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 Kitchen: A 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 Soufflé, 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.