AKA Cub Scout Cookbook
Pack 131 Columbus, Indiana
By Daniel Orr
First printing 1973
Numbers of copies 1
One day, while living in Manhattan, a manila envelope
arrived for me. Enclosed was a letter from my mother
telling me she had been cleaning her office. Included
was a strangely covered pamphlet, in late “60’s”
colors, enrobed in a waxy material looking and feeling
like those old plastic tablecloths. The book was
a Proustian Madeleine which allowed childhood memories
to flood in and provided some reasoning as to whom
I was and who I’ve become.
I wrote “My Cookbook” in 1973 as a
project for Cub Scouts and had completely forgotten
about it, but upon rereading I could see a deep
connection and passionate interest in food even
at that very early age. I also got a sense of how
much my mother had influenced my interests and could
feel her direction in those yellowing pages as I
turned. After all, she was the “Den Mother”
and had arranged the many foraging hikes and cooking
demonstrations for the “Pack.” The books
recipes, you see, weren’t the usual wantings
of young boys. No cheese whiz on Ritz or BBJ’s
in my tome. There were recipes for acorn bread eaten
by the local Native Americans, muffins made from
cattail pollen, and a cool sumac “Kool Aid”
that I could almost taste even after a quarter century.
I had written sections for Bread, Butter, Seeds,
Meats, Beverages and Sweets. It almost sounds like
one of those minimalist menus popular at famous
Manhattan restaurants these days. There were recipes
for jerky, pemmican (balls of jerky, suet, dried
fruit and nuts eaten by the local tribes) Persimmon
pudding. We had wild persimmon trees growing in
the wood, maple syrup, and magic window cookies.
We had just made it through the 60’s, after
Yes, the memories came tumbling back. “Breakfasts
in bed” that I had surprised my parents with
on Mother’s and Father’s Day; fishing
trips with my Dad where he and I had done most of
the cooking; my first job in the restaurant business
when my brother David and I worked and fought together
in the kitchen for a summer at the old Walnut Room
Restaurant in the basement of the Elk’s Club.
All great memories. But there was also sadness.
When my oldest brother, Tommy, died, it sent the
whole family in a tailspin. I felt left to fend
for myself. David had changed and seemed like he
had to grow up and wanted to be my protector and
not my buddy; Mom and Dad, in their grief, turned
inward... unable to cope with their pain, or trying
to protect us from it, I’m not sure. It was
probably a combination of the two.
Time is said to heal all wounds, but first there
is a scab that dries, protects and hangs on... softening
and hardening and occasionally getting scraped,
seeming to cause even more pain than the original
cut. And what you are left with is not the beautifully
smooth skin you started with, but a thickened, numbed
and toughened patch that never fully returns to
normal. That and a deep dull pain, like the beginning
of arthritis on a chilly damp day.
So what is a kid to do but do what he does best?
For me it was cooking and so I jumped into the deep-end.
Cooking with a neighbor who was a professional chef,
reading my mother’s cooking magazines, and
watching the old Julia Child's black and whites
were good things to do. I took a summer restaurant
job as soon as I could, not just to earn spending
money, but to get away from the sadness that invaded
my heart. It is amazing how working as a dishwasher
in a busy restaurant can make the hours fly by.
Scrape, rinse, rack and push 'em through. Repetition
can be a cure. You just work on your speed and set
new goals and never let the plates pile high. I
was happy in that job and I remember that the waiters
and waitresses were happy with me too. I was told
I was the fastest dishwasher they had ever seen.
They never had to wait for anything when I was on
the machine. Not like Jerry who had worked it before
me. I felt admired, needed and loved.
I was quickly promoted to “chef’s assistant.”
You see, the chef had been caught stealing a case
of beef tenderloin out the backdoor, so the owner,
Christine, took over the stove. She was the eccentric
“Grande Dame” for a small midwestern
town and I loved her for every one of her differences.
Her big hats, bright make-up and European clothing
were all so exciting and new for me. She was a woman
who had been places and had a past. She inspired
me to see more, feel more and want more. She also
shared her passions with me and taught me that careers
in food, art, and music were as important as any
of the other professions that kids my age were considering.
At the stove she spoke of France and she planted
in me a seed of desire to go there, to live large,
to be happy. That was the start of my culinary career
and in many ways, the start of my life.
There have been times when I’ve felt so tied
to the long, lonely hours in the kitchen. So much
it feels like I’m in a strangle hold. Sometimes
I feel that I’ve put all my eggs in one basket.
And I’m tired of making omelettes! But when
I think back to the little boy who wrote that book
all those years ago, it all starts to make sense.
When you are confused, you gravitate to the things
you are good at in life elipse... the things that
make you feel comforted, cared for and loved. Those
few awkward pages of carbon paper typed recipes
from 1973 may seem to have little to do with the
man I’ve become, but in many ways, they have
everything to do with who I am.