For me, the enjoyment of food is divided into three categories: 17 percent cooking-pleasure, 17 percent eating-pleasure, and 71 percent rummaging-pleasure. “71 percent!” you protest. “For rummaging-pleasure, that seems extravagant.” It seems extravagant, I know, but that doesn’t make it any less true (in fact, that makes it more true).
Let me explain. A human is a foraging animal, and rummaging is a descendent of foraging, the difference being that rummaging happens in stores and foraging happens in the woods. When one rummages, one feels like a gatherer again, and one feels the energy of human life passing back and forth between ones fingers and the objects in the bins. One can easily rummage through used clothes, used LPs, yard-sale knick-knacks, et cetera, although these are lower forms of rummaging, being almost indistinguishable from browsing. Rummaging means really getting your hands in there. There is only one kind — food rummaging.
Rummaging for food is actually composed of two distinct operations: The first happens not at the grocery store, but in used bookstores.
Master Recipe for Cookbook Rummaging
1. Forget the Food Network, forget Rachel Ray, forget Amazon.com.
2. Go to a bookstore — a dusty one, preferably in a basement — and rummage.
3. Rummage until your fingers and palms are dirty and you’ve found two or three out-of-print cookbooks. Cookbook rummaging accounts for one-third of the rummaging-pleasure mentioned above, and should precede ingredient rummaging, which is the more important of the two.
I can’t promise you that rummaging through obscure cookbooks will produce easy, convenient, or even good-tasting results in your kitchen, but I can promise you that you will find some weird stuff down there. Here is a case in point.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, best known as a painter of modest stature, was also an extravagant gourmand. On his nightly rounds in Montmartre he was known to sip absinthe from a compartment in his cane and carry his own nutmeg and grater in order to avoid the unpleasant taste of poorly spiced port.
In one particularly fruitful rummaging session at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, I picked up a copy of “The Art of Cuisine,” a collection of Toulouse-Lautrec’s recipes and illustrated menus. What follows is the last recipe in the book.
Full of mystery. It will never be known.
God revealed the knowledge only to his Prophet, who uttered no word about it. This recipe will, therefore, remain forever unknown to all other human beings.
For obvious reasons I haven’t tried it out, although in the meantime try this:
Recipe for Ingredient Rummaging
1. Once you have amassed enough cookbooks to exactly equal your height when piled on the floor (I didn’t make the rules, I’m just passing them along. Incidentally, Toulouse-Lautrec owned 5 feet 1 inch of cookbooks), roll up your sleeves and go to the grocery store or farmer’s market Saturdays in Wooster Square.
2. Spend one hour examining the food with your nose, hands and eyes (carefully sneak samples of foods every six to eight minutes). You will be surprised to find new products that you have never seen before, and you will soon get to know them. This is how you increase your arsenal in the war against taste-boredom.
If, after having taken the preceding steps, you still cannot get inspired to cook, start to rummage through the rummage-idea-bins of the mind. The bins of the mind can be very useful to the cook, but they should only be rummaged through as a last resort, as most of the stuff there is not fit to be eaten.