Crescent Dragonwagon's New Cookbook
RANDY: Crescent Dragonwagon, herself the daughter of writers, has written in numerous genres--primarily children's literature--but has also written a number of cookbooks.
CRESCENT DRAGONWAGON: When I was growing up, the shelf that had cookbooks on it was right by the downstairs phone. And just before you become a teenager, you're on the phone a lot with your friends... and while being on the phone with them I would sort of leaf through the cookbooks because they were right next to the phone. There was a cookbook with a very odd title, How To Cook a Wolf by the writer M.F.K. Fishe. And she was a great writer--she was actually also a short-story writer, an essayist. She wrote about life through food. So even though her books contained recipes, they were not just food as separated from life. I got really fascinated by her way of writing and looking at life--and by her food!
RANDY: And that's very much what Crescent does in her cookbooks, including the newest one, Bean By Bean, devoted to recipes, anecdotes and life lessons centering around the humble legume.
CRESCENT (laughs): Well, they're only "humble" in human eyes--I don't know that they're humble in their own eyes!
RANDY: Well, maybe not! (laughs)
RANDY: Keep in mind the terms "bean" and "legume" don't just refer to "navy" or "pinto" or "pork and...", but peanuts, black-eyed peas, lentils, green beans and many, many more, for use in side dishes, entrees--even desserts. I asked Crescent why she decided to devote a cookbook to beans.
CRESCENT: There's a lot of reasons. I wrote what you could call a "precursor" to this book when I was 17--I wrote The Bean Book. And now I'm 59, with all these years later to revisit this subject. I think the book is doing well because it may be the moment in society at large, a moment for the human race to rediscover beans. First of all, plant-centered diets are much more acceptable than they used to be in America--if not cutting out meat entirely, then eating less of it for health reasons... but also for fiscal reasons, financial reasons. Of course, with beans (it's a) perfect moment for them because a lot of people are living with less money than they thought they would have, and beans are very generous in the face of that.
RANDY: She says the bean is tremendously versatile.
CRESCENT: So here you have the bean. It's the highest-protein food of plant origin that there is. It also has lots of minerals, lots of vitamins. (It's) "versatile" in that it can become stew, or chili, or hummus, you know, it can be a side dish, it can be an entree, it can be a "starter"...
RANDY: It can be a dessert.
CRESCENT: It can be a dessert, yeah! And of course, we don't even think, but peanuts are beans. So there are those reasons. There are environmental reasons. You can get so-o-o-o many more beans from an acre of property than you can slaughtered cows from that same amount! It's much lighter on the earth. You know, it's fairly perfect of a food at this point--probably at almost any point. But this is a point where we recognize it, in part because finances are difficult for so many people. One of my favorite bean-variety names--there's a million great names for beans--but there's a big, plump white bean whose name is... "mortgage lifter!" (laugh)
RANDY: What are you going to be doing in Springfield, then?
CRESCENT: I always, when I have a new book come out, a new culinary book, I always come to Eunice Wallar's Waverly House and do a signing there, because I actually don't usually do book signings because they're kinda boring!
RANDY: One thing Eunice Waller does for Crescent Dragonwagon's book signings is prepare six or eight of the recipes in the books.
CRESCENT: Most people have, like, little bitty samples on toothpicks. She'll have enough so you can really taste things.
RANDY: Crescent Dragonwagon will be at Waverly House Gifts and Gallery, 2031 S. Waverly, on Saturday March 31st (2012) from 11:00am to 2:00pm to sign copies of her new book Bean By Bean. For information call 882-3445 or visit www.waverlyhouse.com. For KSMU, I'm Randy Stewart.