Cleaning Out the Basement–Pardon my Foie Gras

I love books like this–blithe and bright, they have an American exceptionalism attitude that says we get to eat and enjoy good things.

It’s full of cliches like casque-helmeted policeman, the kiosk, and fleur de lis. This 1956 book is barely the size of an index card and yet it claims to be “fully illustrated.” Nonetheless, recipes like Poulet Souffle or Caneton a L’Orange are presented with admirable efficiency and a few stock photos.

Of course, they are not the marathon that would come in 1961 with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is more of a friendly backyard sprint. Tuck it in your purse, drive the station wagon to the A&P, and enjoy Gay Paree for dinner.

almost “quick and easy”

It is one of the “Handy Aid Books” published by Richards Rosen Associates, Inc. Another opportunity for nostalgia, a lost time when publishing little books like this could earn enough for  a place in the city, a summer home upstate, and funds to raise two sons. The author, Ruth Chier Rosen, worked with her husband. But this was no housewife hobby, Rosen went to Smith, planned to work at the UN, but found she and her husband shared an entrepreneurial spirit and so she spent some time with Dione Lucas and ended up writing a lot of books on a lot of topics.

be careful!

In fact, her description of how they put these books together is fascinating–using a printer in the neighborhood, cutting and binding the pages themselves, as well as fulfilling orders. Actually, in an interesting way it sounds like a self-publishing effort I’m in the middle of. We’re doing the content and design ourselves, and though we won’t be binding, we are taking orders!

 

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Historical Notes on Montgomery County Foodways

I’ve been working on a cookbook titled Bread & Beauty, A Year in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. Along with interviewing farmers and agricultural advocates, attending events, and developing recipes based on Ag Reserve produce, I’ve had the great pleasure of researching in the Library of Congress. I’ve found some interesting bits of Montgomery’s food history, some of which is not appropriate for the book, but are too good to leave in the stacks.

From Home on the Canal, Elizabeth Kytle, 1983

Mary Colbert Mose grew up “boating” and recalls, “bean soup was the boatsman’s great meal. Bean soup and rivvels made with eggs. Fried chicken. Fish. Coffee. Anything at all. If we wanted to bake, we had our little baker—a regular oven.” She also recalls that when the boat arrived in Georgetown the children would be given a dime and head directly to Candy Kitchen on M Street where she had her first banana split. They’d buy blocks of taffy, licorice, and cough drops bought in boxes for a Christmas treat, and peanuts by the can. Back home they’d eat buckwheat cakes and butchered pigs to make pinehorst (scrapple).

 

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Risotto & Beyond

cover image

Risotto & Beyond by John Coletta, Rizzoli 2018, hardcover 240 pages, $37.50

Each month is gay, each season nice, when eating chicken soup with rice.

Maurice Sendak

Or when eating Risotto with Oysters and Prosecco, or Rice Tart with Prosciutto, or Rice Crespelle with Almonds and Organic Honey.

John Coletta is the founding chef of Quartino in Chicago, where there are four risotto on the menu. But in this book, he dives deep into rice, offering risotto with vegetables, seafood, and meat in familiar Italian flavors like tomato and mozzarella and more wide-ranging flavors like Speck and Fennel, Seafood and Saffron, Leeks and Grana Padano.

And to make sure you get a velvety risotto, he gives guidance on rice–look for thick, short-grained varieties like Vialone Nano–a semifino rice–or another superfino rice that have a creamy exterior and cook to an al dente center. With his encouragement, you’ll move beyond Arborio.

For the “beyond” recipes–soups, salad, tarts, one-dish meals, antipasti and dessert dishes–he recommends one of the 70 varieties of Italian rice. Together, the book’s recipes expand our notion of Italian food beyond pasta. In fact, Italy is Europe’s largest producer of rice and so not surprisingly, there are easily a book’s worth of recipes and techniques for cooking it–from tempting fried rice balls to impressive, layered timbales, to a strawberry rice gelato.

Coletta points out that rice is healthy, and gluten-free, but the real motivator are these recipes.

 

 

 

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Prison Food in America

This review appeared in the May 2018 issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. It made me realized that an often overlooked aspect of freedom is being able to choose what we eat, options that exist on a sliding scale depending on your income and location. At the risk of being glib, I think the closest I’ve ever come to food restrictions is visiting Disneyworld–there was no real food, not an apple in site–just ice cream shaped like Mickey and pancakes shaped like Mickey, and candy shaped like Mickey.

CHoW is off for the summer, but join us in September for a whole new line-up of speakers and events.

 

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Cleaning Out the Basement–Persephone Books

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Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, Persephone Books 2009, paper, 263 pages

Lamb’s Conduit Street in London runs its quiet route a few blocks west of Russell Square, if the jigsaw streets and gardens can really be called blocks, and there, between a hipster barber shop and a traditional pub, you’ll find Persephone Books.

Where they sell the most elegant reprints of overlooked 20th century fiction and non-fiction written by women.

The non-fiction list includes cookery books, and the cookery books list includes Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, who’s been described as an “artist-hostess.”

All Persephone books are jacketed in elegant gray, that opens to reveal carefully chosen end papers that are reproductions of vintage fabrics. For me, as heart-stopping and sigh-inducing as a perfectly tailored sober wool coat with a fuchsia satin lining.

my breath is caught

This is a collection of essays that Jekyll wrote in the 1920s for The Times and they cover such charming topics as Children’s Bread, In the Cook’s Absence, Tea Time and Some Cakes. They recall a long-gone lifestyle of breakfasting in one’s room, nursery food, and travels following the seasons. One can hear the dowager countess tutting in the background.

And they record long-gone ingredients like a “cup of hot Benger” (a powdered drink mix of the 1890s meant to aid digestion), something frightening called sal volatile, and perhaps most amazingly, “silver airplane cloth” once used to cover fuselage, repurposed here to wrap flatware for a hunting luncheon.

It’s worth noting that style may change–Jekyll offers many dishes propped up on aspic, from turkey fillets to camembert–but things come around. In her essay, “On the Serving of Food,” Jekyll boldly recommends serving hot from the earthenware pot, rather than transferring the food to “the glacial tureen.” And she suggests eternally appealing Italian dishes like Gnocchi con Formaggio and Risotto.

Brew a pot of tea, assemble a few digestive biscuits, and waft away to the aspirational past.

 

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Historical Notes on Montgomery County Foodways

I’ve been working on a cookbook titled Bread & Beauty, A Year in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. Along with interviewing farmers and agricultural advocates, attending events, and developing recipes based on Ag Reserve produce, I’ve had the great pleasure of researching in the Library of Congress. I’ve found some interesting bits of Montgomery’s food history, some of which is not appropriate for the book, but are too good to leave in the stacks.

From American Vintage by Paul Lukacs, 2005

Searching for an American grape suitable for winemaking, in the early 1800s, Major John Adlum developed a variety of vines, one from “cuttings secured from a widow living in Montgomery County.” No one knew their source, and they looked like those used to make Hungarian Tokay, but they were later found not to be a European strain. Adlum called them what the widow had: Catawba. The Catawba grape was eventually developed into a white wine and a pinkish sparkling wine by a Cincinnati winemaker who developed a German-style wine that had broad appeal and came to be called Cincinnati Hock.

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Edna Lewis, At the Table with an American Original

Edna Lewis is an inspiration–or should be more of one. She pursued her talents and beliefs, from dressmaking to politics, whether they fit expectations or not. She valued and drew on her rural, self-sufficient childhood in a community of free Black people. And she recorded it in recipes and recollections that read like poetry. You can learn about her in this new collection of essays that tells her life by those she inspired.

This review appeared in the April edition of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. Check us out!

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