Amid cleaning out yet another basement–my own–in preparation for moving, and while packing crate after crate of cookbooks, I had the gall to buy another one–two in fact, because this 1965 revised edition comes in two volumes.
I couldn’t resist. These are the snail of cookbooks. Just as the snail carries his house on his back, these volumes are a library in themselves–even the most curious cook could find a lifetime of recipes in these books.
The volumes were published when Gourmet magazine was nearly 25 years old, thriving on a philosophy “that good cooks make the most of what they have,…and approach their art creatively…”. Still a pretty good approach to any one our three daily meals.
And true to Gourmet style, there is a bit of superciliousness, “…the greatest collection of recipes in the English language,” and a bit of culinary daring in recipes for Cha Shui, Civet de Lievre, or Arni Souvlakia. And while the recipes are based in French traditions there are also some great American recipes like Clam Hash Knickerbocker, Hominy Souffle, or Maple Gingerbread. It’s a book that will have you cooking–relishes, chutneys, sauces, consommes, soufflés.
The two volumes are organized idiosyncratically. Each one begins with Hors d’Oeuvres and run through meat, veg, and sweets. But Volume I ends, charmingly, with the Tea Table. More homey, Volume II includes recipes for Barbecue and cookies–though in a chapter for Petit Fours, amid gaufrettes and bonbons.
But give them credit. The late 1990s fad for marrow bones? See volume I, page 385. Obscure German pastries? See Strumpfbander, page 695. Historical oddities? See Bedspread for Two, page 739–a very sexy dish of scrambled eggs and oysters, cooked in a chafing dish. Compound butters? But of course–Carlton, Bercy, Fermiere, Marchand de Vin, and Maitre d’Hotel are just a few.
Or maybe you’re looking for a basic lattice-top pie, a good recipe for Pain d’Epices, or a cocktail roadmap through “The Cobblers, The Daisies, The Collinses, and the Fizzes,” (sounds like a nice neighborhood).
It’s kind of hard to cook from these books because I’m distracted by every flip of the page. Page 59 in Volume I catches my eye–I’ve always meant to try making English muffins. Oh, but wouldn’t it be fun to put up French Brandied Fruits or layered jars of Tutti-Frutti with Rum–stawberries, raspberries, apricots, and plums–right through the summer. Or how about a week of soufflés–ham, salmon, asparagus, tomato, lobster, oysters, with a grand finale of maraschino a la Russe. And what’s in Volume II anyway?
See what I mean–a lifetime of cooking.