Page H. Onorato: What not to do in the kitchen ever

Page H. Onorato More Content Now
Page Onorato columnist The Dispatch

Oops, I made a big mistake.

I admit it. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column in praise of Irma Rombauer’s cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking.” In it, I mentioned preparing sauerbraten as a young homemaker, allowing as how I had let it marinate on top of the refrigerator “as suggested by the author,” as I recalled. But my memory had failed me.

Alas, marinating the beef on top of the fridge or anywhere else except inside of it was NEVER “suggested by the author.” Please do not do as I did, and let your beef sit around for three days un-chilled. We didn’t get sick from eating it, but the possibility of illness lurks in any such treatment.

That’s not the first mistake I made kitchen-column-wise, not by a long shot.

Several years ago, I received a phone call from a frantic reader. “Page,” she wailed. “What did I do wrong? I made Aunt Sister’s Hamburger Pickles from your recipe, and last night I opened a jar of them to serve for dinner. My son, who was visiting, took a bite of one and said, ‘Mother, what on earth did you do to these pickles?’ They were really awful, and I had to throw the whole batch out.”

I promised to look into the matter, and when I did, I discovered to my dismay that my recipe called for 4 quarts of vinegar instead of 4 cups, as the original read. Calling her back, I apologized and offered to reimburse her for the expense of her ingredients. Fortunately, she had a sense of humor and laughed, saying, “I’m just glad to know it wasn’t me that messed up.”

Then there was another time when the phone rang. “I’m wondering about this Butterscotch Pecan Pie recipe you put in the paper this week. It says to put 12 cups of pecans in the pie. My crust won’t hold that many pecans.”

Sure enough, when I checked the recipe it read “12 cups pecans.” “Oh, no,” I thought, envisioning scores of cooks shelling out big bucks to buy all those pecans and ending up with a disaster.

“Somehow,” I explained with my regrets, “the slash mark was omitted between the one and two. It should read 1/2 cup instead of 12.”

It’s the law of the written word that no matter how many times a piece of writing is proofread, mistakes occur. I check the copy, my editors check it, spell-checker gets a turn and still, once in a while, we goof.

I’m good at getting caught, though. Once I aroused the rage and indignation of a whole slew of local folks, mostly ladies, who were devoted to “the King.” I callously referred to his whole name as Elvis Alva Presley instead of Elvis Aaron, somehow confusing him with Thomas Alva Edison, I suppose. The ladies came down hard on me, threatening to draw and quarter me, tar and feather me and the like, in retribution of the blasphemy of their hero.

Another time I wrote about Newman’s Own products, boasting that my personal hero, Paul, donated profits gleaned from his line of goods to various charities. Unfortunately, I spelled it “prophets” instead of “profits,” conjuring up visions of bearded old fellows in hair shirts marching in a line into Goodwill stores everywhere.

But it’s the recipes we worry most about. We don’t want anyone using questionable ingredients or wasting their good money and time on a misprint, and we are very careful to avoid such.

There are times when an ingredient in a recipe is inadvertently omitted, like the flour in my delicious triple chocolate brownies (I caught this one, thank my stars). I didn’t catch the recipe that called for a teaspoon of sand instead of salt (spell-checker’s fault), but anybody with any common sense would know better.

At least I didn’t do what one newspaper recipe did, which is list half a cup of cilantro as half a cup of cement in a recipe for salsa.

Here’s to happy cooking and whatever you do, put your sauerbraten inside the refrigerator, not on top of it, to marinate.

Lexington (N.C.) Dispatch correspondent Page H. Onorato is a retired teacher.