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Maida Heatter cookbooks stand the test of time

By Melissa J. Oleen

Rowan Public Library

When Maida Heatter (May-da HEAT-ter) died this past June, the world lost a self-taught baker and cookbook author whose commitment to precision baking was well-known throughout the cookbook industry, along with her use of brownies as business cards.

Many bakers and cookbook readers today may not be familiar with Heatter, whose cookbooks were published between 1974 and 1995. The library has some of her most well-known cookbooks available for checkout. “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts,” “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies,” “Maida Heatter’s Brand-New Book of Great Cookies” and “Maida Heatter’s Cookies.”

Her most recent cookbook, “Happiness is Baking,” will soon hit library shelves. Published when the author was 101, it is a compilation of favorite recipes from her previous cookbooks, some of which are no longer available in the library’s collection.

A Heatter recipe starts with an introduction that lets the baker know what type of cookie to expect from the recipe. Mrs. L.B.J.’s Moonrocks are not just spice cookies, they are “large, and thick spice cookies with crisp, chewy edges and semisoft centers – real old fashioned ‘down home’ cookie-jar fillers.” Many old cookie recipes are called rocks because of their shape – not because they are hard.

A Heatter recipe is long and detailed. For new bakers, extra details are like having Maida in the kitchen holding your hand, walking you through the steps. Heatter lets bakers know when “the bottoms should be darker than the top,” “a large smooth (not terry-cloth) cotton or linen towel” is needed, “you may think there is not enough liquid, but there is – just keep stirring” or that “ ‘shortly before’ may be anywhere from about 1 or 2 hours up to immediately before.” This information is useful when deciding whether to try a recipe based on time, occasion and skill.

Heatter’s recipes did not seek out the latest food fads and ingredients. In many of the introductory descriptions, recipes are cited as being very old, passed down through generations or secured from a well-established restaurant or trusted professional baker.

After Heatter puts them through her test kitchen, they become solid, reliable, (Heatter was known for testing recipes dozens, almost hundreds, of times to get them right) precision recipes that showcase the bakery canon. No modifications are needed to make them better.

The only photos in a Heatter cookbook are on the cover. Heatter cookbooks are known for their hand drawn illustrations (many drawn by her daughter) with many recipes lacking any type of illustration. With the clear, detailed instructions and mouthwatering descriptions, Heatter makes the point that what the final product looks like is not as important as how it tastes.

For a cookbook to stand the test of time, emphasis on the recipes is more important than trendy photo layouts. Heatter’s cookbooks have done just this as evidenced by their continued popularity at the library.

Triple P Positive Parenting Program: Aug. 19, 5:30 p.m., headquarters. Would you like to add some tools to your parenting toolbox? Triple P’s Positive Parenting Program helps all parents handle everyday issues that can make family life stressful. Learn parenting strategies that have been proven to work for over 30 years in 25 countries worldwide. Margaret Stridick of the Terrie Hess House with Prevent Child Abuse Rowan will present. This workshop is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Contact Chelsea at 704-216-8269 or Chelsea.Childers@rowancountync.gov to reserve your seat.

Welcome Home, David Freeze: Aug. 20, 6 p.m., headquarters. Local author David Freeze will share stories from his recent bike tour of Alaska, the latest leg in his quest to complete traveling solo across all 50 states. Pictures, highlights and anecdotes from his trip will begin at 6 p.m. An informal meet and greet with the author and reception sponsored by Salisbury Rowan Runners Club will follow. For more information, contact Brooke at 704-216-7841.

Escape Room: Aug. 27, 4-5 p.m., headquarters; Aug. 29, 4-5 p.m., East. Picture this: you’re a conservationist who is trying to track down animal smugglers who are targeting endangered species in North Carolina. You find their hideout, but once you walk inside, the door locks behind you and you’re trapped! Can you save the animals that are being held there, find evidence to bring the smugglers to justice, and escape in an hour?  This program will be presented by Kelli Isenhour, education coordinator for Rowan County Soil and Water Conservation.

Displays: Headquarters, Communities in Schools (school supplies accepted on site), Olde Rowan Fiber Guild; East, Lady Bird Display by Lindsey Barnhardt; South, homemade soap by Rachel Mowry.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.

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