WE COOKBOOK ADDICTS are a small but fervent fringe out here among the book nuts. Just paste a pile of recipes between two covers and you've got us hooked. Well . . . almost hooked, anyway. Because browsing is not the same as buying. And only a small and rigidly screened trickle of the year's vast outpouring is fit to be let in the house - let alone into the kitchen, with Julia and Irma and Craig. To muscle their way close to my stove, they've got to have some new angles that seem worth trying; directions that any half-wit can follow (using groceries I don't have to go to Sikkim for); and not one recipe that calls for dumping canned mushrooms over frozen string beans.
By these modest standards, today's four books have the sound of a promising crop. You like to think that summer eating should be lighter, easier, and somehow different from the rest of the year; vegetables are the season's dominant theme, even if you eat meat, and any summer farmer engulfed by his own tomatoes will be grateful for any hint that canning and freezing may not be as complicated as he thought.
In Summer Feasts , the fattest and chewiest of the two "summer" cookbooks, Molly Finn offers guidance to "leisurely and festive meals" without long steamy hours at the stove. Her basic precepts, laid out in advance, are to avoid the oven (or stay out of the kitchen when it's lit); prepare ingredients in advance and store them in the fridge; plan menus in the market, when you can see what's ripe and good (and maybe even cheap), and cook more than you need for one meal - to serve cold later or use for picnics.Be bold about serving hot foods cold and unexpected courses, she writes. "A small piece of pumpernickel covered with fresh sweet butter, a thin slice of cold steak and a good grinding of pepper would make a delightful first course for a meal of fish soup."
She includes a couple of real artery-cloggers, like Butter-Stuffed Hard-cooked Eggs. Some of her suggestions - like Calf's Foot Jelly and Rillettes de Porc-seem a rather complicated approach to the "freshness and simplicity" that she says are the "keynotes of good summer food," and the Indiana Succotash ("the ultimate summer dish"), which involves scraping the kernels off a hot ear of corn into a steaming bowl of cooked cranberry beans sounds like stickier work than it's worth. But most of her recipes give you the feeling that you don't have to be Paul Bocuse to put them together, and they should make enjoyable fare when they're done.
There is an attention to zucchini (as soup base and caviar; in bread, meatballs, flan and pancakes; mixed with ham and rice, or with hot and sweet peppers, or stuffed) that shows she has had real experience with this green glut. She warns you ahead about problems (wear gloves when you chop hot peppers; watch the scorch factor with the Bearnaise sauce) - which most cookbook writers tend to ignore. They mostly just hand you the chute, push you out the plane door, and good luck. She also assembles and eclectic collection of ethnic summer coolers that you'd otherwise need about six cookbooks (or an efficient filing system) to put together. There is Schav, the Jewish soup made from sorrel, sour cream and cucumbers; Seviche, the South American way of cooking fish with lemon juice rather than heat; the Italian Vitello Tonnato, to say nothing of Ratatouille and Aioli ("a very garlicky mayonnaise") from the south of France. She tells you how to make yourown yogurt without mumbo jumbo or special pots. By the time she gets to plumpernickel - a refrigerated dessert made with thin pumpernickel slices and cooked plums served with Creme Fraiche (which she also tells you how to make), you feel she's earned a respectable place on your recipe reading list - and even in your summer kitchen, where the action is.
The author of The Summer House Cookbook runs a public relations firm in New York, and her book has the sprightly packaging that you mightexpect. She presents her advice on summer entertaining "with style, without frenzy" in the form of a "menu cookbook," because "certain foods go marvelously with other foods, such as Spinach Soup and Minnesota Fried Pike."
Her breakfast menus ("Morning Glories") begin with Mandarin Oranges in Champagne, followed by Blueberry Apple Pancakes with Walnut Syrup - and powdered coffee. Other eye-openers in this group include a crabmeat, green pepper, tomato and onion omelet; marinated steak & poached eggs; and melons with rum and broiled bluefish.
Assuming you're hungry by ("Midday Magic") lunchtime, she suggests Broccoli, Zucchini and Onion Fritters, with a dessert of ginger snaps, grapes and Gourmandise cheese; or crabmeat with Yogurt and Sour Cream Sauce with Endive, Cauliflower, Bermuda Onion and Water Chestnut Salad. Peach Mousse Espresso, another noontime dessert, calls for mixing a quart of coffee ice cream with a package of peach Jell-O.
For picnics ("Inspired Hampers"), she favors the leftovers from last night's cocktail hour. You can also take along Cold Honeydew Soup, Herb Pita (laced with Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt); canned chick peas with mint; Curried Summer Squash Soup; eggs mixed with Roquefort, or a Chilled Fresh Pea Soup made with heavy cream, mint, chicken broth and a cup of dry champagne. "With a smorgasbord of soup, dips, salads and spreads, your menus has taken a quantum leap into the gourmet," she says.
Well-meaning friends may attempt to slip this book into your summer house. Don't say you haven't been warned.
"Vegetarian" cooking makes some people feel as threatened as the "Thank You for Not Smoking" signs. But in fact a new generation of vegetarian cooks has brought a fresh perspective to the genre, with an exuberant spectrum of tastes and textures borrowed and adapted from India, China, the Middle East and other farflung feeding grounds. The Vegetarian Feast is an intriguing and practical variation on the theme. Martha Rose Schulman Combines the enthusiasm of her 29 years with the hardearned shortcuts acquired from her vegetarian catering business in Austin, Texas. She shows you quick ways to slice avocados, peel pineapples, seed cucumbers and chop onions without losing a thumb. She tells you how long things take to make and how to serve them attractively when they're done. Her recipes begin with an unusual collection of breads, from a rye-oatmeal with Postum in it to a cranberry-anadama. From there she ranges through snacks and hors d'oeuvres, soups, main dishes, grain and legume side dishes, salads and dessert - giving nearly everthing some highly personal twist. She makes a leaner version of quiche, using milk mixed with spray-dried milk instead of cream. She does a lowcal mayonnaise using tofu (which I tried and it's delicious), and has developed her own dramatic version of "Tex-Mex" chalupas. Even the most dedicated carnivore might enjoy this refreshing approach to the summer's vegetable harvest.
Which brings us to Marilyn Kluger, whose Preserving Summer's Bounty fearlessly tackles the summer crop surplus. Kluger writes for Gourmet magazine, teaches classes on foods, runs a country store in Newburgh, Indiana, and was brought up on a farm, where they raised their own fruits, vegetables, meat and milk; ground their own flour from their own wheat; spread their toast with honey from their own bees, and churned their own ice cream - while her mother put up some 500 jars of produce a year. Reading her lavish "remembrance of the canning season" of yesterday, when "ruby-throated humingbirds . . . hovered over the petunias, sipping nectar," the armchair canner can enjoy at a safe distance the arduous ceremonies of scrubbing and rinsing the jars and storing them upside down "in sparkling readiness" for the perfect peaches they will contain.
The bad news is that wresting this liscious fare into sealed containers is tricky - even dangerous - work. One false move and you could wipe out a whole church supper.
Kluger lays it on the line. Maybe you flunked Chemistry I, but if you get through "Choosing and Using Canning Equipment" without a firm grip on the perils of low-acid foods, go back to square one and stay there until you do. You should also know the altitude where you live (to adjust your cooking time) and that your pressure gauge works. If the deadly Clostridium obtulinum spores don't get you, there are thermophile bacteria, molds yeasts and enzymes, all poised to grab you by the throat if there's a flaw in your techniques.
With the caveats cleared out of the way, the book supplies charts, recipes, hints and explanations for canning, freezing and drying, with a list of sources or further materials. It is altogether a solid, clear and helpful piece of work, and I just hope that all my city friends will read it before they bring me back those sticky jars that hold the fruits of their first joyous summer around the compost heap. CAPTION: Illustrations 1, and 2, no caption