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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry White’s Lessons On Cooking For Crowds

Merry White is a professor of food anthropology and author of "Cooking for Crowds," which has just been released in its 40th edition. (Boston University)

Merry White is a professor of food anthropology and author of “Cooking for Crowds,” which has just been released in its 40th edition. (Boston University)

When Merry “Corky” White was a graduate student in Cambridge, Mass., back in ’70s, she took to catering to make some money.

She cooked for scholars at Harvard’s West European Studies — she reasoned they might know European food, so things like lamb curry — considered daring in the day — appeared on her menu. Along the way, she found herself cooking for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she dropped by Harvard.

White is also the author of “Cooking For Crowds,” first published in 1974. With the 40th anniversary edition now hitting bookstores, she joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with a lesson on cooking for 50.

Interview Highlights: Merry White

On making do with limited cooking supplies

“Pretty much the only change to my kitchen from my ordinary graduate student supplies was the size of pots. I ended up, in fact, buying large pots. I still had that four-burner stove that most people had in the day. Sometimes I had to use two burners for one of those pots. But you know, you just made do. I was doing a lot of things with my hands that you could now do with a Cuisinart … and a lot of things that we take for granted. We just spent lots more time.”

On adjusting a recipe to feed 50 people

“Expanding a dish is kind of tricky. Some of the things are straight mathematical multiplication, but a lot of things aren’t. The use of spices, for example, can’t simply be multiplied, because some of them have — especially if you’re making a dish ahead — a lot more power as they rest. There’s where cooking something for the first time doesn’t really work. When you’re cooking for 50 people, you might want to try it out.”

Words of advice for a first-timer

“Take a long walk, and a nap. Settle the menu to be something that you can make ahead. Make sure you’ve got some good music while you’re cooking. Don’t cut your fingers.”


  • Merry White, author of “Cooking For Crowds” and a professor of food anthropology at Boston University. She tweets @merrycorkywhite.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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