The death of a respected colleague is always a cause of sadness. But when the person is Helen McCully, who died last week in New York, personal sadness is superseded by a realization that the loss touches persons in professional and home kitchens throughout this country and in her native Canada.
In person, this tiny woman who served as food editor for McCall's magazine and, for the past 10 years, House Beautiful, was amusing, enthusiastic and astonishingly candid. In print, she was informative and innovative, a wrecker of walls built with antiquated techniques and snobbery. Unlike too many others in the field, she genuinely wanted to help her readers know more and cook better.
Through her columns, through lectures and demonstrations with the talented French chef Jacques Pepin and in books such as "The Other Half of the Egg" and "Cooking With Helen McCully Beside You," she sought to make the techniques of cooking accessible to anyone who cared to learn them. With a curiosity and open-mindedness that made her seem considerably less than her 75 years, she found and unselfishly promoted new ideas, personalities and products.
Helen McCully was capable of malice, but never without forethought. She entertained as casually and gracefully as she wrote and even the briefest encounter, at a reception or ceremony, was likely to provide a spontaneous one-liner worthy of a professional comic. She had her causes as well, worthy ones, and her true antagonism was reserved for pretentiousness.
No doubt it gave her great joy to see Americans and Canadians begin to relax, experiment and enjoy cooking more in recent years. It should have, because it was a reflection of a mood she sought to create.