family. Once I’d planted and harvested my first garden of sun-reddened tomatoes, burgundy eggplant, succulent zucchini, peppers, and basil, I was hooked on preparing our meals with gusto. While good food had always been important to me, the bounty that I grew myself and cooked fresh from the garden changed my lifestyle. It was the turning point in the way I looked at food.
As a city girl from Philadelphia who had always thrived on eating out at ethnic restaurants and fancy clubs, I was startled by how ordinary and yet extraordinary growing and preparing my own vegetables could be. Everything I sourced fresh from the soil tasted so delicious. And without making much of a fuss, I could humbly create healthy, tasty meals with ease.
When winter came that year, I was becoming finicky about the nourishment I put into my body. I wasn’t satisfied with the frozen and canned options our little Coatesville market offered. So in the spring of 1973, when Jim suggested we move to San Diego, I was excited and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy fresh herbs and vegetables year-round.
As a housewife and a mother, I practiced my cooking and pored over cookbooks as if they were novels. From Marion Cunningham to Fanny Flag, from Alice Waters to Annie Somerville, M.F.K. Fisher, and Richard Sax, I have dripped batter, spattered oil, salivated, and compared notes. As a cookbook junkie, I learned how raw becomes cooked, dredged, minced, and braised.
Then, in 1984, I opened my own restaurant and, out of necessity, started to write down my own family traditions. I costed my menus and wrote recipes, plate presentations, and food descriptions for training my staff.Over time and with the opportunity for travel and tasting edibles all over the world, I expanded Croce’s menus from “home cooking” to included the new and exciting recipes I found on my excursions.
Adding to these the generous contributions of Croce’s chefs, staff, family, and friends, I have built a lifetime repertoire of recipes, and these are the ones I share with you in this book. Whether you read all the stories in Thyme in a Bottle or just use the recipes, there are a few hints I’d like to offer.
First, there is no substitute for freshness. So follow the seasons and use nature’s bounty to determine which meal to prepare.Before you begin to cook, take time to source your markets for the quality foodstuff available. Then pick out your meal. Using the best recipes and good intentions won’t work at all if the ingredients aren’t fresh.
Next, there’s no need for pretense here. Food is about fun. It must be approachable, embraceable, capturing your heart and your spirit too. So make mistakes and learn from them. I do!
Remember, you have the rest of your life to practice. So relax and take your good old time to learn how to prepare the foods you love to eat. Keep in mind that “cooking time” refers to the length of time a dish takes to prepare. Manmade time has always been a difficult concept for me. So please, adjust the proper cooking time for my recipes to your own personal taste and pleasure. Allow yourself leisure to prepare your meals so you can smile and laugh and enjoy yourself while cooking and eating them too.
Consider the view of Thyme in a Bottle. If there’s never enough time to do the things you ant to do, then why not enjoy the time you have?
My first cookbook gave me courage to go a long way. I hope. In some small way, I can do that for you.
- Arlo Guthrie