On Cookbooks Part 2

 

Howard Mitcham’s Provincetown Seafood Cookbook

 In the last Blog Post on cookbooks I shared some general thoughts on how to find volumes that will be enjoyable and useful to you. In this post we’ll look at what is certainly my favorite cookbook.

One Saturday afternoon in the winter of 1975, while walking from a movie theater to the pinball arcade on Washington Street, in what was then known as The Combat Zone in Boston, my friend and I stopped in at the Barnes and Noble. I was 21 then and enjoyed browsing in bookshops just to see what I might come up with. There was a large series of shelves near the front exhibiting the new stuff and the cover of Mitcham’s book immediately caught my eye. Jackson Lambert’s, drawing of P’town on the halfshell, its’ houses, churches and pier, with a large cod lurking behind it was the kind of whimsy I could appreciate.

I picked it up, spent ten minutes thumbing through it, reading the introduction and the recipes and knew that I’d found my guy. Mitcham drew the marginal art which remains fun and endearing in the extreme. But it was the recipes that grabbed me. His combination of French, Italian and general “American” cooking was mouth-watering, but this was my first in-depth introduction to Portuguese cuisine, for which Provincetown was well known.

I bought the book, and while we went to the arcade and spent an hour there playing pinball and various other games, I couldn’t wait to get home so I could read my new find. That evening after dinner I sat in front of the television to read it. The TV was largely ignored as I learned about Pepper Pickled Quahogs, Portugee Style Stuffed Quahogs, Moules Mariniere, Lobster Fra Diavolo and the greatest dish of all, Squid Stew. There were many more recipes, of course, with tips and thoughts on how best to treat the myriad denizens of the sea of which Mitcham was so profoundly enamored and familiar. His passion was transmitted to me as though by electric current and remains to this day.

Howard Mitcham has been described as the first of the celebrity chefs. I think that’s inaccurate. He might be better described, to borrow Hunter S. Thompson’s appellation, as the first of the gonzo chefs, Mitcham was a big fish in a little pond. His hard drinking and wild antics were legendary. Continue reading “On Cookbooks Part 2”