OK, to be more accurate, the present for my June 1991 wedding to my husband John came from a woman named Althea King, who was a friend of my parents and who was the wife of my high school counselor, Curt King.
The wedding present was this copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Mrs. King, who lived here in Walnut Creek was neighbors of Cunningham, so apparently she went around to Cunningham’s house or something like that and asked her to sign it before she and her husband presented it to us. Cunningham recommended we try cooking the Thing Yellow Cornmeal Pancakes on page 548 and topping them Salsa Verde, which is a concoction of garlic, cilnatro, jalapeno pepper and tomatillos.
We never got around to making the pancakes, though I’ve used the cookbook plenty of times over the years. The page with Cunningham’s signature has a few stains on it, and was stuck to another page. I forgot about the signature until today when I read in the newspaper that Cunningham, one of the leading forces in culinary culture over the past 40 years, had died Wednesday morning at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She was 90.
Cunningham’s goal with the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and her culinary classes was to demystify cooking, according to the SF Chronicle. Her story should also be an inspiration to any of us who wonder if it is ever possible to reinvent one’s life. She didn’t enter professional cooking until she was 50. Before that she had been a housewife, cooking meals in her Walnut Creek ranch house. She was also a recovering alcoholic and agoraphobic.
She championed home cooking long before Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart, became a mentor to many of the nation’s food giants, published seven more books and hosted a TV show on the Food Network. One of her “discoveries,” Alice Waters, told the Chronicle: “Marion never thought cooking was a lofty activity. She was plainspoken and warm and that unpretentiousness shone through in her approach to food.”
This weekend’s project: Make cornmeal pancakes with salsa verde.