Why I Cook


Author and chef Michael Ruhlman recently wrote a post explaining why he cooks. He went on to challenge other food bloggers to do the same. Never one to be shy about expressing myself, I’m joining the fray.
Most of these points have been made individually as I’ve cooked and written here In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens. I thought I’d summarize them today.
First, I cook (and write about food) because it gives me an integrated life. It merges the private and the public. Nothing could be more personal than feeding ourselves and our families. Yet cooking is at its best a social enterprise. It also holistically touches simultaneously on the intellectual, the physical, and the emotional.
Second, I cook because I was brought up to do so. My family generally prepared meals instead of buying them precooked. And when my mother wanted to get to know someone new, or to maintain a friendship she cherished, she hosted a dinner party. In my childhood home food symbolized family, friendship, and love. It symbolizes them for me today.
That tradition leads me to my paramount reason for cooking. I cook because cooking helps me reach out to other people.
Cooking is a wonderful shared endeavor, one that spans the generations. My nephew Michael is an excellent mixer and egg breaker. At 91 my mother can no longer read very well and is a lot less mobile than she used to be, but she still loves to sift or stir or just set the table. Cooking with me makes her feel useful and alive in a way that few activities can at this point in her life. And it brings us closer together.
Cooking obviously touches those whom I feed as well as those with whom I cook. It also helps me to touch those whose recipes and cooking styles I use, in the past or in the present.
With a wooden spoon in one hand and a pot in the other, I can stand beside my grandmother, a neighbor, a school friend from India, or an author whose works I admire.
Finally, I cook because I am interested in many different fields of study. I know it sometimes seems like a stretch to my readers when I link a recipe to film or literature or television or American history. I thank you for your patience and warn you that I’m going to keep on stretching. I love the way in which cooking and writing about food can be tied to just about anything.
Cooking thus becomes a way for me to stay sane, to keep in touch with the people I love and want to know better, and to learn about  topics that stir my passions.
It nourishes me in many ways—and it helps me make friends and learn new things every day.
From the Theoretical to the Mundane: Taylor Pork Roll
Mentioning learning new things leads me to today’s recipe.
I’m still figuring out Twitter; I haven’t completely bonded with it yet. Nevertheless, I try to look at people’s tweets once or twice a day. A couple of days ago Lynne Oliver of The Food Timeline posted a message that read as follows:
If you’re from New Jersey, you know all about Taylor Pork Roll! http://tinyurl.com/yjjucme.
Now I was born in New Jersey, and I spend a lot of time visiting my mother’s house there. And I had never heard of this stuff before I saw Olver’s tweet.
According to Olver’s post, Taylor Pork Roll is a processed pork product—a cross between spam and summer sausage—first made in the early 20th century by a company founded by John Taylor of Trenton, New Jersey.
(She notes that some sources trace Pork Roll to the mid-1850s and even in some form to the American Revolution but adds that she can find no evidence that it was made that early.)
I did a quick internet search, and it turns out that many folks from New Jersey are indeed completely gaga about this product. One company makes a living sending the Pork Roll and similar products to members of the Jersey diaspora in other states; grateful customers have written to its web site sharing their fond memories of Taylor Pork Roll.
This comment from a Texas resident sums up the sentiment: “Even know [sic] the thought of it makes my mouth water and makes me feel like a kid again.”
The Pork Roll is also known in some circles as Taylor Ham. The Taylor Ham fan page on Facebook, which has more than 15,000 members, maintains that it was founded for “fans of what may possibly be New Jersey’s greatest contribution to the world.”
As a major admirer of both Frank Sinatra and Jon Stewart I was eager to try a product that might nose them out in the New Jersey hierarchy. Some writers have called Taylor Pork Roll “the heroin of pork.”
I ventured to the ShopRite Supermarket near my mother’s home in Millburn and looked in the meat case. Sure enough, right near the bacon I found a packet of sliced Taylor Pork Roll. (It is apparently also marketed in rolls like salami, but I wanted only a little bit so the slices suited me just fine.)
I peered into the packet, and one of the store employees asked me what I was looking for. When I informed him that I had never seen Taylor Pork Roll before he widened his eyes. “Where are YOU from?” he asked. Obviously, I will have to ask another state to issue me a birth certificate.
The most popular use for Taylor Pork Roll is apparently the “Jersey Sandwich” a.k.a. the “Jersey Breakfast Sandwich” a.k.a. the “Triple Bypass.” This is a sandwich made of warmed Taylor Pork Roll, a fried egg, and melted cheese on a bun.
I’m pretty sure the rolls should be kaiser buns, but I had only ciabatta rolls in the house. And the cheese should definitely be American, but I substituted cheddar.
Next time, I think I would use thinner bread from the bakery and perhaps leave out one ingredient—combine the Pork Roll with eggs, or make a grilled cheese sandwich with pork roll.
Both my mother and I found the sandwich tasty (who could resist all that fat?), but it was too heavy to finish. Truffle was happy to help eat some of the leftovers, of course.
The Jersey Sandwich
1 hard roll
a small amount of butter as needed
2 pieces Taylor Pork Roll (I bought the 6 ounce package with 8 slices so 2 slices weighed 1.5 ounces; a higher proportion of Pork Roll might appeal to some)
1 egg
1 ounce cheese, thinly sliced (American or cheddar)
Preheat the broiler. Place aluminum foil on a flat, ovenproof pan.
Split the roll in two and butter both inside pieces lightly. Place the slices on the foil-covered pan.
Cut four notches in each piece of Pork Roll so that it will not curl up as it cooks; the notches should come in about three quarters of an inch from the edge. (See photo.)
In a frying pan over medium heat cook the pork pieces until they are warm and lightly browned on both sides. Remove them and set them aside.
If there is not enough fat in the pan to fry your eggs melt a little more butter in the pan. Quickly fry your eggs. (They won’t need salt and pepper because the Pork Roll contains a ton of sodium and spices.)
Place the slices of Pork Roll on the bottom piece of the roll. Place the egg on top, and cover it with the cheese. Pop the roll under the broiler and cook until the cheese has just melted.
Cover the sandwich and serve immediately. Makes 1 very filling sandwich.
Truffle is still hoping for more Taylor Pork Roll!

Truffle is still hoping for more Taylor Pork Roll!


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18 Responses to “Why I Cook”

  1. I so agree about the social aspect. I’m not an overly social creature, except where cooking is concerned. And yes, whenever we meet someone new, the first thing we do is invite them for a meal, usually Sunday lunch.

    Never heard of pork roll, but being a good Southern girl, I love my pork. I’ll bet I could eat the whole sandwich, unfortunately.

    It took me a while to warm up to Twitter too but now I’m a convert. The key is to join in the conversation. Otherwise, it’s pretty pointless. And I’ve found a lot of new blogs and food sites that I read regularly now.

  2. Flaneur says:

    Tinky, this was a fascinating piece (although my favorite sandwich from the Garden State will always be the Sloppy Joe you introduced me to – that would prompt me to write a “Why I Eat” blog post!). The loveliest line? Your observation that, “With a wooden spoon in one hand and a pot in the other, I can stand beside my grandmother, a neighbor, a school friend from India, or an author whose works I admire.” The independence, generosity and connectedness that is implied makes it clear to all why anyone would cook. An earlier comment on a posting noted that the entries seem to be getting better and better – I agree.

  3. Alice Kendrick says:

    That was terrific, TW.
    So well said. I’ll never forget your dinner parties in Knoxvile.

  4. Chris says:


    I LOVE Taylor Pork roll!!!! And so does my whole family! And they relish the breakfast sandwich! Gordon will make a bunch before they go offshore fishing in the summer so that they can enjoy them at dawn out on the ocean (heated in the microwave of course)! I am surprised that you had never encountered this Jersey delicacy before! Try it on an English muffin (it’s a little less bread).

  5. Jack Estes says:

    Plus it’s gotta feel good that people think you can do something really well. And they do. “What’s a good recipe for You-Name-It?” “Just write to Tinky. She’ll know.” Or, “Wow. Tinky’s having a dessert-eating party tonight! That’s something we CAN’T miss.”

    And also it’s a great break from writing. And a terrific conversation piece.

    Plus – is this correct – lots of the food you prepare has GOT to be tax deductible?

  6. Judi Leaming says:

    There was even a Taylor Pork Roll walk-up food stand on the boardwalk in Cape May – and, oh, do I ever miss it. I think the real flavor of the pork roll comes from being cooked on the grills in such places. I have never quite been able to duplicate that heavenly greasy taste in my own kitchen. Thanks for the walk down memory lane … judi leaming

  7. Ginny Ray says:

    Well, we Pennsylvanians also love Taylor Pork Roll, but when I was growing up summers at the shore, it certainly was a staple and concession shop of its own on the Ocean City and other boardwalks. That Jersey sandwich? Of course, not much different from a Canadian-bacon-for-pork-roll sandwich, and akin to a McMuffin.

    I cook for all the same reasons and love to see them delineated. Plus there’s a peaceful energy to keeping in the dance of cooking. I’m a rather neat cook — I suspect that you, Miss T, cook with a tad more abandon, shall we say? I’m not fond of the reading part but I love the freelancing part. I love the coming-to-fruition part and I mostly love the thinking of my mother and grandmother and aunt and a few fabulous moments over the years with others in kitchens on the eastern shore, in Switzerland and London, and some grilled clams at Pt. Reyes part.

  8. Anne says:

    That was really interesting – not least because my middle name is Taylor!! I love to cook for family and friends – I think it’s a way of showing love. I don’t understand people who can’t/won’t cook … perhaps that’s because I love my food so much!!

  9. BumbleVee says:

    Yours are most of the reasons I cook as well, but, you have articulated it so much better…. loved reading the post…

    As for Taylor’s (or anybody else’s) pressed stuff…. hmmm… think I’ll just stick to a slice of Canadian ham….. at least I know what it is… I’d be surprised if there is much meat in anything processed and pressed and rolled…. and then..there are the preservatives… oh,yeh…and a ton of salt as you mentioned…. ham is salty enough…I can only eat a few bites…

  10. Kelly says:

    Hey tinky
    I grew up on Taylor pork roll… in Philly 🙂

  11. tinkyweisblat says:

    I LOVED hearing everyone’s recollections of Taylor Pork Roll. Chris, next time I’ll definitely try an English muffin; great idea! Jack, yes, I can deduct groceries when I’m testing–but my brother (who does my taxes) still wishes I could emphasize income a little more than deductions!

    Thank you all for contributing to the “Why I Cook” theme. This was another fun post for me to write, and I always enjoy the conversation……..

  12. Nina Dowlin says:

    Totally great! Tinky, you’re so correct about cooking and its way of connecting seemingly unrelated things when you write “I know it sometimes seems like a stretch to my readers when I link a recipe to film or literature or television or American history.”

    Let’s even look at something like Melville’s “Moby Dick”. In the extended dance mix version, meaning the original long tome, Melville goes into extraordinary detail about whale steaks and other related recipes. In the abridged version of the Melville whale tale, this is not included.

    When one reads novels that were written in a previous era, about that era’s contemporary lifestyle, food often enters into the discussion. Charles Dicken’s descriptions of Victorian feasts comes to mind.

    Perhaps culinary arts is a subject matter that could be included in an interdisciplinary major? I can’t think of too many colleges that would be willing to take on that kind of thing. Perhaps Hampshire College is the only place that I can think of that’s up to the challenge.

  13. tinkyweisblat says:

    Nina, you’re inspiring me to start thinking of teaching again. I do know that my Ph.D. alma mater, the University of Texas, now has food studies within my old American-Studies department. I think there’s at least a blog post in THAT … soon, I promise!

  14. tut-tut says:

    We do so much for ourselves and our families when we make the effort to cook. We make 90 percent of our own bread around here! Going out is very much a treat. But I understand the complexity for those who don’t have the luxury of working at home.

    Taylor? I’m from New Jersey, and I never heard of it. Thanks for the information and recipe.

  15. Alysa says:

    I just love your reasons for cooking! I feel the same way! I very much appreciate all your encouragement for my cooking and writing. I would really love to meet you some day soon when I come out to visit the Hochhalters. Or who knows? On a research project for my as-yet-started phd in food anthropology?! 🙂 All the best and cheers!

  16. tinkyweisblat says:

    I look forward to it, Alysa……..

  17. Adelaide says:

    Hi Tinky,

    First: I love your posts. You have a friendly, clear writing style and express your philosophy about food without preaching. You remind me of M.F.K. Fisher who’s writings are not so much about recipes as they are about how food and people connect.

    I, too, love to cook and began my cooking as a teenager when I had to begin the evening meal since everyone else in the family worked. Cooking brings out one of my creative instincts. For years now I have been cooking for just my husband and me, and I still find it difficult not to cook too much.


  18. tinkyweisblat says:

    Adelaide–What a WONDERFUL compliment! M.F.K. Fisher is one of my idols. I know what you mean about finding it hard to cook for two. But we can always invite guests over. Thanks so much for contributing.

    I’ve just signed up for your RSS feeds so I can read your poems–and maybe learn a little about brevity…….


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