Like many cookbooks, Just Cook With Sally began with requests—no, pleas—from Sally Uhlmann’s friends and family. They had to have the recipe for her corn salad, her gingerbread, her ginger cookies, her chocolate cake, her whole wheat bread. They needed to know how she coaxed so much flavor out of grilled meat. They dreamed of replicating her strawberry jam.
Uhlmann, who has lived in Colorado Springs, Kansas City, Bozeman, Denver, and now resides in Amsterdam, didn’t mind sharing her dishes but there was a problem: She’s a cook who relies more on instinct and feel than she does on measuring cups and spoons. But with so many requests, an idea blossomed: She could write a cookbook.
With that in mind, Uhlmann began returning to her favorite recipes and painstakingly measuring each and every ingredient. She wrote everything down and saved the files to her computer. The cookbook idea—and the recipe cache—kept growing. But as can happen with passion projects, life got in the way and what had seemed like a short-term undertaking turned into a years-long process. In that time, Uhlmann’s beloved husband Robert died of an extremely rare form of pancreatic cancer. On his deathbed, Robert made her promise that she would see the project through. Robert, who had published a book called DearAll, a collection of letters and musings from his father, knew the value of holding such a work in your hand. “He told me I needed to have a solid cookbook,” Uhlmann says.
Through the years, the cookbook began to take on another form, it became a means of recording memories. “People have always told me to write my memoir,” says Uhlmann, who is the consummate storyteller with a vast repertoire. “I tried to do it a few times but I got caught up. With this, I could just write in some stories about the food.” After all, what are cherished recipes if not stories in and of them-selves—ones that tug at a familiar scent, a fleeting moment, a souvenir of a time long passed.
“No one can tell a story quite like Sally,” says Stephan Pyles, a James Beard-winning chef who Uhlmann counts as one of her mentors. And so the pages of Just Cook With Sally (June 2020, Favorite Recipes Press) are peppered with vivid tales of her childhood growing up in the San Francisco Bay area; her uninhibited life as a young hippie at Antioch College in Ohio and Ibiza, Spain; her far-reaching travels to Afghanistan, China, Turkey, Lebanon, Chile and beyond. Uhlmann’s recall is astounding, a fact that she credits to keeping extensive travel journals. “I think the fact that I wrote so many journals, I just look at things and try and figure out how to best describe something in words,” she says.
Of the many stories captured on the pages, the following are not to be missed: how, as a child, the ceremonial plucking of a perfect, sun-ripened peach from a tree defined the Fourth of July (page 9), how Lebanese tabbouleh mentally and physically nurtured Uhlmannthrough the horror of being incarcerated in Beirut (page 126), and how a dish of farfalle with eggplant and pine nuts (page 162) provided sustenance and comfort in the wake of Robert’s death. Taken together, each of the moments captured in the book document a life fully and deliciously lived. This is Uhlmann’s love letter to family and friends.
Because Just Cook With Sally is as much a catalog of Uhlmann’s life as it is a collection of recipes, the cookbook can’t be filed under a single cuisine. Dishes run the gamut from American cinnamon rolls (hold the icing, says Uhlmann) and Indian-inspired mushrooms to Turkish flat-bread with every iteration in between. Uhlmann is a whiz when it comes to the grill, and her primer for marinating, brining, dry rubbing, glazing, and finishing cuts with oils and butters may very well change the way you cook. “Hopefully this is a guide that gives people ideas,” she says. “Pick a flavor profile and then you can swap it up, change it up. Make it your own.
”In understanding that Uhlmannviews cooking as the ultimate act of love, it should come as no surprise that the first and last recipes in JustCook With Sally were carefully plotted. The book begins with a homey whole-wheat bread. The recipe, which includes milk-soaked oats and molasses, is one that Uhlmann has baked regularly for more than five decades. The book closes with Uhlmann's beloved jewel-toned strawberry jam. “This is the food of my kid’s childhoods,” she says. “They are the bookends of home and love.”
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