How The Joy of Cooking Saved My Life

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.


Really? I had no idea!

I've had The Joy of Cooking sitting around since college, and in all these years it's never occurred to me to look up what it has to say about kitchen fires. Thanks for the tip!


Good thing you knew better than putting water on it; many people don't. I don't know if I would have thought of looking in a cookbook. Way to keep cool under pressure. Smothering with flour also will work.

Tony Romeo Where Are You?

I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Tony Romeo. I first met him in 1976 through singer, Lou Christie. Tony had a quiet way about him. Good humor. Strong creative skills. He had wonderful insights on Italian Food in The Bronx, Pop Music in the 70's, Casinos in Atlantic City and Horce Racing at Belmont . He wasn't easy to work with, but results were what mattered and Tony understood that. He was always willing to rewrite, not for the reason of providing options, but more for the opportunity to showcase his brilliance under pressure. A TV Producer, Bob Braithwaite, once told me that he wouldn't consider producing a music show without Tony on staff.
Tony kept his various health issues under lock and key. I last saw him limping out of the old Hit Factory Recording Studios on West 54th in NYC in early 1994.
"Tony, How's it going?"
His reply, "Life is just a coco butter tan"!
That was vintage Tony Romeo.

Thanks for the great story,

Thanks for the great story, James! It's such a privilege to get to know talented people - I'm glad you got to know Tony while he was around. And me - I'm glad I got to know some of the great songs he wrote.