Yesterday the last chapter came to a close for Harry Schwartz Bookshops, a Milwaukee treasure for over 80 years.
I’ll save it for other bloggers to discuss the issues of giants like Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and Borders putting the independent booksellers like the Audubon Books and now Harry Schwartz out of business. What I want to share is how Harry Schwartz Bookshops helped me to become a gourmet cook.
As a child I spent many weekend afternoons in front of the television, sitting on a green tweed sofa, side by side with my grandfather. He was a great cook and weekend afternoons were the time when he learned new recipes and techniques from his favorites, the Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr and The French Chef, Julia Child. After watching our favorites, we would head into the kitchen where I would watch my Grandfather prepare a delicious dish.
My Mom inherited her father’s love of cooking and is a good cook. Me, not so much. I was so lacking in my cooking skills that I could burn water while trying to boil it, if that’s possible! I liked watching the cooking shows, but nothing made sense to me. My cooking skills were so poor that while I was living on my own, my Grandparents would send me coupons for frozen dinners. They were afraid that without the TV dinners and a microwave, I would starve. Little did they know that I managed to burn many of those too!
When Silverback Gorilla and I got married, I did the bridal registry thing, registering for all the necessary kitchen supplies; pots, pans, gadgets, and the like, all professional quality because I thought that would turn me into a cook. Wrong! The better gift would have been Chancery gift certificates because we ate there almost every night.
Okay, so by now you are probably scratching your head wondering what watching cooking shows with my Grandfather and my total inability to even successfully make macaroni and cheese has to do with the closing of a Milwaukee institution. Well the answer is simple, Harry Schwartz was known for bringing great authors to Milwaukee for book signings.
Shortly after my Grandfather’s death, Harry Schwartz in Mequon brought in Julia Child for a book signing. Knowing that I spent time so much time watching her, Silverback Gorilla suggested that I go and have her sign a cookbook. He thought it would be a great tribute to my Grandfather but deep down I know that my husband was hoping that seeing her would finally inspire me to cook. Maybe I shouldn’t say, “inspire” me to cook; I had the inspiration, just not the ability. Maybe somehow by meeting her, all of her skills and knowledge would be imparted on me.
That evening after work, we went to Harry Schwartz in Mequon where I met my Grandfather’s cooking idol. A tall woman with a pleasant smile said “hello”, signed a copy of The Way to Cook, and shook my hand. Whoever thought that SHE would be a spy for the government. To quote Emeril, “BAM!” Yes, it worked!! She shook my hand and from that moment on my culinary skills changed.
I didn’t start simple like learning how not to burn boiling water or learning how to scramble an egg. Instead I took out my knives and dove right in to The Way to Cook, successfully accomplishing the master techniques shown in her book. I could do this.
After State Fair ribbons, many cooking class, one at the famed Cordon Bleu school in Paris where Julia Child studied, and many dinner parties later, my skills are well honed. Like any cook, there is always room to learn more which is why Monkey and I watch the Food Network. I already have a budding chef. Her Great-Grandgorilla would be proud.
Thank you Harry Schwartz Bookshops for your many years of providing Milwaukee readers with a quaint locally owned place to go for books. Thank you for bringing great writers to Milwaukee and thank you for helping me learn to cook.