Monday, February 22, 2016

The Art Of Chinese Cooking

Well loved!

The above little gem, The Art Of Chinese Cooking, belonged to my Grandma Flo. It was written by three American nuns who were missionaries in China. Two were sent to the Catholic University of Peking in 1930. They later went to Kaifeng in the Honan Province, where a third Sister joined them in 1936.

By December 1941, the Japanese army was occupying Kaifeng. Two hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), these Benedictine Sisters were sent to a civilian concentration camp. The only thing they said about the camp was this:  "Fancy cooking was out, but we could always dream about Chinese food."

After the war the Sisters returned to Kaifeng, but unfortunately peace didn't last long. When the Communists came, the Sisters left for Shang-hai, and then fled to the island of Formosa (Taiwan). In 1950 the American Consul, fearing that Formosa was too dangerous, insisted that the group of three Sisters leave for Japan.

The Sisters had literally nothing when they arrived in Tokyo. A bishop and some friends encouraged them to open a cooking school that focused on the culinary skills they had learned in China. It was an immediate success and quickly grew to 150 students a week!

In 1956 the Sisters published The Art Of Chinese Cooking through the Charles E. Tuttle Company. They revised their recipes for ingredients more easily found in the United States. They also made a note that these are dishes one would find in a home in northern China, not necessarily restaurant-style dishes.

The book is delightful, peppered throughout with Chinese proverbs. The Sisters not only include the Chinese characters for their dishes, but they give the Mandarin Romanization, as well. The recipes read as if a Sister were standing in your kitchen telling you what to do:  There are no lists of ingredients followed by numbered instructions. There is also an assumption in their writing that the cook using their book is familiar with making gravies, meringues, and frying foods.

To make the recipes more user friendly for the modern day cook, I've adapted the recipes to have an ingredients list. I also added notes to the instructions whenever I think they might be too vague for someone who has never had a home economics class.

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