Memories of the days when vegetarianism was the new, hot, hip thing are quickly fading. But one enduring image is of the thick, earth-toned, handwritten, and hand illustrated Moosewood Cookbook that all my cooking-focused friends were buying in the mid-1970’s. Based on recipes from the Moosewood Restaruant and published first in 1974, it was responsible for most of the bowls of vegetarian chili that everyone seemed to serve before heading off to find inner peace at the coffee shop listening to beads-and-Birkenstock-bedecked Dylan wannabes.
For most college students and young people back in the day it was their first cookbook, proving that you could have flavor without meat and bringing an international flair to vegetarian cooking.
I haven’t thought about the Moosewood in several decades but stumbled upon the restaurant while exploring Ithaca N.Y. this weekend. It still exists, and still serves excellent vegetarian and pescatarian food, updated to reflect current trends. My salmon with North African chermoula sauce was full of flavor and thankfully accompanied by Israeli couscous instead of brown rice.Their take on shrimp and grits with a mango-habanero BBQ sauce was stunning. Tofu was available only as a side dish; perhaps there is moral progress in this world.
Still run by a collective, some members of which have been there since it opened in 1973, they continue to serve simple, flavorful food while fully embracing the farm-to-table ethos. The original author of the cookbooks, Molly Katzen, and the Moosewood Collective have parted ways after disputes over copyright, and I have no idea if the newest editions are worthy of their iconic status.
But for vegetarians seeking a pilgrimage, there is none more worthy than the Moosewood for its history as well as its current commitment to quality.