My First Cookbook: Fear of Frying, by James Barber

I thought I’d take you all on a trip down memory lane with this week’s Weekend Cooking post.

Fear of Frying, by James Barber

This is the very first cookbook I ever bought: James Barber’s Fear of Frying. In addition to writing cookbooks, Barber (1923-2007)  was also the host of CBC’s Urban Peasant.

I bought this cookbook back in my student days at the University of Toronto. I’d just moved out with my boyfriend, and other than boiling water, I had no idea how to cook a thing. As the price tag shows, I found this little gem of a book in the bargain bin of a local book store for $2.40.

It was a bittersweet time in my life. My family had all moved back to Vancouver, and I was all alone in a new city (I was never actually living  in the city, but in the suburban outskirts), attending my first year of classes at U of T and mired in a relationship that was destined to become a  rocky,  unhappy marriage. But there were some fond memories from that time too, and this little book was one of them.

It was just such a fun book!

When Ward and I went through our major book decluttering last year, in preparation for our move to Toronto, I came across Fear of Frying on our cookbook shelves. “Oh!” I said to Ward. “Make sure you don’t put this in the giveaway box! I LOVED this book so much!”

A few sample pages may show you why (Barber also illustrated the book):


The preamble to Mmmushrooms (each spread in the book has a chatty little preamble on one page, and the illustrated recipe on the facing page):

… But the most lily white and virginal mushrooms can also be made into a flavourful, textured, thoroughly dignified meal, instead of just something to add to a steak, if you remember to cook them with the lid on. That was my uncle’s secret. Sprinkled them with a little lemon juice if you want to be super-sophisticated, or use basil instead of tarragon. Just be kind and just be gentle.

Consider the OysterConsider the Oyster

And from Consider the Oyster:

Very few restaurants are to be trusted with an oyster. They don’t have time to be gentle, to carefully watch, to feel for them, to understand them.

And now you can do it. When we did this on television I received over 2,000 letters. The nicest one said “Sir, you are wicked. I love you.” See what trouble a little simplicity can get you into.

So, did I ever make anything from this wonderful little gem? Yes! I did! I have vague memories of attempting this dish:

Garlic ChickenGarlic Chicken

Just don’t tell ‘em. Not unless you can trust ‘em. You pick up a clove, put it close and squeeze the skin. The middle pops out into your mouth. It tastes as soft and gentle as lichee nuts, not at all like garlic. Once they get the feel of it they’ll want more.

Don’t be scared of garlic. There’s nothing wrong with my social life.

How did it turn out? Unfortunately, I don’t remember. But I never thought of myself as being any great shakes in the cooking department, so it probably didn’t turn out all that well.

And to be honest, when I first started writing this post, I thought this was the Barber book that contained THE recipe I did make all the time – the one recipe I could make, and make well. But paging through it, I realized it wasn’t. A quick Google search revealed that my favourite recipe came from another of Barber’s books, Ginger Tea Makes Friends. I must have lost that book somewhere in the many years between those university days and now.

So I’ve ordered a used copy from Amazon! (So much for my no-more-print-books-if-I-can-help-it resolution). When the book arrives, I’ll post my favourite recipe in an upcoming Weekend Cooking post. I’ll probably wrestle control of the kitchen from Ward and make it myself first. I’m looking forward to taking another trip down memory lane, but next time with my taste buds, too!

For more fun food-related posts, make sure you head on over to this week’s Weekend Cooking. Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted at Beth Fish Reads.

18 thoughts on “My First Cookbook: Fear of Frying, by James Barber

  1. Margot

    I loved your stroll down memory lane. Isn’t it amazing how a book, especially a cookbook, from a certain time in your life can bring back all those memories. For me, I swear I can even remember how a dish smelled when I made it. I look forward to hearing about your other book and it’s memories.

  2. Susan

    I love this book! I still use the green beans and beef stir fry recipe regularly!! I bought the boxed set recently, since my mother had a copy of Ginger Tea Makes Friends and I love that recipe too. Donuts, pancakes, chicken with garlic, lamb sofia, these books are great! and he’s such a happy cook too, isn’t he? the clam chowder recipe is so good too. Thanks for bringing back some memories with this book, and writing about what you loved!

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      There’s a boxed set available? I didn’t know that! I’ll have to take a look at it – after I get the Ginger Tea Makes Friends I’ll still have only two of the books, and there are at least four, aren’t there?

      A happy cook is a perfect way to describe Barber! And his drawings are so much fun.

  3. Annie @ButteryBooks

    Great post! I received my very first cookbook, Good Housekeeping All-Time Favorite Recipes (1969), from my grandmother when I was twelve years old. I still have it and still use it and have so many memories attached to it.

  4. Memory

    I remember the Urban Peasant! I used to watch him all the time when I was little. (Or, to be more accurate, my father used to watch him while I was in the room.)

    This book looks delightful–and hey, my library has it! It’s now on my list.

  5. Beth F

    What a cool book — it speaks to its time. Do you remember the original Moosewood cookbooks? They were all hand lettered too. I think I have a few others from that era with that same look. It’s so great that you still have it.

  6. Tony Leah

    One of my all-time favorite cookbooks! I rarely open cookbooks anymore – it is so easy to find recipes on the internet – but I go back to this one often. The recipes are all excellent, and the text and drawings are a treasure. Barber’s description of using pure peanut butter (no additives) in cooking was a life-changing experience.


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