May 112013

Canal House cookbook

Felicitazioni!… Hooray!… Toot-toot-toot!… Honk-honk!… Bing-bong!… Cling-clang!

Photo: Nathan Hoyt

Photo: Nathan Hoyt

Bravissime, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, my friends and photographers, for winning the culinary world’s 2013 cookbook Oscars for Canal House Cooks Everyday in the category of general cooking.

Canal House

The Canal House, on the Delaware and Raritan Canal, Lambertville, New Jersey.
Photo: Julia della Croce

If my readers don’t already know about Christopher (who, by the way, is a “she,” not a “he”) and Melissa, they might start by reading their new book’s foreward, by Julia Child as dictated to Amanda Hesser “from beyond”:

  I’ve been an enthusiastic admirer of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton since they were at Saveur magazine in the 1990s; two forthright women on a mission to cook. They were part of a dream-team that created a wonderful magazine that felt both wordly and unique to them. I loved the realism of their photos. I wanted to lick the pages!

….their partnership–women gathering to cook and to share their recipes–reminds me so much of my years with Louisette and Simca. We’d pile into the kitchen and Roo de Loo in Paris, with its coal stove, which I called the “monster,” and work fish through the tamis for quenelles and hand-whisk meringues, taking notes and chatting away. Paul was our photographer and we were cooking to perfect our understanding of French cuisine.

In Christopher and Melissa’s case, Christopher is the photographer and Melissa the illustrator, and there is no particular cuisine they are after. They cook what suits them–ripe tomato sandwiches, pan-fried pork chops to go with bitter greens, ribbons of pasta with fresh peas and scallions, and tart grapefruit marmalade cake. And that is what we should all be doing, and we should be doing it in a place that feels like our own. For them, Canal House is clearly the spot. I hope you will find yours. On y va!

–Canal House Cooks Everyday, Foreward

I can hardly add anything to this tribute spirited from Julia Child except to say that Christopher and Melissa are two of the finest cooks I have ever known, the finer because they don’t gussy up their cooking, or concoct or succumb to food fads, or resort to tricks like molecular gastronomy to seduce you. Their classic yet spirited food has a sophistication that can only come from mastery and a profound understanding of ingredients and the best way to use them; from an open-mindedness about the world of food and a desire to infect you with their  happiness, which, I think, is derived from a delight in how they spend their days cooking and eating in tune with the seasons, procuring food from the local farmers and artisans, and producing their exquisite cookbooks. I always feel happy when I’m at the Canal House, or when I’m flipping through the pages of Christopher and Melissa’s cookbooks. I laughed with recognition when Jim Hamilton, Melissa’s father and proprietor of Hamilton’s Grill Room just downstairs, told me a day doesn’t pass by when he doesn’t hear peals of laughter coming from behind the doors of their studio just across the hall from his own. If you have only their shiny, big new red book, you hardly need any other–except for a few good books on Italian cooking, of course!

You can read about the Canal House and order their books here.

Christopher and Melissa made this, my all-time favorite ham recipe, for their book-launching party.

Baked Ham with Golden Bread Crumbs, which has become my all-time favorite ham recipe, at Christopher and Melissa’s book-launching party.



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