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Recipes are on the Front Burner at Your Library

By Herb Gardener.

America’s public library system — “the people’s university” — has been educating and inspiring home cooks for generations, and it is still true today. For example, under the subject heading “cookery,” my county library system catalog serves up over 900 items.

Make a lunch date with the Dewey decimal system (641.5, to be precise) during National Library Week, April 11 to 17. Don’t be surprised to find your neighbor there, too. According to the American Library Association, there are more public libraries than McDonald’s restaurants, and library visits in 2008 approached 1.3 billion. I found those figures encouraging for foodies and the citizenry in general.

Newspapers, public schools and libraries nourished waves of 19th and 20th century immigrants hungry for freedom and prosperity. The recipes and food traditions that followed them are now enshrined in library collections both print and electronic.

A few of my recommendations? Don a lab coat or tweed jacket for On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. It’s a poignant, humorous and refreshingly snark-free memoir.

Jacques Pepin’s The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen chronicles the professional and personal arc of a genuine culinary adept and gentleman. As for movies, get our your library card and check out Big Night, starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. Food, lovingly and expertly prepared, is integral to the story and relationship of two Italian brothers whose restaurant teeters on collapse. The breakfast that closes Big Night is unforgettable.

The following recipe for Biblio-Barbeque Sauce is my paean to this enduring institution, the library. Live-fire maestro and popular cookbook author Steven Raichlen provided the core ingredients, to which I added ginger and other cranberry complements. The tart flavor profile is well suited to rubbed and grilled poultry.

1 14-ounce bottle ketchup

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup yellow mustard

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

1 tablespoon brown sugar (or more to taste)

½ medium Spanish onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup canned jellied cranberry sauce

¾ teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

pinch ground clove

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and pith removed, minced

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring or whisking frequently, until sauce is richly flavored. Once cool, I like to blend for a smoother consistency. The sauce will keep for weeks in a sealed, refrigerated container.

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