Monday, January 17, 2011
Some thoughts on cookbooks
I was looking at photos of small kitchens on Apartment Therapy's site "The Kitchn" (their spelling) this week. One they featured had a counter top computer,ready to search for recipes from all over the Internet. Interesting, thought I, but not for me. Nor do I want my recipes squeezed onto an e-reader, I want to hold my cookbooks, to leaf through them, to annotate them. I also want cookbooks that would never appear on a Nook or a Kindle because they are sixty years old and out of print and out of fashion.
Perhaps I am writing this to justify my latest trip to the stacks at McKay Used Books yesterday. I admit that when one owns over 300 cookbooks, it seems superfluous to add more. Yet when I shop now I am looking for the vintage, the unique, and the exceptional.
And that is what I found at McKay. A 60 year old book on Romanian cooking by an accomplished woman named Anisoara Stan, who was a "nationally renowned folklorist and folk artist". And "The Settlement Cookbook" compiled by Mrs Simon Kander and published by The American Crayon Company of Sandusky. This book is a fourth edition, published in 1910. 100 years old. A collectible. I paid $4.00 for it.
I also bought Leon Galatoire's Cookbook. The author is of the Galatoire clan who ran the famous New Orleans restaurant of the same name. It was signed by the author in 1995 for "Wende and Riley", who he hopes will come and visit him soon in New Orleans.
And next- another gem from 1954. "Jesse's book of Creole and deep South Recipes", by Edith and John Watts. Mrs Watts, a matron from Gulfport, was a daughter of Mr Marshall Ballard, editor of the "New Orleans Item". Mr Ballard loved food and set an illustrious table with the help of his black cook Jesse Willis Lewis, a gentleman praised by the likes of Henry Luce, Dorothy Dix, and H.L. Mencken- luminaries undoubtedly unknown to the Twitter Generation. This book is also a collectible.
Lastly- is the hyper-opinionated James Villas's " The Glory of Southern Cooking". It is not a collectible and it is not vintage, but it was a find for $17.00. Mr Villas lives in New York, and once wrote for "Town and Country". He is very much the defender of all things traditional. He wants no one tinkering with the sacred recipes of his memory. This book even has a recipe for a frozen tomato concoction called "Belle Meade Frozen Tomato", served at the Belle Meade Country Club in this city. I have always wondered what went on at the Country Club, a place I will never be invited to in this lifetime.
As always I wonder who sent these books to McKay I can only conclude that they were people who did not know any better. And how thankful I am to them. And in the future I hope there are more of them, ready to discard Jane Grigson's cookbooks, or books on Austrian and Scandinavian cookery. I want a Russian cookbook. A Portuguese cookbook, and anything from Sicily-