How The Joy of Cooking Saved My Life

Blog entry
Authored by
18 May, 2008

Karen's Weekend Assignment this week asks about fire.

Years ago, I was trying something a little bit new to me: deep-frying falafel at home. I was used to little self-contained deep friers; lacking one of those, I poured a good quantity of oil in a good-sized cookpot and set it on the stove.

I tended to the falafel mixture as I waited for the oil to get hot.

Then it burst into flame.

I knew enough not to dump water on a grease fire, but I couldn't think how to put it out. I had the presence of mind to get away from the pot and call 911; the fire department was on the way.

I had three or four very long minutes to wait for them. The place was filling up with smoke, but the flames hadn't spread. I knew there was some way to put out a kitchen fire - but how?

And instantly, I knew where to find the answer.

I grabbed The Joy of Cooking. I flipped to the index: "Ice Cream ... Fowl ... Flour ... Fire! Fire; grease, p. 147."

Page 147. Frantic skimming.

"In case fat should ever catch fire, have a metal lid handy to drop over the kettle." Right! Yes! Of course!

I snatched up the lid and plunked it on the flaming pot.

And just like that, the fire was out.

A few minutes later, the firefighters arrived. Embarassed, I told them the danger had passed. They poked around for a moment or two to make sure everything was okay, and left.

The next few days were spent getting soot off of things, airing out the apartment, and thanking my lucky stars that it hadn't been worse.

I'm grateful to Marion Rombauer Becker for the wonderfully informative and helpful Joy of Cooking - for the borscht recipe, and the regularly-referenced section on hard-boiled eggs, and the substitutions and equivalents table, and the illustrations of ten different kinds of squash. But most of all, I'm grateful that the author of a general book on cooking thought to include quick, clear instructions on what to do if you accidentally set your dinner on fire.