Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered
- Tod Davies
- Exterminating Angel Press
- 288 pp.
- Reviewed by Douglas Williams
- July 16, 2014
In this post-modern cookbook, Tod Davies provides a blueprint on how to cook with what you have in your kitchen.
In Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered, author Tod Davies aims to write a cookbook — one that doesn’t really tell the reader what to cook. Instead of being a cookbook in the traditional sense, Jam Today Too is intended as a blueprint on how to approach cooking on a daily basis: cooking what you need with what you’ve got on hand.
Throughout the book, Davies’ mantra is to prepare what you want in your particular and unique moment in time with what you have in your kitchen. Later she is more explicit. Davies does not believe in recipes per se. The concept is a didactic one. Her philosophy, and the term is undoubtedly apt, is that you should not attempt to duplicate, but have a different experience each time you cook. In this way, our preferences are increasingly crystallized with each iteration of a dish. It is an interesting concept yet an extremely tricky one when a book’s main purpose is instruction.
Readers will not doubt the author’s enthusiasm for her subject nor her credentials, which are unimpeachable. A love of food emanates from every page. She loves tripe tacos, uses the oil that anchovies are packed in readily as an ingredient, and instructs readers on how to make their own salt cod. She is a roll-your-sleeves-up foodie of the highest order.
Many of the dishes sound sumptuous, and she uses a vast array of ingredients. She espouses the local and sustainable ethos in an unaffected manner. She drops the name of the woman she gets her eggs from on a regular basis. It is very important to her that the cook is a part of the ecological system of the community, and vice versa.
The prose is best described as a series of anecdotal recipes. Each dish is part of a single organic experience. She cooks for the bereaved, without a full kitchen, for a friend with a cold, and for countless other specific situations. And her tone is quite conversational. In fact, she uses interjections, asides to the reader, and parentheticals with dizzying regularity — all in an effort to strike this conversational tone.
However, that conversation can be rather confused and frenetic. And Davies overwhelms readers with a lot of recipes. She seems so excited to relay them that sometimes they are rushed, which may contribute to the short-hand impression they give.
If readers are not regular cooks, I am afraid they may be completely lost if they actually have the intention of making these dishes. The recipes are awfully muddled, by design to some extent, but some things are simply missing. For example, while Davies’ recipe for a grilled cheese, slathered with butter, Dijon mustard, and aged cheddar and Jack cheeses, with fried eggs and greens for dinner sounds delectable, she omits one key detail: grill each side evenly. If readers, following Davies’ instructions, brown one side of the sandwich, flip it, and then proceed to set the table, crack four eggs, heat a pan, melt the butter, fry the eggs, cover the pan for seven minutes, and assume the sandwich will be golden brown on both sides, then they will be in for a rude awakening. The recipe for twice-baked potatoes is similarly misleading because she fails to mention that you should let the potatoes cool after baking before scraping out the insides to make a filling — a step that increases your chance of success and decreases your chance of being burned.
Davies also does not provide set amounts or ingredients for anything. She often writes that you should use as much as you want to eat of a main ingredient, and flavor it as much as you want with the suggested other ingredients. There are alternatives suggested often, perhaps too often. Again novices may be a bit stumped, while more experienced hands, already having their own preferences, may crave more specificity to win them over.
Davies’ enthusiasm is quite winning. As a fellow foodie, I appreciated the savoring of all sorts of edibles. However, that same enthusiasm was, at times, the book’s biggest hurdle. The narrative has a tendency to bounce around endlessly. She interrupts herself and then adds something else in the middle of the interruption in parentheses. It is all clearly an effort to affect an air of friendly chattiness, and while it works to an extent, it also tends to muddy the waters. In fact, the affectation can be downright exasperating. The first few times she refers to her spouse as the “Beloved Vegetarian Husband” is sweet, but after two chapters, it seems like it could be the basis for an insidious drinking game.
On a side note, in the closing chapter, she makes some extremely interesting insights about the assumptions that post-feminist society has made about the hierarchical importance assigned to traditionally gender-specific tasks.
As the book draws to a close her vision does become clear. This is a post-modern cookbook. That raises the question of whether such a thing is feasible. Results are not set but subject to a limitless number of variables. It is an estimable supposition. A book on instruction that strives not to be pedantic also seems inherently contradictory. Davies often likes to tell you that you will “have your own ideas.” Indeed, I already did. Jam Today Too is best read as a somewhat meandering and convivial love letter to food, but not for specific instruction, especially for the uninitiated.
Douglas DeKoven Williams was born and raised in
Connecticut. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Institute of
Culinary Education. After graduating cooking school, he was a private chef in
New York City for Itzhak Perlman, among others. He was the Location Chef on the
ESPN 30 for 30 film “Unmatched.” Currently he is the sous chef at one of Long
Island’s most prestigious yacht clubs. In addition to his cooking experience,
he also was an associate production editor for Greenwood Publishing Group.