Who knew a fellow with a personality like Jeffrey Steingarten projects on television would be a sucker for Fruitcake. As he states, not he, until he married his Mormon wife, a Smith.

What he doesn’t know is that, I, growing up in a Jewish household, had a mother who coveted her Christmastime fruitcakes. She made them for us, too, but there isn’t a recipe I can find to replicate hers. I do distinctly remember that she always marinated them in some kind of waxed paper and liquor for weeks.

So every year for the past ten, I am guilty of ordering one from the infamous Assumption Abbey Fruitcakes from the Trappist Monks.


I use the empty tins for buttons, Scrabble pieces and various other knickknacks. They come wrapped in prized round tin containers of 10 inches.

I treat these cakes like prized possessions and portion them out discriminately to discerning gourmands and usually for Chanukah. Of course the really good cakes can only be eaten in small slices, one bite at a time, they are so dense.

It would never don on me to break from tradition, but this year I might actually make use of the Smith Family white fruitcake recipe*.

Sitting here in the newborn sun the clouds have given birth to this last cruising day, the grill is ripe with the smell of hot dogs and fries. No, not the fries described in detail in that entitled chapter. These are not the fries of Paris, nor are they carefully cooked in horse fat.

I am able to commiserate with Steingarten’s deep love of horse fat. Even as I write this, in 2010, horse meat is very popular in Quebec. It is sold in specialty butcher shops in both the Jean Talon market and the Atwater. What I can’t get over is that not once does he mention Poutine.

That’s okay, though, because I can’t get over how disgusting I find this Quebecois dish. It boggles my mind that anyone with any kind of appreciation for the great French fry can eat a plate of poutine. I wonder what Steingarten thinks of poutine and if he has ever ate an order?

One of our table mates this past two weeks used to own an Inn in Devon, a seaside resort in Britain. She divulged to me her father’s celebrated recipe of fish and chips. The chips/fries are made from a potato that does not exist at home. The closest would be, we reckoned, the Yukon Gold. The sliced potatoes must be thoroughly washed of all their starch prior to frying.

Lard is used. It makes for the best tasting fish and chips, British style. She also dictated her Bread and Butter Pudding recipe. Yahoo!

So what am I to make of all the endless recipes that say to make a good French fry it must be fried twice. According to the recipe Monsieur Steingarten inserted in his chapter on the illustrious “fry”, Joel Robuchon only fries his potatoes once, in peanut oil, at a temperature of 300-350 degrees Fahrenheit?

Truth be said, for me it doesn’t really matter. Since childhood I have had instilled in me the absolute fear of eating anything fried. Fried foods meant fat kid. I was already a fat kid, and now as an Adult I can thank my late parents for the scars they permanently infused in my psyche with regards to any foods fried.

To this very day, when I eat Chinese, it becomes a conscious choice to have an eggroll and at that, and even then, it will be because at that very dinner I will have decided to go “off my diet”. Not that I am on a diet but that is the extent that eating a fried eggroll will do to me. Not quite like a recovering alcoholic but I suspect I go through some of the same thoughts in desiring what has been instilled in me not to have.

This in a family where every holiday is celebrated with fried carbohydrates!!  Hello Chanukah.

Amazing how, as parents, the power we hold over the introduction of food to our children and the ramifications of that. Our children should not be told they ‘cannot’ have – instead they should be told ‘they can’ but pay heed to how much and how often. Remember the forbidden is what they will always want, not unlike Adam and Eve.

Enough of my phobias and on to Jeffrey’s. In particular The Microwave.

There is no doubt, after reading this chapter, that Steingarten either attended MIT’s course on microwave technology or that he engaged a really good friend at NASA because I read about megahertz(es) and radar and parts per million and its relationship to the speed of light and how all of this relates to a Hershey Bar, fish and a pair of sneakers.

He re-created every kitchen test imaginable and produced a few unimaginable for this chapter on microwaves, God bless him.

Norene Gilletz, how could you have missed out on the above named recipes when you published Microways in 1989?

Unlike Jeffrey Steingarten who had minimal success using his in The Man Who Ate Everything, Norene had great success in using hers and teaching so many of us really great and delicious ways to make use of this new household appliance.


Montreal and now Toronto has a favorite sister who first introduced us years ago to this bible, when the first microwaves hit our Canadian consumer market. Her book still sits on my shelf, I still go to it, and it still lives in infamy on the shelf of every person I know in Montreal and every other person I don’t know. Microways is out of print.  It was the go-to book for every Montrealer lucky enough to own a microwave.

Norene wrote me: “MicroWays was written in 1989 and is now out of print and considered a collectible.”  Lucky Me.   I have one.

She also a couple of years later went on to write a comprehensive book on using the Food Processor called The Pleasures of Your Food Processor, first published in 1984 in the format below. (My most exciting memory is when she put the word out for help in reading and editing the book and I volunteered and sat in her living room reading and reading…wonder if she remembers that?  Not me, personally, but that she had helpers edit?)


Jeffrey just touched on that subject.  Food Processors I mean.

She is a Facebook friend (join her fan page), her grandson had his first nanny because of me, and ages ago I attended Cuisinart processor workshops held at the Cote St Luc Library.

Fish Without Fire (a named chapter in the book) basically tells me the microwave is good for fish. Except that my microwave is also a convection oven. Betcha didn’t count on that one comin’ Jeff!! Oh, and by the way since you have mentioned so many tips on this topic, I have one more: if you soak your fish in. milk before cooking it, your house won’t stink up of ‘fish smell’.

My nightmares began, AGAIN, when I read voraciously toward the hinterlands of the book. It stopped me dead in my tracks when the discussion he was having with us veered towards the pressure cooker. You see, a Pressure Cooker nearly killed me.

Yup, I was nearing 8 or 9 and my mother, a working mother, had come home and as always was rushing to prepare the family meal. I had not a clue what that contraption really was except that somehow I equated that humongous pot with danger.

I used to hear it hiss and let me tell you, shivers would go up my spine at the sound. It was damn scary. I didn’t know why my mother always approached it with caution and ten dishtowels in hand. I knew she had to u screw something, slowly….but that’s all I knew and in truth, never really paid much attention to the happenings in the kitchen off which my bedroom sat.

It took only one time- once…she didn’t wait long enough…the top of that mother-f__kr flew like a UFO out of hell directly toward my head in its way out the window, crashing everything in sight. Food flooded out like a tsunami hitting the ceiling with a force I still remember and this after two childbirths.

I live to tell this story but barely. I will never own a pressure cooker and I will never share the same room with one. And I will wait till Sous-vides come down in price: never.

Thanksgiving is hitting the United States soon, or maybe already has depending on when I can get this posted. Since the last chapter in this book is devoted to the almighty Turkey, and so is every food article and magazine this month, I will not go into the details. It’s a chapter on turkey…what more do you want…it’s a chapter on turkey.

How is it humanly possible for an educated nation like these United States of America to not know how to cook a turkey that every article, be it newspaper, magazine or internet, need still continue to teach and preach all things Turkey and its sides?

Although I do notice that lately a few items I am reading are straying away from the brining technique which some cooks have said actually dehydrates the turkey and has begun using dry salt rubs instead. Like all other industries, people need change and since we all know the brine method, now we must learn the dry rub style so that our 1-800-turkey hotliner’s have something new to study.

Jeffrey, you know that Mock Apple Pie made with Ritz crackers you query us on…I know someone who spent a life serving Mock Chopped Liver to her husband who suffered from high cholesterol, and to his dying day never knew.

*page 400 The Man Who Ate Everything.

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5 Responses to “Fruitcake (Me?), Fries and the Last 90 Pages of The Man Who Ate Everything”

  1. Sounds like a really good book. I’ve seen it in passing at the bookstore, but I think I may pick it up the next time I’m in one!

  2. It is truly timeless…except for the ‘slacks’ reference. :) )

  3. The fruitcake looks so pretty and festive – looks like something I could hang on the Xmas tree. ;p

  4. It wouldn’t last through the 12 days; it is mighty delicious…

  5. M’dear, I’ve enjoyed your ramblings so much !! You’ve also made me long for my Mums’ plum pudding. Your fruitcakes look and sound like her plum-pudding (actually Christmas pudding !!)-tons of dried fruit soaked in whiskey and beer and stored for ages before steaming .Makes the whole house smell real good !