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July 12, 2012

Icon of American cooking Marion Cunningham dies at 90

Washington: Marion Cunningham, who had Alzheimer’s disease, is said o have died on Wednesday at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Calif. She was 90. She got her start late in life as a protege of James Beard, the chef and writer revered for championing the American culinary tradition. In spite of her attachment to familiar foods and simple recipes, Cunningham won the affection of dozens of younger celebrity chefs, whose more exotic tastes leaned toward smoked pheasant and lambs ear lettuce. They considered her a mentor. “ Marion was a traditionalist, but an enlightened traditionalist,” LA Times quoted Alice Waters, founder of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley as saying. “She could appreciate every conceivable food, the way she could connect with every conceivable person,” Panisse said. Cunningham’s own professional life was comparatively calm. Working in the compact kitchen of her ranch house in Walnut Creek , with a vintage electric stove and a refrigerator from Sears, she tested thousands of recipes for her cookbooks and columns, taught introductory classes to adults and prepared simple meals for visitors, many of them food editors and restaurant chefs. Her fanciest cooking equipment included a large blender, a heavy-duty electric mixer and two waffle irons. She kept the cherry pitters, the newfangled measuring spoons and other gadgets in the garage, because what mattered to her was “not what I cook with but how cooking and food puts me in community with others.” Overcoming personal challenges to study with James Beard, Marion Cunningham made revisions that brought ‘The Fannie Farmer Cookbook’ back into American kitchens. Marion Cunningham’s crusade to preserve the nightly supper hour came of her concern that without it children would never learn table manners or the give and take of dinner conversation. Not only that, she worried that such traditional American dishes as roast chicken, iceberg lettuce salad and strawberry shortcake would become endangered species. Her devotion to standard American fare made her a venerated figure in the food world whose revised edition of ‘The Fannie Farmer Cookbook’, a basic text for home cooks since 1896, brought her philosophy back into the mainstream. Published in 1979 and revised in 1990, ‘Fannie Farmer’ regained its place as a classic, selling close to 1 million copies, and brought the shy, silver-haired Cunningham wide admiration as a cookbook writer, syndicated columnist and teacher with her own television show. “Marion Cunningham epitomized good American food,” Judith Jones, her longtime editor at Knopf, said in a statement on Wednesday. “She was someone who had an ability to take a dish, savour it in her mouth and give it new life. At a time when Americans were embracing all kinds of foreign cuisine, Marion Cunningham’s love and respect for American food helped ‘The Fannie Farmer Cookbook’ once again earn a place in kitchens across America ,” Jones added.

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