Other than the Webster's College Dictionary on my desk, the reference books I most frequently grasp are "Food Lover's Companion" and "Wine Lover's Companion," the former by Sharon Tyler Herbst, the latter by Sharon Tyler Herbst and her husband, Ron Herbst. Over the years, the compact yet comprehensive books consistently have been reliable for settling debates on spelling, definition, history and the like about this or that ingredient or technique in cooking and winemaking.
We've just learned that Sharon Tyler Herbst died Friday at her Bodega Bay home of ovarian cancer. A native of Denver, Colo., she wrote 17 culinary books, a discipline to which she turned after modest success as a mystery writer.
Her career as a food writer and cooking teacher began when she was given a microwave oven, about which she knew nothing. She signed up for a cooking class, realized she knew more than the teacher, and began to conduct classes herself.
Her first cookbook, "Breads," was published in 1983. The compendium for which she is best known, "Food Lover's Companion," first was published in 1990 with definitions of 3,000 terms. Subsequent editions grew to 6,000 entries, with more than a million copies sold. It's the online reference of several Internet culinary Web sites, including Epicurious.com, Amazon.com and FoodNetwork.com. Her latest book, "Cheese Lover's Companion," to include more than 1,000 cheeses and cheese-related terms, is to be published in June.
A memorial service is to be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Yacht Club in Bodega Bay. In lieu of flowers, her family requests that contributions be made in her memory to the UCSF Gynecologic Oncology Foundation, in care of Dr. Bethan Powell, 1600 Divisadero St., San Francisco, CA 94115.