Sabtu, 23 November 2013

Collecting Out-of-print Cookbooks

This is my initial post in the book category.  Since retiring in July 2007, I have been slowly collecting cookbooks, most of which are out-of-print.  Actually my interest is a bit broader because it includes books on the history of food, culture and cuisine.  In the near term, I intend that most of my blog posts will be about  these books. 
I buy my most of my books at library book sales and a few at local yard sales in central Massachusetts where I live.  A library book sale is a great place to get very good books at bargain prices.  Hardcover books usually sell for $1 or $2.  Some are ex-library books, but most are not.  Over the last three months, it has been my experience that there are many fine books for sale in like-new or very good condition.  Many are first editions, which means they are worth more, and I have even found a few signed by the author.  For example, for $1 I recently bought a first edition of Emeril Lagasse’s second book, Louisiana Real & Rustic, signed by Emeril.  It is worth around $24.  I also like the idea that my purchases are helping to fund the libraries.

Senin, 18 November 2013

Two books that combine food history with recipes

I am most interested in the style of cookbook that provides the historical context for recipes.  I find the history of food as interesting as the recipes themselves.  This is especially true if the book covers a period of history over several hundred years.  That longer time-frame allows the author to trace the evolution of a local cuisine that results from the confluence of new ingredients, new classes of cooks, advances in cooking technology and the recipe adaptation that results when native cooks relocate; the latter being associated mostly with immigrants. 
I have several such cookbooks in my collection.  The two I will reference in this article are:
·         The Newport Cookbook by  Ceil Dyer, published in 1972 by Foremost Publishers, Compton RI.
·         Danish Cookbooks by Carol Gold, published in 2007 by University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.
Both books cover the period from the early seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, roughly 300 years.  Both supplement the historical discussion with recipes from each corresponding period.  In some cases the food or culinary event itself is the history being discussed.
In The Newport Cookbook, Ceil Dyer traces Rhode Island cuisine from early colonial times to modern times; from before the French and Indian wars to World War II.  She illustrates her book with historical black and white sketches and photographs.  In the earliest years we find the convergence of native American cooking with the English cookery of the settlers.  This adaptation was mandatory for the early settlers in order to acclimate to the harsh realities of unreliable, extended supply lines from England, not to mention the problems of obtaining livestock or fresh food from such a great distance.  Once farming took hold, local sources became available for some ingredients common to England, and where not, other local produce like turkey, bear and venison were adopted.  Seafood was abundant and became a mainstay of the colonial diet, obviously.  Corn was an important grain.  Dyer includes recipes for Codfish Cakes and Jonny-Cakes in her book.  In the latter half of her book, Dyer traces the growth of Newport into a haven for the wealthy (and related social climbers) and describes the endless fancy parties and their elegant multicourse menus. 
In Danish Cookbooks, Carol Gold traces the audience, format and recipes of Danish cookbooks from 1616 forward to 1910.   She does this in an entertaining and insightful way.  Although the book is sequential  in its presentation of history, the actual chapters are not ; they are topical.  The chapters are a series of courses and intermissions.  The first chapter, entitled Appetizers, consists of simply  reprinting the title pages of each of seven cookbooks, published in 1616, 1637, 1804, 1867, 1888, 1893 and 1901.  The next chapter, First Course, is a discussion of cookbooks as historical source material.  I found three things interesting in her overall presentation.  First, she traces the changes in the audience for whom the cookbooks were written, from the cooks of the wealthy in the seventeenth century to the middle class housewives that emerge in the nineteenth century.  Second, she traces the changes over 300 years to specific recipes, e.g., the recipe for herring changes very little, but there are more obvious changes to the recipe for Frikadeller, a kind of Danish meatball.  In the latter, the meat changes from lamb to veal to beef.  Third, she includes some very interesting material on the rising importance of potatoes to Danish cookery and ties that adoption to political and nationalistic trends.  The potato, introduced to Europe soon after the discovery of the Americas, was not accepted by the Danish as human food until the late eighteenth century. Eventually, the potato became so important that when a Danish national day was assigned to the potato, it was made to coincide with their equivalent of our fourth of July!

Minggu, 17 November 2013

Monks, Meals and Monasteries

Most of my cookbooks are high quality hardcover editions.  Paperbacks, or soft cover editions as they are sometimes called, just are not as durable.  I buy both, finding that some cookbooks are just too unique to pass up just because they are paperbacks.  One such book is From a Monastery KitchenA Practical Cookbook of Vegetarian Recipes for the Four Seasons Complete from Soups to Desserts with Breads.  This book is one of two cookbooks written and published by the monks of Our Lady of the Resurrection Priory of Cold Springs, NY to raise funds for the monks and their operations.  The other is Twelve Months of Monastery Soups. Engaging in secular world activities by monastic orders is not so unusual if you remember the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse Monastery in Vauvert, France that have made and sold the yellow and green Chartreuse liqueurs for over four hundred years.  As an aside: there is a four-hour-long, unusual documentary movie, Into Great Silence, made in 2005 about the lives of the Chartreuse monks that defies watching, since it is devoid of dialog.  I have seen it and it is the closest most of us will ever come to experiencing a monastic existence.
This book is plain and austere like the monastery itself.  The cover is a dull brown and the pages in side are in limited to one color for its text and drawings, namely dark brown, printed on cream colored paper.  As you might expect, the recipes in this cookbook are simple vegetarian fare. Examples are: Parsley-Potato Casserole, Brother Victor’s Lentil SoufflĂ©, and Butter-less, Milk-less, Egg-less Chocolate Cake. These recipes are arranged in sections that follow the four seasons of nature through the year beginning with Winter.   The ingredients in each seasonal recipe are often limited to the vegetables and other ingredients that would have been (maybe still are) available to the monks at each season of the year, assuming they live in the northern hemisphere and in a location where it snows in Winter, but not exclusively.  Some Winter recipes call for fresh peppers, celery and other things obviously obtained from local grocery stores.
It is not the recipes that I find most intriguing about this cookbook, but the manner in which the authors have surrounded the recipes on each page with medieval woodcuts and other pictures and short bits of textual wit.  You can see some of this in the picture below. It can be very entertaining and keeps the attention of the modern reader (one with attention deficit disorder).   So, while reading the recipe for Charterhouse Pudding on page 29, you get to enjoy two lovely pastoral woodcut drawing and sample quotations from poets (Byron and Frost), a theologian (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin),  authors ( Shaw, de Maupassant and Conrad), and Thomas Jefferson (who said “taste cannot be controlled by law”).

I think it is fun to have and read such an usual cookbook.  It serves as an antidote to the plethora of glossy, full color, highly graphic cookbooks that have flooded the market in recent years.  Many of my cookbooks are for sale, and most will be soon, but not this one.

Jumat, 15 November 2013

Food with a Passion

In 1996, Jo Foxworth and Jeanne Bauer published “The Bordello Cookbook,” a fascinating, if not titillating  analysis of seven, late nineteenth and early-twentieth century American bordellos, and the food, menus and recipes that each offered to their high class clients. The women who owned these bordellos astutely recruited some of the best chefs available to create the haute cuisine of these unique social clubs of their times.  Foxworth wrote the history and Bauer researched and adapted the historical recipes to modern times.  As the book jacket says, these millionaire madams “were the nation’s first successful businesswomen, a gutsy band of entrepreneurial pioneers who had the wit to add wickedly delicious food and drink to the menu at their joie de vivre establishments.”
These “establishments” survived precisely because they catered to the social elite of the time.  I should say the male social elite of course.  This means all the top political figures, business tycoons, community leaders and intellectuals in its locale.  It didn’t matter whether a person was interested in sex.  The bordello was the place to go and be seen.  Dining was sumptuous and expensive.  And if the client wanted a little something extra, it could be discretely negotiated.  Also discretely negotiated was the protection of the facility from both evil doers and overzealous members of local society or of the police.  The pragmatists in the community realized that a valuable function(s) was being provided and moved to protect it.   This usually allowed the bordello to grow and prosper for many years, but eventually the political tides would turn and the bordello would be swept away.
Foxworth has done an excellent job of researching the lives and adventures of the madams featured in this book and the behind the scenes details of bordello operations, especially the chefs and cuisine.  I will summarize just one of the bordellos, the Everleigh Club of Chicago, which flourished from 1900 to 1911, averaging $10,000 a month. 
Minna, 21, and Aida, 24, were sisters, who together endured bad marriages to two brothers for a year and then ran away. Their break came when their father died and left them $35,000.  They were in Omaha at the time, and opened a bordello there that offered fine food and wine from the start.  They quickly doubled the money in less than two years.  Convinced that they were on to something, they took their money and moved to Chicago, one of the places to be in 1900.  They launched the Everleigh Club, using the business formula that had succeeded so well in Omaha.  They weren’t alone.  Chicago has 500 such clubs at the time.  From the start they aimed for the top, hiring only the best girls and staff, including chefs.  They employed from 15 to 25 chefs, including at least one Cordon Bleu chef.  The Everleigh Club rapidly became world famous the best way possible, by word of mouth.  It even attracted foreign royalty.  It also attracted the press.  One of Minna’s rules was that “no member of the working press was ever to pay a dime for anything – food, booze or girls.”   This was a very symbiotic ecosystem.
The Everleigh Club cuisine soon became a trendsetter and people sought out its recipes.  Venison and all forms of game were offered.  A late night supper was offered for $50. The girls ate well, often having their tab paid for by the gentleman.  Another madam complained that every whore in America wanted to work at the Everleigh Club.  These suppers were extremely lavish and on special occasions featured stuffed baked swan, just because it sounded exotic.
Minna and Aida dressed lavishly and circulated through the club each night graciously greeting and mixing with the visitors.  Although neither Minna nor Aida ever provided sexual services themselves, they did offer very generous bribes to city officials.  Never-the-less, in October 1911, they were given notice to close and after a grand farewell party, they closed the Everleigh Club and took a six month vacation in Europe. 
Although I have been explaining the history as it is presented by Foxworth, I should mention that Bauer does provide 28 recipes in this one chapter of the book.  Recipes cover the whole spectrum from appetizers to desserts and drinks.  Main courses include venison, capon, crab Newburg, pheasant, oyster stew, roast pork, swordfish, duck hash and Peking beef strips.  These recipes are scattered throughout the chapter and nicely integrated with the historical commentary. 
On their return from Europe, the Everleigh sisters tried to open a new club, but quickly found that the bribes had doubled and still they had to put up with angry neighbors.  So they retired.  With $2 million in cash, a horde of jewelry and Aida’s gold piano, they moved to New York.  They bought a brownstone on West 70th Street, changed their names and became part of high society, living out their years in comfort.  
The other stories in this book are all interesting in their own right.  Not all are examples of luxury, but each has its hook.  If you like the mix of history, narrative and cookery, this is a must book for you.

Hidden Kitchens

In October 2004, NPR’s Morning Edition started a new series called Hidden Kitchens.  A year later, its creators published some of its contents in a richly illustrated book of the same title.  The authors are Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, known on NPR as the Kitchen Sisters.  The Kitchen Sisters are not cooks, nor cookbook writers, or even food writers. They are journalists focused on telling stories for radio audiences that are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  In the case of Hidden Kitchens,  just one of their projects, the stories revolve around cooking venues we wouldn’t usually think of.   These are not the stories of top chefs, or TV personalities.  These are the stories associated with one locale, where the person(s) involved may only be known to the locals.  Most of the stories are really about a community brought together, perhaps even defined, by the sharing of meals in the locale. 
I use the word locale, because the book’s chapters are mostly fixed on one location or type of unusual cookery.  Some examples are:
·         NASCAR kitchens in the pits, feeding the crews and drivers, moving with the drivers from city to city
·         Wild rice harvesting in Minnesota and the Ojibwe Indian community’s White Earth Land Recovery Project
·         Fund raising associated with Burgoo (mutton) cooking for charitable organizations in Kentucky
·         A Sicilian American hunter, forager and cook in San Francisco and his community of friends
·         A secret club, the Club from Nowhere, that provided food for sale, raising funds for the Birmingham AL civil rights movement; and its unsung hero, Georgia Gilmore
·         An Indiana farm family that got around the ban on selling raw milk products by selling shares of its cows to its customers.  Only owners of the cow can legally eat or drink its raw milk products.
·         Cooking classes in a San Francisco prison
·         Galley cooking on huge Great Lakes cargo ships
·         Concealed cooking by the indigent, homeless, etc. and the importance to them of the George Foreman Grill

While these stories form the main vertebrae of the book’s spine, the rest of the book is fleshed out with side ribs (shorter anecdotes labeled “kitchen visionary”) and a plethora of emails (labeled “messages”) sent in by NPR’s listeners.   The authors tried to limit the amount of email by specifying that they did not want any stories about listener’s grandmothers.  Needless to say, some made it through anyway and are in the book as well.  Also scattered throughout the text, at the appropriate places are samples of the recipes used in these hidden kitchens.  The book is peppered with pictures of the unknown cooks, grandmothers, farmers, community organizers, wardens, galley cooks, church members and cab drivers, etc.  The recipes and pictures make the stories feel very real.
This is a feel good book in which food and cookery are the means by which countless selfless individuals make their small contributions for a better world, feeding the soul as well as the body, and providing the catalyst that brings together friends and strangers to share a common experience and perhaps form a community.   So if you are looking for something upbeat, a positive boost to an otherwise grey day, pick up Hidden Kitchens and read a chapter.