A Culinary Luminary: Perla Meyers

We all know who Julia Child and Alice Waters are and regardless how we feel about them, we can pretty much agree that they have had an enormous influence on America's home cooks. Even if you've never cracked open a cookbook by Alice Waters, It's likely that have bought a bag of prewashed 'mesculn' salad in the grocery store or have roasted a head of garlic in your oven.

It takes just a few minutes with one of Perla Meyers' cookbooks to understand that she, too, was a forerunner in the European influenced, farm-to-table, fresh seasonal ingredients way of cooking that has continued to gain popularity with today's cooks.

Who is Perla Meyers and why should you look her up? Read on for more information.

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Perla Meyers is a cookbook author and cooking teacher who was most active in the 70s through the 90s. She published her first cookbook, The Seasonal Cook: A Return to Fresh Food, in 1973 and followed it with 9 other titles over the next 30 years, two of them gardening books. Her last book, How to Eat a Peach, came out in 2003. She's an American cook but has spent much of her life in Europe, which clearly has had an influence on her cooking. Ms. Meyers attended the Ecole Hoteliere in Switzerland, studied baking and confection at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, and received a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

She has taught cooking classes all over the world and has written for The New York Times, Fine Cooking, Eating Well, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine Magazine. Most of her earlier books are out of print but it's not too hard to find used copies in second hand bookstores.

If you stumble on one, I highly recommend that you find a comfy chair and sit down for a nice read. Just don't be surprised if you end up taking the book home with you! Many can be found online for just a few dollars, as well.

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A few of Ms. Meyers' recipes have gone out of fashion, it's true. As with any 'vintage' cookbook, you have to be careful with some of the opinions presented as availability of ingredients, tastes and information may have changed. For example, in The Seasonal Kitchen, Ms. Meyers suggests rinsing the rice before using it for a risotto or meticulously wiping down each mushroom with a paper towel, both commonly held understandings of how to work those ingredients at that time.

Here's a wonderful review of her book The Art of Seasonal Cooking from Kirkus Reviews:

Eighteen years after her first book, the well-regarded Perla Meyers' Seasonal Kitchen, and 12 years since her last major one, Perla Meyers' From Market to Kitchen Cookbook, this Spanish-born American author is still extolling local seasonal produce but also drawing on the global pantry that has become available in the interim. The present collection, still seasonally arranged, embraces both old-fashioned and nouvelle concepts, owes much to French and Italian motifs, and tends to company fare, dressed up in sauces, "marmalades'' (not necessarily sweet or fruity), and various mixed toppings and trimmings. But none of this is tricky or elaborate, nor are Meyers's combinations capricious. Her hefty compilation of dishes, from soy-sauced black-bean salad or double- squash soup to roasted red-pepper quiche or veal medallions with chanterelles and apples, is well timed to meet an emerging demand for dishes that are original but not outre and meals that are a little more formal than the snappy, emphatic features of the 80's but lighter and easier than the gourmet clunkers of a generation past.

What impresses me most is Ms. Meyers' unrelenting passion for seasonal cooking and for teaching people how to cook. She would often begin her cooking classes at the grocery store or farmers' market, teaching her students the knowledge and flexibility to cook around available ingredients. I just love the picture of her on the cover of The Seasonal Kitchen (above), striding confidently down the street carrying her sack of groceries and market bag, looking very Mary Tyler Moore with her trench coat and optimistic smile.

I'm not sure where Perla Meyers is today or if she is still offering classes but here are a few ways to discover her on the internets.

The Baltimore Sun
The Culinary Cellar
Eating Well Magazine
Serious Eats
Fine Cooking Magazine
The New York Times

Related: Honey Ginger Balsamic Glazed Beets

(Images of the interior of The Seasonal Kitchen : Dana Velden)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.