Martha Stewart's name was a punchline through most of the past two decades, an easy, cutting synonym for the minion-assisted pursuit of an impossible domestic bliss. We laughed, we mocked, we condescended at Martha's condescension. When she was jailed a few years ago for lying to investigators about a stock sale, the nicest thing most people said was how stripes must be back in style.
What all the derisive comments about her sugar sculptures and homemade chocolate-almond-wood-grain bark overlooks, however, is how indispensable her cookbooks are. She's published dozens of them since her groundbreaking first, simply called Entertaining, was launched in the early Reagan years. Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook is a bible for many home and professional bakers (it's my desert-island baking book). Her Everyday Food series (another one's due out in time for Christmas) is rammed with healthy, unfussy and generally delicious weeknight meals. And if you've eaten at a catered cocktail party in the last two decades, at least a few of canapés were lifted straight out of her Hors D'oeuvres handbook (there have been three editions so far), guaranteed.
Her latest takes her back to where she started. Martha's Entertaining is the long-awaited update to that first book. It's just as fussy in many ways: On one page from the "Peony Garden Party" chapter she announces, "It took several men to carry the antique French mahogany table from its storage location in the carriage house to the tropical garden;" another section shows an enormous, moulded pomegranate jelly, set on a cut crystal cake plate and dripping with sugared currants. But amid all the ponce, there are step-by-step photo guides, plus brilliant (and not completely impossible) recipes, like the ones for wild mushroom lasagna and fava bean ragoût.
Besides, give the book a few years and watch for it – for those pomegranate jellied salads, that is. Martha matters. Here's betting they turn up at every second holiday party by 2014.