Simple Cooking is a collection of newsletters that John Thorne wrote out of his home kitchen, investigating pleasure and food and eating and cooking. The aim of these essays is to understand and enjoy a dish that lets its ingredients shine, that's pared down to its component parts—to let something to stand on its own as a basic yet refined experience.
Simple Cooking is a book about understanding: what a dish is, how it came to be, what the conversations throughout history have been on the topic. The idea behind Simple Cooking is that if we listen to all the voices, if we immerse ourselves in the conversations between cookbooks and authors and recipes, we will come to a deeper, perhaps intuitive understanding of a dish. And through Thorne’s prose and our own process, perhaps a better understanding of history, place, and ultimately ourselves.
The recipes in this book and their attendant conversations inspire a sense of curiosity that translate into an immediate need to get into the kitchen and make whatever dish you’re reading about. A macaroni and cheese recipe highlights the power of memory and nostalgia in the kitchen, and also offers a way of preparing the dish so different from my childhood version that I want to make Thorne’s recipe and then eat it with my mother and sister, picking apart the differences; a discussion of cocoa versus hot chocolate crosses cultures from the author’s eating Marshmallow Fluff in his cabin in Maine to rich Spanish hot chocolate to bitter, sugarless cocoa in London with a dexterity so subtle you don’t realize you’ve just been taken on a trip; a very brief chapter on potato soup is so thoroughly enchanting it leaves you wanting only the delicate, clear flavors of Thorne’s potato soup for dinner tonight.
Thorne’s voice is like a revelation. He writes with preferences and curiosity and humor, and even when I disagree with him (I happen to like zucchini, which Thorne vehemently does not), I don’t feel any judgment. He is always in conversation with the past, and yet his observations and sentences feel timeless. He is a sophisticated thinker and cook and writer, but his thoughts and recipes and words have a clarity that transcends both his historical moment and his subject. He simplifies things—history, bibliography, recipes—and the experience is engrossing and energizing and peaceful. He describes simple pleasures so beautifully that in doing so his words become simple pleasures themselves.