Best of Bridge authors Elizabeth Chorney-Booth and Julie Van Rosendaal talk to Malcolm Jolley.
The Alberta-based series Best of Bridge has produced some of Canada’s most popular and enduring cookbooks for over 40 years. It’s always been a group effort, and two of its current three authors were in Toronto recently to promote their latest book: Best of Bridge The Family Slow Cooker. Calgarians, Julie Van Rosendaal and Elizabeth Chorney-Booth met me at their downtown Toronto hotel to talk about the new cookbook, and also the history of the Best of Bridge phenomenon. (Missing was co-author Sue Duncan.) The book is the second in the new series to focus on slow cookers, which seem to be a culinary phenomenon in there own right. This book gets creative and offers unorthodox uses for the kitchen appliance in 225 recipes.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and style.
Good Food Revolution: Tell me a little bit about Best of Bridge and what that means.
Julie Van Rosendaal: Best of Bridge was originally a group of eight ladies. They lived in Calgary in the 70’s and they had a bridge club. Just like a book club is today, they would all bring food to the bridge club, and the games would revolve around food. In 1975 they decided they would self-publish a cookbook; I think they printed 2,500 copies. They went to get a bank loan and their husbands had to come into the bank and co-sign for the loan. That was 1975: International Year of the Woman! [Laughs.] Well, they sold all the books and then went on to publish I don’t know how many more titles, but they’ve sold more than 4,000,000 books. In Alberta, for sure, we were raised on Best Bridge. And for me, they were my neighbours: I went to school with some of their kids. In my family, we always had Christmas Morning Wife Saver and Classy Chicken is still my dad’s favourite meal. There are four remaining Best of Bridge authors, they’re still living in Calgary, and they’re awesome. They asked us to take it up where they left off and continue to publish home cooking recipes that are approachable and people feel like they could actually make.
GFR: That sounds like a bit of a heavy responsibility.
JVR: I know! No pressure…
GFR: If there’s 4,000,000 Best of Bridge books out there, people are going to be comparing.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth: People actually come up to us and say things like, “You better not mess it up.” [Both laugh.] So, we do take the responsibility really seriously, but the four ladies who are still around have been really supportive. We’ve learned from meeting them, and getting to know them a little bit better, that they are normal, fun loving people just like we are. And there are three of us: Julie and I and Sue Duncan is our third. The three of us are real life friends. Having fun and doing the books together is as much of the legacy as the recipes themselves.
GFR: Right. So, as they were friends, so are you.
JVR: They still are friends. Although I am sure there was some drama.
EC-B: There is always some drama!
GFR: Let’s talk about the book. It’s a slow cooker book. And I think it’s the second slow cooker book in the Best of Bridge series. What’s the deal with slow cookers?
EC-B: It is the second slow cooker put out by Robert Rose, the new publisher. I think everyone just thought that people are always looking for new slow cooker recipes. People know you can make a stew in a slow cooker, or do a pot roast recipe, but they don’t know what else to do with it, and you can only eat so many stews and pot roasts.
GFR: I saw some pretty interesting dishes in the book. You bake cakes, and you cook a whole chicken…
JVR: Yes. The chicken isn’t pretty, but it’s delicious because all the moisture is sealed in the slow cooker. So, you don’t have crispy skin, but you do have this intensely juicy meat, and you don’t have to worry about overcooking it. A great thing about the slow cooker is that it doesn’t require a lot of cooking skill. We’re all busy but we all have to feed ourselves, and it’s expensive to eat out. I just gave a copy of The Family Slow Cooker to my niece who’s just moved out from home. She’s taking classes and working, and she still has to eat every day. The slow cooker is an economical way to cook that doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s a great way to beat food waste. If you have vegetables that are starting to get a little wrinkly and you don’t know what to do with them, then you can throw them into a chilli or a stew, have a great meal, and nobody knows the difference!
GFR: Of all the recipes that you compiled and tested, are there one or two that you find you’re using yourselves?
EC-B: I always do slow cooker brisket and pulled pork. Those are the classics because they’re so easy to do. They’re great if you have a crowd of people coming over – I even do them in two slow cookers. Those are my 100% go to’s. But Ive found myself doing some other things. The dips are really good. You can make your dip in the slow cooker and leave it on ‘warm’ so that your cheesy dip remains melted.
JVR: No one wants a congealed dip!
EC-B: And winter drinks: mulled wine or cider; boozy or non-boozy.
JVR: I am a big fan of beans, dried beans.
GFR: I think you wrote a book about beans.
JVR: I did! And the slow cooker is a great tool for doing a big batch of beans. You can soak the beans in the crock, refresh the water and then add garlic, herbs or salt. (You can add salt now, they changed the rules: it won’t make them gritty.) Then, cook them by the large batch so you can keep them in the fridge or freeze them. Its just a really good way to have flavourful, wonderful beans for all kinds of uses.