My name is Holly Jennings, and yes, that is me in the photo above. What can I say? My grandfather was a Shriner, and it was the year of our country’s bicentennial. In the absence of photos of me as a young girl tenderly dropping spoonfuls of cookie dough onto cookie sheets, or accomplishing some other simple culinary task, this biker shot will have to do. (Throughout my childhood, my mother’s goal was to make us nutritious meals but to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen doing so. Her interests lay elsewhere. Taking time to show a slow-moving youngster a cooking step, and then taking more time to snap a photo, would have merely slowed her down.)
Besides having once straddled a mini-Shriner mobile, at an even younger age, I made a mud ant pie with my friend Lizzy Pettine, covered it with blue frosting, and set it in the fridge until we could decide what to do with it. Not long after, my mother discovered the pie, forcing us to come up with Plan B. Out of the fridge and into the middle of the road it went, where the flimsy aluminum pie shell and its contents were soon squashed.
From there my kitchen exploits included playing restaurant and waitress for my family to, by high school age, preparing “gourmet” meals for myself complete with a lit candle. I taught myself to cook using the half dozen or so cookbooks my mother owned at the time, and, in particular, I recall being quite pleased with a watercress soup recipe from Jean D. Hewitt’s New York Times Large Type Cookbook. (My mother had perfect vision back then, so I’m not sure why she ended up with that book.) I attempted to educate my wine palate by imbibing in small portions of what was available in the house, mostly bottles of Mateus and Black Tower. I was a food nerd.
At the age of seventeen, I spent a month living with a French family in a suburb outside of Paris and in the seaside town of La Baule, in Brittany, where the family had a summer home. Homemade mayonnaise whipped up in a moment’s notice, and with great ease, to accompany chilled, poached chicken breast for a light dinner; sensibly sized portions of subtly sweetened glace de noisette from the glacier; steak frites at a bistro in Paris prepared à point, salad niçoise enjoyed on the deck of the family’s summer house after returning from a morning at the beach: these things made a huge impression (as did the topless women at the beach) and kept me in a state of giddy anticipation for what new food experience the next day would bring.
It took some doing and some circuitous turns, but eventually, many years later, I figured how to make food the stuff of my daily life: as a cookbook editor, primarily, and a writer, secondarily. (The editing brings home the bacon; the writing is the cream in my coffee.) To learn more about my professional editing and writing life outside of this blog, visit www.hollyjennings.com.
Between that month in France and the establishment of my cookbook editing career, I got a lot more eating and food learnin’ under my belt: there were dozens of classes and an untold number of conversations about food and growing food, a six-year living and eating stint in New York City* (where I met my husband, Mike), an eight-year agriculturally eye-opening residence in Vermont (where Mike and I did the farmette thing), and, most recently, a dive into the foods of the Upper South.
And that’s the greatest thing about food. That there is no end to the learning. This blog is one place to share some of that learning and to learn from others.
*Living in New York City is a very good food education; it’s like traveling without leaving the country. In one of those early days of taking in the city and trying to figure things out, becoming nearly overwhelmed in the process, it came to me that New York is like one big potluck party to which everyone in the entire world was invited, and everyone showed up (bringing their favorite dish). It’s a friggin great city.