Renny Darlings's

A Personal Memoir

 

The world of food is the world of love. For the past 36 years, I have dedicated myself to sharing with others one of life's loving pleasures. I have never been able to keep a culinary secret...and I never will. My life is an open cookbook...so to speak. But so many of you have written asking about my personal life, how I started, where I get my inspiration, I thought, perhaps, some of my fans spanning these 36 years would like to hear a few words about how it all began.

My love affair with food started with my earliest memories. I was born into a family where food played a central role. My Mom, who never had a cooking lesson, was the most incredible and consistent cook and baker. Born in Greece, she cooked in the style of the Mediterranean with a strong emphasis on Greek, Spanish, French and Italian cuisines. (She was also fluent in these languages, which never failed to amaze me.)

How she developed such a varied repertoire that spanned the continent of Europe, is a wonder for me. How she instinctively knew about the chemistry of food, what to combine and how to combine it, still amazes me. She was the perfect cook and baker. Her breads were always perfect, her pastries divine, her filos to dream about, her vegetables always interesting and complex, combined with rhythm and pertinence. If you wonder what I mean by pertinence...she never added an ingredient because "it was there", but rather orchestrated a dish with a thought to balancing flavors and textures, and to create harmony.

She never added gourmet touches, unless they FIT and enhanced the dish. No frivolous touches like chopped almonds here, or a dash of cream there. Every ingredient she used was essential to the tapestry she wove. And all this came from the roots of her being, for she never used a recipe or a cookbook, that I recall. As I wrote in one of my cookbooks, she truly had "golden hands and loving arms." My Dad, deeply loved good food, too, and as he owned a restaurant, food was central to his life. He ran the restaurant, but my mother reigned over the chefs and she shared with them all her exquisite recipes. My, that was a long time ago.

In the early 50's, I became a fanatic about food. I don't know why, but I was driven to make every dish I had ever tasted...with one important difference. I was dedicated to simplifying the preparation to make life easier for the cook.

My Mom made everything from scratch and worked so hard in the kitchen. She never used canned vegetables or made tuna fish sandwiches. (Often I wondered what it was that most of the children ate at school, something brownish, with purple jelly, between slices of white bread.) I often craved to taste a peanut butter and jelly sandwich...which I finally did, but as an adult...but I "deleted the jam, added honey, sliced bananas, yellow raisins and a faint sprinkling..." (I always had to improve a recipe.) We almost always had to come home for lunch...to lunches like lamb chops with creamed spinach
and roasted potatoes. Dinner always included a salad course, fish course and a meat course with at least 3 desserts to choose from. Two huge refrigerators and 2 cavernous freezers were always stocked and filled to the brim.

But my Mom had no time for herself and I always felt very guilty and sad to see her work so hard. Yet eating was always such a pleasure for our incredibly large family and many friends. And these two ideas were the seeds that formed my philosophy about cooking easy and eating grand.

The opening lines in the original "Joy of Eating" were

"I must confess I do not like to chore in the kitchen one bit more than necessary...but I do love and adore delicious food prepared in an exciting and different manner.

"THE JOY OF EATING originated out of these two notions...the desire for exquisite tasting dishes, that could prepared in the minimum amount of time. This book is dedicated to the preparation of delectable dishes with minimum technique.

"The main emphasis is TASTE...rich, glorious and pleasurable...with recipes that promise to get you out of the kitchen in a hurry."

And to this day, 36 years and 15,000 recipes later, my work still reflects this philosophy...delicious food prepared in the least amount of time, or simply stated,
COOKING EASY EATING GRAND

My original recipe for souffles came about by a rather humorous occurrence. It was in August of 1954. (I remember the date, not because I have a good memory, but because that was the month I made the first breakfast for my friend, Harry, who is now my husband.) But it is a cute story and and worth telling because my very glamorous Chocolate Souffle and Souffle au Grand Marnier and Souffle au Cappuccino really had a humble beginning.

Harry came to our home early one morning, and it was easy to see he hadn't eaten breakfast. He answered "Oh yes." before I finished the question "Would you like a little breakfast...?"

Well, now what to do!!! I didn't exactly know how my Mom prepared her omelets...but I did know she used cream cheese so often with eggs... So, I whipped together 5 eggs (3 for Harry and 2 for me), 1/2 pound of cream cheese, loosened the mixture with milk and then wondered, whether to cook the omelet on top of the stove or in the oven. I thought for a minute and decided on the oven, just in case there was a mess, no one would see it, but me...and I could always clean it up, later.

Lo! and behold, what emanated out of the oven was the most gorgeous, delicious souffle, and to this day, it is the basis of all my souffles. No separating eggs, no making a white sauce, no beating egg whites separately and at the last minute, and best of all, with later experimenting, I found it could be assembled in advance and baked before serving. Harry says, to this day, that it was the best omelet he ever tasted and it was then, he decided to
marry me. We were married later that year.

Anyway, to go on, since August of 1954 I started to cook a storm. My first dinner party in 1954 was the u-l-t-i-m-a-t-e gourmet discovery, an Indian Curry Dinner. My second was German Sauerbraten with Dumplings and Red Cabbage. Everybody thought they were on another planet. When I made an Indonesian Rice Table everybody fainted. I kept copious notes and these menus appeared 14 years later, in 1968, the first year of the ROMC . And oddly enough, they were pretty advanced for 1968, also.

During this same time, I was blessed with 3 treasures, Joey, Jeffy and Debby, who are the joys of my life and whom I love very, very much. I must have been a very good person in a past life to have been so lucky to have them.

In 1964, my girlfriend, asked me for a menu for a dinner party she was having. I gave her my recipes for Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Wine Sauce, Spiced Apricots with Walnuts, and a simple Steamed Broccoli with Butter. The next day she called to say that dinner was the biggest hit, and someone at her party wanted to call me for a menu for a brunch she was having. And that is how it all began.

For the next 5 years I received calls from friends, and then friends of friends, and then friends of friends of friends, asking for recipes and menus. I never minded and was happy to share my recipes and menus with total strangers. And it was Sheila who gave me the idea for the Recipe Club. She thought I should print up my recipes and share them through a club for a nominal amount. Please accent the word "nominal" because I first charged $1.00 for a 3-month membership. Needless to say, it was a very expensive hobby. But I loved the fan letters and the raves, and all the happiness they expressed, and I was very content with that arrangement.

When I started the Recipe Club in 1968, I had 14 years of intense dedication to food. I was very creative at that time, young and energetic, and my mind was ablaze with new and exciting variations of the classics. Even in my sleep, it would not stop. The title for "The Joy of Eating" came about in my sleep. One morning, I found the title written on the pad, next to my bed. Below it was a scribble for an incomplete Lamb Glaze. I saved that little bit of paper all these years, for as you probably have guessed, I am intensely sentimental and I save every little memento, so as not to trust my memory.

The recipes that appeared in the original "Joy of Eating" were actually first created during 1954 to 1968 and first appeared in 1968, when the Recipes-of-the-Month Club first started. "The Joy of Eating" and "The Love of Eating" contained the best recipes that appeared in that newsletter, so beloved to me and to thousands of my fans, from 1968 to 1975...plus lots of new recipes, too. It was a very personal newsletter and many of the members corresponded with me regularly after each issue.

The newsletter continued until 1988, when the cost to produce it became prohibitive. I recall how sad I felt when the letters were sent out advising the members that we were not going to visit together each month. And then, the letters so many of you wrote, urging me to continue, really saddened me, too. I received thousands of letters stating the same sentiment. That the newsletter made them feel happy, and they felt as if I was there, in their kitchen, visiting with them every month.

To this day, I still receive letters with checks, asking me to start the club again. Each month, the ROMC newsletter, contained 16 to 20 pages and about 30 recipes, plus cooking tips, food tips, special lessons and whatever else I felt the members would benefit by knowing.

During those 20 years, I offered over 7500 recipes, which were not compiled, but carefully created, to be quick and easy to prepare, and a pure joy to eat, and I do not believe I duplicated myself more than a handful of times.

When I look back at those early issues, I must admit, the recipes were really ahead of their time. Imagine, 36 years ago, Creme Fraiche made easy, souffles and breads in minutes, croissants and puff pastry made quick and easy, magnificent cakes and tortes to stir and bake...the concept of a Quick & Easy Cuisine was unheard of in the 50's, and quite innovative for the 60's. And now everybody, everywhere (including the people I spoke to in every nation in Europe) want to COOK EASY AND EAT GRAND. The idea of Quick Cook, Fast Cook, Cooking in Minutes is very prevalent today. And most major cookbook authors have included this concept in their writings. But when I first started simplifying the great cuisines in the early 50's, it was very new, indeed.

During that time, regional food was the mainstay of American kitchens, and roast turkey, ham or beef were the hallmarks of holiday dinners...pot roast and meat loaf were the family traditions.

For the past 36 years, I have dedicated myself to sharing with others, the joy, the excitement I feel about one of the loving pleasures of life. I could never, never abandon the world of food. And I shall consider it fitting and divine, if on my deathbed, my last words would be those of Pierette, sister of Brillat Savarin...who died at the table shortly after her hundredth birthday...

"Bring on the dessert...I think I am about to die."

As I have stated so many times before, cooking is a labor of love, but when you take away the labor, all that's left is LOVE.

And love is what I feel, for the tens of thousands of you, who have written me the most "unabashed love letters", and who have brought joy into my days and happiness into my life. How happy I am that I have been able to touch upon your life, and bring you some pleasure and joy as well. My dearest friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends...I embrace you...all.

Renny Darling

 

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