The Italian Baker: Remembering Carol Field

panettone dough carol field

The Italian Baker is one of the few cookbooks that I own two copies of, so that I have one in Italy and one in Australia and I don’t have to worry about packing it in my suitcase with me when I travel back and forth. It’s one of the few cookbooks that I have sitting on my desk, in the kitchen, ready to be flicked through or cooked from at any moment. It’s a book that I have always found inspiration in, whether it’s for the stories, the recipes, a rustic, dependable loaf for everyday or a special, I’ll probably only make this once kind of recipe project, like pandoro or panettone.

So I was truly saddened to find out that its author, Carol Field, died last week at age 76. Her passion for Italian food culture is contagious. When you read her cookbooks, you cannot help but get just as excited as she does about the waft of someone’s parsley from their garden or the cric-crac of the crust of some wood-fired bread.

grissini Carol Field

In the early eighties when she was writing this collection of baking recipes, a journey that took no less two years just to research, Italian artisan baking was fast becoming endangered, mostly taken over by packaged, highly processed, industrial white bread with no personality, no regionality and no identity. While putting together this list of some of my favourites of her recipes for Food52, I re-read Field’s introduction to The Italian Baker again last night and this really resonated with me,

Knowing the story and tastes of the regional breads that come out of these ovens is like taking a trip through the Italian countryside. Saving and honouring them is like preserving the stone villages on the hillsides or their churches and frescoes, for saving the taste of the past keeps it alive in the present.”

This book, reprinted in 2011, continues to do exactly that; even though it is over thirty years old, it is still completely relevant. And thankfully, artisan baking in Italy was also salvaged and kept alive too. I have no doubt that this author and this book, with its well-told stories of passionate Italian bakers and their lessons, have something to do with that.

focaccia ai datteri

One of the other reasons it’s such a well-used cookbook in my kitchen is that the recipes just work. I find also very interesting her explanations of the difference between baking with American and Italian flours — it all makes so much sense now, why some recipes “work” in one country but don’t in another. How she has “translated” the recipes for use in the home kitchen, dividing the method into various instructions “by hand” or “by mixer” (I am always doing it the first way), is so practical, so user-friendly.

The Italian Baker was with me when I baked my first pandiramerino and my first schiacciata, recipes that I now make with my eyes closed. And it’s always there when I want to try something new. In case you don’t already own a copy of this cookbook, or aren’t heading out to nearest bookshop to get it, here are a few of my favourite recipes inspired by Carol Field:

The Italian Baker, always on my desk

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Comments

16 Responses to “The Italian Baker: Remembering Carol Field”
  1. A huge loss. Her baking book is a bible, and, as you say, a no-ending source of precious tricks and tips. Her grissini recipe has so many stains on the page that it’s now barely legible. She left us an invaluable tome, impeccably researched and extremely approachable. She’ll be very missed but her legacy will survive her.

  2. Rosemarie says:

    Such a lovely book that is almost never on my bookshelf. I am inspired to cook from it so much it that it is generally on my bedside table or kitchen bench. You’re absolutely right, she knew how to ‘translate’ recipes that otherwise would only be prepared by professional bakers to home cooks wonderfully. I also love how she always explains how to prepare by hand or by mixer. I nearly always prefer the former but when feeling pressed for time, it’s nice to opt for the latter occasionally too. The book is one of a kind and she’ll be very missed.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      I only have the option for hand so I really appreciated this part of her book when so many recipes today assume that people have mixers in their kitchens! It’s great that she has both. Keen to see how her pastiera turns out!

  3. Marion says:

    I love the Italian Baker too and was pleased to read your lovely tribute to Carol Field. I bought my copy in the early nineties and its now looking very battered as much-loved books inevitably do. I remember that the first loaf I made from it was pane francese, and the excitement of waiting for my first biga to rise! Her grissini are my standard bring-a-plate item, and we always had her panettone for Christmas morning back before we could buy panettone in NZ (dark days!)
    I made a batch of biga before leaving home this morning and will make and eat another pane francese in her honour this weekend.

  4. Oh, somehow I missed the news of Carol’s passing. I have her books and was fortunate enough to spend time in her company, together with Will Studd, at Tasting Australia in Adelaide in 1997. Vale Carol Field.

  5. I did take your advice and bought a copy of The Italian Baker for my own kitchen. It lives on the bench beside the fruit bowl and I often find one of my daughters thumbing through it looking for their next weekend baking project.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      How wonderful, I’m glad this inspired you! I’m sure you and your daughters will find something you love in it. The grissini were fantastic, and I can’t get enough of the pantramvai but also her more elaborate projects like pandoro and panettone were fun too!

  6. Jeanne says:

    Carol Fields’ “Celebrating Italy” (1990) was filled with revelations for me. Rabbit with balsamic vinegar! Risotto with chicken, and with sausage. Pumpkin rice. Gratin of polenta, broccoli, sausage & cheese, with her pork ragu. Her recipes call up our love of Italy, our love of kitchen. I’m not a baker but I’ll make grissini in her memory and with thanks to you.

  7. Thanks so much for writing this- Carol was a lovely woman, a brilliant writer and historian, and enormously generous. Her loss still doesn’t feel real to me.

  8. Angela Palermo says:

    It was so sad to hearing of her passing. Her books really inspired me to continue exploring my love of baking, especially Italian traditional baking. Im so grateful to her and her hard work towards sharing these recipes and techniques. Thanks to you for sharing her work again. Ange x

  9. I just discovered your wonderful blog this morning and was saddened to read that Carol Field passed away recently. My dog-eared copy of the Italian Baker is one of the things I would rescue if my house were on fire. Her Pan Bigio graces our table almost daily and friends and relatives always look forward to recieving a Panforte at Christmastime. Thank you for passing along the news.

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