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Reunion with a cherished cookbook

I found an old friend the other day, a copy of a battered old yellow cookbook, lost in a mix-up on the confused night in August 1981 when I packed to go to college.

I've gotten a library's worth of cookbooks since then, so many I have a special bookcase in my kitchen and still have to bring a stack to the office and keep them with my reference books.but this was my first grown-up cookbook, the one I had used for my first dinner party, my first roast chicken, my first spaghetti sauce.

I had remembered it all this time the way you remember your first crush.

Through 14 years of junk stores and flea markets, I have searched for another copy, scanning shelves for that yellow cloth cover and the title: Cecily Brownstone's Associated Press Cookbook.

It was the "Associated Press" in the title that brought the cookbook to me in the first place. My mother didn't know I had any particular interest in cooking in those days, but I had wanted to be a journalist since I was 10.

It was 1978 when I got the cookbook _ the quiche years, when every pickup truck had a "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" bumper sticker, and every woman made quiche for parties.

My AP book had a great quiche recipe that called for only two eggs. I quickly learned I could discard the bacon, add cheese (that was the year I discovered Gruyere) and substitute anything else I wanted. Tuna quiche, crab quiche, ham quiche. I made quiche so often that, after the book disappeared, I was relieved to find that I had memorized the recipe without even trying.

I had a pretty good run of years working entry-level jobs in South Florida newspapers, and by 1981 I had saved enough money to go away to college. I got accepted at Florida State University.

On that last panicked night before I left, I stuffed everything that would fit into my yellow Pinto station wagon. Two boxes were left: one, full of castoffs like old flower vases, was supposed to go to Goodwill; another, filled with important things like my cookbook that I wouldn't need in a dorm room, was supposed to go to my mother's, along with my furniture. Of course, the boxes were mixed up. No more cookbook.

Through the years I scanned bookshelves for another copy. Then, serendipity: In Atlanta last fall, I met Ann Egerton, wife of John Egerton, author of Southern Food. Ann has made a career of tracking down old books. She scribbled a note to herself to watch for the Brownstone.

I didn't hold out much hope.

Several months later, I got a card from Ann Egerton: She had found the book. Did I still want it?

I said yes!

A few weeks later, the book arrived in a big brown envelope. Under the dust cover, it was the same yellow book. There was the quiche _ I had forgotten that it was called Paris Quiche.

I had also forgotten the chapter of international recipes. It was ahead of its time for 1972 _ risotto and Brazilian feijoada and several others that have just become popular in the last few years. I even noticed two polenta recipes.

It's not nutritionally correct, of course. Cecily Brownstone was the food editor of the Associated Press before butter and cream became forbidden, but then, in the days that I was cooking from the book, I didn't have to worry about what I ate either.

That's the allure of the book for me. It's a slice of my history. There are always a few times in our lives that boil down to something so simple: a particular book, a particular song on the radio _ and maybe just a bite of quiche.

Paris Quiche

6 slices bacon (see note)

High fluted unbaked flaky pastry shell in 8-inch oven-glass pie plate (see note)

2 eggs

1{ cups light cream

{ teaspoon salt

Dash of white pepper

Cut bacon (if using) crosswise into {-inch-wide pieces; cook them in a skillet over low heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Drain well. Sprinkle bacon bits over bottom of pastry shell. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. (If using ham and cheese, bake pie shell for 10 minutes, dice ham and grate cheese, then pile in partly baked pie shell.)

Beat eggs slightly; add cream, salt and pepper and beat to combine. Pour this custard mixture over bacon in partly baked pie shell. Bake in 350-degree oven about 30 minutes or until a silver knife inserted in custard comes out clean. Place on wire rack for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 small servings.

Note: I usually skip the bacon and add about 1{ cups Swiss cheese, such as Gruyere, and about { cup chopped ham. For the pie crust, a refrigerator pie crust in any old pie pan works just fine.

Source: Cecily Brownstone's Associated Press Cookbook, Plimpton Press, 1972.