Monthly Archives: July 2011

WHEN MAMA MAKES SOME CANDY (A POEM & A RECIPE)

When the days start getting shorter
And the frost is on the ground,
And the dogs are getting furry,
And the woodpile is a mound,
Near the woodstove, cats are lounging,
And the chores have all been done,
We all sit around the table,
While we read our books for fun.
Then one night after the dishes
Have been washed and put away,
Mama puts aside her darning,
And gets up and then she says
“What a night for making taffy!”
And you see our ears perk up,
I shout “I’ll fetch the sugar!”
Sis says “I’ll get the cup”
(The one we use to measure things),
And a wooden spoon to stir it up.
Mama takes out cider vinegar,
I pour molasses in the cup;
Into a big old heavy pot
Go all the needful things,
And Mama stirs it ‘till it’s boiling,
And then –well, here’s the thing,
You cook it without stirring
For what seems the longest wait
Mama tests a bit in water,
Till we see it hold its shape,
Then we pour it on the platter,
And we have to let it cool,
We butter up our fingers
‘cause we’re nobody’s fool
Then Sis & I pull taffy,
Till it stretches and it’s grand;
Mama cuts it into pieces
With her scissors and she hands
Over all the little pieces
To Pa for him to wrap
In wax paper and he twists them and
Gives each a little snap.
We’ll eat a few small pieces
Just to see if they are sweet.
Mama’s homemade taffy
Is the best thing you can eat.

— Sandra Lee Smith

TO MAKE MAMA’S MOLASSES TAFFY
You will need:

2 cups unsulfured molasses
1 cup sugar
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

Butter a platter or baking sheet. In a large pan, combine all the ingredients. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F. (the hard ball stage) on a candy thermometer or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water forms a ball that is hard enough to hold its shape yet is pliable.

Pour onto the platter. Have squares of wax paper on hand. Let the cooked taffy cool enough its barely cool enough to work with (if it gets too cool, you can warm it in a 350 degree oven for 3-4 minutes). Coat your hands with butter. Form candy into one or more balls. Now start pulling. Working fast, pull a lump of candy between the fingertips of one hand and the other until its about 15 inches long. Now double it up and pull again. Continue pulling as in step 1 until candy is porous and hard to pull. Stretch candy into a rope about ¾” in diameter. Cut with greased scissors into 1” pieces. To prevent sticking, wrap each piece individually in a piece of wax paper; twist the ends to seal. Keep wrapped candy in a tightly closed tin.
**

WHEN MA STARTS BAKING COOKIES (A POEM)

When Ma gets out the yellow bowl
And her sturdy wooden spoon,
And sets out butter and some eggs,
And the can of cinnamon,
I watch as she finds raisins and
A bottle of molasses,
And then she gets her rolling pin,
And she never even asks us,
‘Cause she knows we all love cookies
And the cookie crock needs fillin’ –
I help her cream sugar, eggs, and butter,
And don’t do any spillin’.
From the Hoosier cupboard comes
The Watkin’s bottle of the flavorin’,
My mouth begins a- watering,
In wild anticipation.
Then Ma takes out her receipt book,
The one she writes inside
With only just the best receipts,
The ones she serves with pride.
I know she knows it all by heart,
But she says it wouldn’t do
To forget a single thing,
And this I know is true.
I watch as flour, soda salt,
Go in the yellow bowl
And when the bits of dough have baked,
I know she’s reached her goal.
While the spicy cookies cool
On Ma’s old wooden table,
I help her clean the kitchen up,
As well as I am able.
From the icebox, Ma brings out milk
And pours us each a glass,
And asks do I want to taste the little cakes?
I thought she’d never ask!

–Sandra Lee Smith

ELMORE LEONARD’S 10 RULES OF WRITING

Now, obviously I can’t quote all the content in this slim volume of a book that I found a while back—you need to find a copy of the book and buy it…but if you are an aspiring writer, you might find some of the tips useful.

My significant other reads all of Elmore Leonard’s books and a few months ago I was surfing around on Amazon.com and saw the title “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing” with illustrations by Joe Ciardiello. My curiosity was piqued and the price was right.

Leonard says “these are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in a story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

Leonard’s Rule #1 is “Never open a book with weather”

#2 is “Avoid Prologues” – I have to add Leonard’s comment “They can be annoying especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.” – Leonard also says he likes a lot of talk in a book and he doesn’t like “to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like.” Get on with solving the murder!)

#3 is “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue”

#4 is “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’ ”

#5 is “Keep your exclamation points under control” (I can do that!)

#6 is “Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘All Hell broke loose.”

#7 is “Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. (unless you are Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings).

#8 is “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” (My significant other gets really annoyed with authors who spend pages describing all the clothing the characters are wearing. He says he doesn’t care if she is wearing a blue dress or a black dress, matching high heels or whatever.)

#9 is “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.” (for my significant other and I, this goes hand in hand with #8.)

And #10 is “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”

Elmore Leonard says his most important rule is one that sums up the ten: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”

There’s a lot more so if you have any aspirations to write – you may want to get a copy of the book. You can read the whole thing while you are sitting in front of the computer wondering what to write about today. It’s a small book.
Publisher is William Morrow. Amazon.com has a bunch of copies, starting at pre owned for about $5.00 – but you can get a new one for $10.

So, you see, while waiting for inspiration on a new cookbook related post, I was able to come up with something for those of you who send me writer-related questions.

Happy cookbook collecting and happy WRITING.
Sandy

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION – WHAT I KNOW ABOUT HELEN EVANS BROWN

Some years ago, a little used bookstore specializing in cookbooks opened up in Burbank, not far from the mall on San Fernando blvd, in a section of town that boasted of perhaps half a dozen used bookstores. It was one of my favorite places to shop—and eat There are many great restaurants in the area, as well.

I became a frequent customer when the cookbook shop, owned by Janet Jarvits, opened its doors. Janet was a young woman who managed to acquire thousands of cookbooks from the personal library of Helen Evans Brown. (In 2001, Janet Jarvits moved her bookstore to Pasadena, while in 2008 I moved to the Antelope Valley, where I find most of my cookbooks these days at the Lancaster Friends of the Library annual book sale).

So, how did a young woman who was not even a cookbook collector—manage to buy the personal cookbook collection of California cook book author Helen Evans Brown? According to a story that ran in the L.A. Times in 1994, Janet graduated from college in 1988, then worked at a publishing house, but when the company moved out of the area, she found a job at Bond Street Books. Here, she discovered her passion and also realized she enjoyed talking with customers about older books. The turning point came to her when a colleague made her an offer she couldn’t refuse – 40 boxes of books from a recent auction, for only $200. In the collection there were enough cookbooks for her to start a library in her bedroom. That was in 1990 and thousands of books ago.

In 1993, a colleague in the book world referred Janet to Philip S. Brown, husband of the now deceased cookbook author/food writer Helen Evans Brown. Janet visited Philip in his Pasadena home where he had lived with Helen, and where the books were housed. Janet obtained the collection which was in a state of disrepair. Philip had abandoned the house, remarried and gone on to live a life without Helen. During the time the books sat in the house, some of them were damaged by a fire, smoke & the water used to put out the fire. All of this left a portion of the library unusable. The practical solution was to catalogue the books and offer them for sale. Janet Jarvits offered a catalog of the best of the non-charitable cookbooks for sale in 1994.

I obtained my first Helen Evans Brown cookbook in the 1960s when I had not been collecting very long—and the “West Coast Cook Book” that I found was a reprint published by the Cookbook Collectors Library. Another early find was “Helen Brown’s Holiday Cookbook” published in 1952 – a first edition – boasting of an introduction by M.F.K. Fisher. My copy has a little water damage—but in my early days of collecting I wasn’t particular. And, back then, I didn’t know who M.F.K. Fisher was—what I did know and recognize is that I liked Helen’s style of cookbook writing.

Helen and Philip S Brown lived in Pasadena from 1937 until her death in 1964.

Before Helen met Philip, she had a career running a successful catering business called The Epiurean, with a friend, and was running a restaurant in New England. Philip courted her and talked her into moving to the west coast with him.

There Helen started work as a consultant to a Hollywood Bakery and Philip began working on an antiquarian bookstore. After working as a consultant to the Hollywood bakery, Helen began writing articles for popular magazines such as Sunset and McCalls.

In 1940, Helen began writing a monthly mailing piece “Baltzer’s Bulletin” for an upscale grocery store, and the following year, a food column for a new fashion magazine “The Californian”. She published a small cookbook “Some Shrimp Recipes” in 1946 and a full length cookbook, “Chafing Dish Book” in 1950. She was well known enough to be approached by a major publisher, Little, Brown for her next book “West Coast Cook Book” published in 1952.

Also, in 1952, “Helen Brown’s Holiday Cook Book”, was published by Little, Brown & Company in Boston; it was published simultaneously in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, Limited.

In 1953, Helen & Philip co-Authored “Virginia City Cook Book”, which I do not have, and in 1955, she co-authored The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery with James Beard.

Then, in 1958, Helen co-authored two cookbooks with Philip, “Book of Appetizers” and “Cocktail Hour”. A year later, Helen and Philip produced “The Boys Cook Book”.

Then, in 1961 Helen and Philip co-authored “Breakfasts and Brunches for Every Occasion” and “The Cookout Book”, which features prize winning recipes from cookout championships. The Ward Ritchie Press published a soft cover edition of “The Cookout Book” – which I happened to find somewhere and only paid a dollar for it.

In 1963, Helen co-authored The Book of Curries and Chutneys with William Veach, while in 1964, she wrote “Adventures in Food” with the staff of Sunset Magazine.

During her marriage to Philip, he built Helen’s cookbook collection and also served as taster, research assistant and typist for their book projects. They coauthored “The Boys Cook Book”, published in 1959 and then several others after that.

Helen and James Beard co-authored “The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery” first published in 1955 by Doubleday. This cookbook would be reprinted in a lovely softcover edition when the copyright was renewed in 1983. I know this because I bought a copy of the softcover edition, before I had any idea a) how many of Helen Evans Brown’s books I owned, or b) how many James Beard cookbooks I had. (the problem with a large cookbook collection, I’ve learned, is that unless you have them in some kind of pristine library-ish order, you won’t know what all you actually have in your home library.

Now James Beard has been written about extensively – Helen Evans Brown not so much. This might be because she passed away much too soon—and I’ll bet that neither Helen nor James ever envisioned how much cookbook collecting would take off—and that’s a whole other topic to explore some other time. I think I managed to just squeeze in on the ground floor, starting a collection, specializing in church & club cookbooks in 1965.

Helen Evans Brown & James Beard were good friends—in 1994, “Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles”, containing more than 300 of Beard’s letters to Helen over a period of 12 years was edited and published by his friend & editor John Ferrone. “In the 1950s and ‘60s” we learn from the inside just jacket of “Love and Kisses…” “Helen Brown was the culinary authority of the West Coast—Beard revered her, placing her on a par with M.F.K. Fisher. Brown and Beard wrote to each other at least twice a week until Helen Brown’s untimely death in 1964, sharing their gastronomic musings and the results of their daily inspirations—many of which would later appear in their books. Both traveled extensively, and in their warm epistolary dialogues they expounded on their philosophy of eating, the art of cooking, and their often exotic forays into foreign cuisines.

Beard loved food—good food—and his exuberance and enthusiasm are both overwhelming and infectious. He was also demanding and exacting, and never minced words when served a meal he considered less than perfect. Thus his correspondence is spiced with his utterly charming yet often caustic views on food, wine, and the art of eating. This lively correspondence between two food giants, thoughtfully culled and put into context by Beard’s close friend and editor John Ferrone, is also a testament to a beautiful and moving friendship…”

In Ferrone’s introduction we learn how the two food giants met – and how the correspondence between them began with fan letters – his to her and hers back to him…but I am bowled over by Ferrone’s explanation of how he acquired the correspondence, left in bulging filing cabinets destined for the dumpster after James Beard had passed away! You will really want to read “Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles” – the book that almost didn’t happen.

Helen and her husband Philip lived in Pasadena, California; James Beard was based in New York. He paid the Browns a first visit in the spring of 1953, escalating friendship into love. Thereafter he could always be sure of an affectionate welcome and an extra-long extra-wide mattress. The Browns were as close to family as anything Beard would have in the years ahead. He was crazy about both of them—a number of these letters are addressed to Philip or to “Dear Browns” – but it was Helen he adored. I hope I have whetted your appetite and that you will go buy a copy of “Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles”. I didn’t mean to digress this much—but Helen Evans Brown & James Beard managed to co-author “The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery” despite living on opposite sides of the USA. Helen co-authored a number of books with her husband, and a couple of others with William Templeton Veach.

I wish I could have known Helen Evans Brown and her husband Philip. I wish I could have seen their house in Pasadena. I wish I could have met James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher. I wish I could have met the other Browns – Cora, Rose and Bob Brown, co-authors of about a dozen cookbooks that I treasure. The next best thing is to collect as many of their books as I can find. And read them. And then re-read them. Then go wander into the kitchen, my finger holding my place in a book…and see if I have the right ingredients to make something that has whet my appetite.

And when I am finished reading the cookbooks of my favorite cookbook authors–then, I will write about them and encourage as many people as possible to discover these books for themselves—if you haven’t already.

Various books and internet sources mention only briefly that Helen Evans Brown died an untimely death in 1964. I found the piece of the puzzle I was searching for, in John Ferrone’s introduction in “Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles”. Ferrone writes: “It must have been shattering to Jim when his friend, Helen, died in December, 1964. She was sixty. The rare kidney disease that first surfaced in 1961 had developed into cancer. She was too ill to work through most of her final year and Philip took over her writing assignments. Jim Beard’s last surviving letter to her was written in August, from Provence. He was able to pay her a visit in November, two weeks before she died.

And now you may be wondering – what’s with the “six degrees of separation”—it’s just this: In late 1994, L.A. Times Staff Writer Kathie Jenkins called me up one evening and asked me if I would answer some questions about my cookbook collection. I was too non-plussed to ask Ms. Jenkins where she got my name or how she learned about my collection. The story appeared in the Thursday, December 15, 1994 issue of the L.A. Times –along with a photograph of Janet Jarvits, a background of her cookbooks and a cat. It turned out I was the lead-in to a story about Janet Jarvits’ cookbook store—a cookbook store I was well acquainted with. I knew Janet Jarvits. Janet Jarvits had purchased about 5000 volumes from the personal collection that had belonged to Helen Evans Brown. Six degrees of separation. Or maybe that’s only three degrees.

Happy Cookbook Collecting!
Sandy

WHAT’S IT WORTH? (Determining the Value of Cookbooks)

If you ever watch a TV show called “Pawn Star” you would know that people often bring in some family treasure, thinking it must be worth thousands of dollars (it’s been in the attic for years!), and are often disillusioned that it is not worth much at all. On the other hand, sometimes the store owner brings in an expert to determine if a document or book is authentic and sometimes the object in question IS authentic and IS worth a nice little bundle – but that doesn’t mean that the Pawn Store owner is going to PAY that much. We watch him repeatedly explain to potential customers that HE has to be able to get a certain amount out of the object in question or it may just take up space in his shop.

I think the bottom line to buying/selling any object – and that includes cookbooks – is that it’s only worth the amount someone is willing to pay. I have a houseful of cookbooks collected over 45 years and they probably have a insurable value of $10,000 – but that doesn’t mean a book dealer is going to come along and be willing to PAY that much for the collection. (Not that I am planning to sell any time soon). And I am sometimes stunned to discover what a book – say a book I have in my collection – has been listed at, or sold on Ebay for.

Probably the most well known cookbook to show up on dealer lists and maybe the least valuable, depending on which edition – and what condition – is the White House Cookbook. The single worst feature of the White House cookbooks is the paper the pages were printed on, an inexpensive newspaper print.

Colonel Bob Allen in his “Guide To Collecting Cookbooks” lists nearly a dozen of the White House cookbooks, ranging in value from more recent ($10.00) to the oldest—an 1889 printing of the 1887 copyright ($60). Mary Barile in her reference book “COOKBOOKS WORTH COLLECTING has a listing of the White house Cookbook @ $35.00. Neither author indicates the condition of the books or that they were offering to sell the cookbooks in their respective collections. And, I should mention that Mary Barile’s “Cookbooks Worth Collecting” was published in 1994, while Colonel Bob Allen’s Guide to Collecting Cookbooks” doesn’t appear to have a copyright date. Prices listed in the 1990s might be expected to increase in seventeen years. Another useful price guide for cookbook collectors is a book titled “Price Guide to Cookbooks & Recipe Leaflets” by Linda J. Dickinson, also without a copyright date (I should add, then, that I have had all of these price guides for about 20 years). Dickinson listed 10 copies of the White House Cookbook, ranging in prices from $20.00 (for a 1967 edition) to $95 for an 1894 edition. Dickinson also advises readers that “The current values in this book should be used only as a guide. They are not intended to set prices, which vary from one section of the country to another. Auction prices as well as dealer prices vary greatly and are affected by condition as well as demand…”

Another factor you should consider when attempting to determine the value of a particular cookbook is that prices may change from time to time, depending on the economy. When the country is in a recession, cookbook prices may dip. Consumers, especially housewives, may be more concerned with buying groceries rather than spending money on books that teach us how to cook the food we buy. Even so, treasures may be found where you least expect them. Over the years, I’ve bought more than my share of cookbooks in thrift shops or at flea markets.

My favorite story is about the #1 Bake Off cookbooklet. I had been collecting the Bake Off books for years – collecting more than one copy of many editions, to use in trades for other books. But that #1 Bake Off book eluded me.

One summer when my sister & I were visiting her daughter who lives in Palm Springs, we went to an outdoor flea market and browsed around this parking lot where tables had been set up. I saw a box full of cookbooklets – not just bake off books, but a wide variety of recipe booklets. A little sign had been taped to the front of the box “cookbooks 50c each” so I began rummaging through the box. I finally had several I wanted to buy and the woman glanced at them and said “Oh, I can’t sell THAT one for fifty cents – I have to have a dollar”. I was really tempted to put the booklets back and walk away; I don’t approve of that kind of selling tactic. But I had $2.00 in my hand. So I gave her the money & walked off with 3 booklets.

It wasn’t until we were in the car heading for home that I took another look at my flea market purchases. I had found the elusive #1 Bake Off book – and bought it for a dollar! Around that time, #1 was selling for about $50. It’s so rare, I haven’t seen one listed for years. (I often wondered why Pillsbury never came out with a facsimile edition of the #1 Bake off book—I think enough collectors would buy it just to complete their collection!).

Well, the point is, treasures can still be found. In more recent years, I’ve done a lot more of my cookbook shopping on Amazon and Alibris, than I have going to flea markets – but I still go to Friends of the Library book sales and you never know what goodies will turn up at these events!

To Barbara, who wrote inquiring about the value of her Chicago cookbook – this may not be the answer you are looking for…but I hope it will give you some insight on determining the value of the book in your possession. And, if the book belonged to a mother or a grandmother in your family, you might want to hang onto it just for the sentimental value. And THAT is something money can’t buy!

Happy Collecting!
Sandy

IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE? AND THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH DAVID

The following is a cookbook review that I wrote in either 2000 or 2001 when “Is There a Nutmeg in the House” was published. Elizabeth David passed away in 1992 at her Chelsea home in England, where she had lived for forty years. Still, her books are eagerly sought after and new cookbook collectors would do well to search for them. In 2006, the BBC released a made-for-television film starring Catherine McCormack as Elizabeth. It was called “Elizabeth David: A Life in Recipes”. Not surprisingly; Ms. David led a most interesting life. You may want to find a copy of “WRITING AT THE KITCHEN TABLE: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF ELIZABETH DAVID” by Artemis Cooper.

This is what I wrote for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange a decade ago:

Devoted fans of Elizabeth David will be delighted to learn that, although one of the world’s greatest cookbook authors died in 1992, a new book of her work has been published.

The intriguing title, “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” begs investigation.

“Along with M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child,” the publishers begin, “Elizabeth David changed the way we think about and prepare our food. Her nine books, written with impeccable wit and considerable brilliance, helped educate the taste (and taste buds) of the postwar generation. Insisting on authentic recipes and fresh ingredients, she taught that food need not be complicated to be delicious…”

Elizabeth David, they explain, was a very private person who seldom gave interviews. However, a 1984 collection of her essays, entitled “AN OMELETTE AND A GLASS OF WINE” greatly revealed Elizabeth David to her readers and is now considered the best food book written in the 20th century. Now, nearly 20 years later, comes the sequel to that book.

“IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” contains work covering four decades. Included is a considerable amount of material previously unpublished, found in her own files or contributed by friends to whom she had given recipes or to whom she had sent letters.

Jill Norman, Elizabeth David’s editor and friend for over 25 years is now the literary trustee of Elizabeth David’s estate. She was responsible for the posthumous publishing of “HARVEST OF THE COLD MONTHS” and then persuaded many of Elizabeth David’s friends to contribute notes on their favorite pieces for the anthology “SOUTH WIND THROUGH THE KITCHEN”.

In the introduction to “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” Jill explains, “in the early eighties, Elizabeth and I spent many very agreeable hours selecting the articles which appeared in her first anthology, “AN OMELETTE AND A GLASS OF WINE”, published in 1984.

The kitchen in her house in Halsey Street may have been crammed with utensils of all sorts, but bookcases and shelves took up every wall in the other rooms and corridors overflowing with her substantial library of cookery, history, travel and reference books, and numerous files and folders of assorted papers”. (Be still my heart!).

Their routine, she explains, was to take a number of files each, select the pieces each found most stimulating, most expressive of the pleasures of good food, and likely still to appear to readers, and then to compare notes. It was, Jill says, “one of the most enjoyable editorial tasks I have ever undertaken. The articles were a pleasure to read, and Elizabeth’s reminiscences about the research and writing of many of them often kept us talking until late at night…”

In the end, they discovered they had too much material and decided to put some pieces aside for a later volume. “This, at last,” Jill writes, “is that volume: during the last years of her life, most of Elizabeth’s energy went into gathering material for “HARVEST OF THE COLD MONTHS” which was finished after her death and published in 1994”

“Elizabeth,” Jill says, “always read widely in early cookery books in English, French and Italian and enjoyed trying out their recipes. Many of those which she adapted from well-known English writers have appeared in her English books…”

“During the 25 years I worked with Elizabeth,” writes her friend and editor, “she was constantly experimenting and trying out new dishes, sometimes for a book, sometimes because a food she or one of her friends particularly liked was in season, or because there was a dish she wanted to explore more thoroughly. When she was satisfied with the recipe and it was typed in its final form, it was her custom to give copies, usually signed and dated, to friends. Many subsequently appeared her later books but others which did not are included here. The folders from her house yielded many unpublished recipes, and occasionally accompanying articles….

With few exceptions,” says Jill, “none of the material in “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” has appeared in book form before…”

She further explains that Elizabeth recipes were written as a text to be read, not, as is currently the norm, a list of ingredients in the order to be used followed by a list of instructions.

The essays in “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” are charming and witty, and provide more than a glimpse into the world of Elizabeth David, a woman whose life would have been fascinating even if she had not embarked on cooking and writing about it!

I was especially intrigued with what Elizabeth David had to say about making stocks and broths. This is something I am personally acquainted with, having recently turned my attention to making my own stocks and broths. (The major drawback, when someone wants to know how you made this soup…is that you’ll never have this recipe again—much of what goes into my vegetable stock depends on the vegetables in my refrigerator (or what is in season and growing in our garden) at the time I have decided to make soup. I make a ham stock out of ham bones and left over ham bits, then strain it, remove any fat, chop up the meat, and then chill it. The next day I make my bean or pea soup. But I digress).

Elizabeth David had very definite ideas about the making of stock, and thoroughly disdained the old English cookbooks, including those of Mrs. Beeton , who instructed the cook that “…everything in the way of meat, bones, gravies and flavourings (sic) that would otherwise be wasted” should go into the stock-pot. “Shank-bone of mutton, gravy left over when the half-eaten leg was moved to another dish, trimmings of beef, steak that went into a pie, remains of gravies, bacon rinds and bones, poultry giblets, bones of roast meat, scraps of vegetables…such a pot in most houses should always be on the fire.” Ew, ew!

Elizabeth responds, “Heavens, what a muddy, greasy, unattractive and quite often sour and injurious brew must have emerged from that ever-simmering tub…”

She goes on to tell her readers how to make a good stock and why a bouillon cubes don’t really make the grade. “Taking Stock” is an essay from the Spectator, published in 1960.

There are numerous essays in “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” (plus over 150 recipes), and I think you will, as I did, enjoy them all. But I was most curious to learn how the title of the book came about. Sure enough, beginning on page 91 is an essay, “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE” which was, I discovered, taken from a Williams-Sonoma booklet published in 1975.

Elizabeth tells the story of Joseph Nollekens, an 18th century English sculptor who was famous for his portrait busts of famous men and women of his day. While Mrs. Nollekens had the peculiar habit of scrounging free spices from the grocer, her husband filched nutmeg from the dinner table of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Mrs. Nollekens, when she shopped for tea and sugar, would always request, just as she was ready to leave the store, to have either a clove or a bit of cinnamon to take away an unpleasant taste in her mouth—but was never seen to actually put it into her mouth. Between the two of them, they managed to accumulate a little stock of spices – free.

Elizabeth goes on to provide an essay on nutmeg, which was enormously popular in the 18th century. “It was a civilised fad,” she writes, “that eighteenth-century love of portable nutmeg graters for the dining-room, and the drawing room hot drinks, and for travelling. I see no reason why w shouldn’t revive it. It is far from silly to carry a little nutmeg box and grater around in one’s pocket. In London restaurants, such a piece of equipment comes in handy. Here, even in Italian restaurants, I find it necessary to ask for nutmeg to grate on to my favourite plain pasta with butter and Parmesan, and for leaf spinach as well…?”

She continues with a bit of history on nutmeg and explains the difference between nutmeg and mace. “Mace,” writes Elizabeth, “is a part of the same fruit as nutmeg and has a similar aroma, but coarser, less sweet and more peppery…”

Elizabeth would be pleased to learn, I think, that I have whole nutmeg and a nutmeg grater in my kitchen cupboard. I would have never thought to take it with me to a restaurant, though.

“IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” is utterly delightful and charming, written in Elizabeth David’s unique style. Compiled by Jill Norman, it was published by Viking in 2000. The price is $29.95.

Anyone who enjoys “reading cookbooks the way other people read novels” (how often have we heard that!) will be sure to enjoy this delightful book.

*I checked with Amazon and there are dozens of Elizabeth David’s books available, both new and used. The lowest price for “IS THERE A NUTMEG IN THE HOUSE?” is $1.99. A copy of “WRITING AT THE KITCHEN TABLE” is available for $1.99 but there are far fewer copies available at this time.! But don’t overlook Barnes & Noble’s website or sites like Alibris.com.

And Oh! Be still my heart! Released March 1, 2011, “AT ELIZABETH DAVID’S TABLE; CLASSIC RECIPES AND TIMELESS KITCHEN WISDOM” by Elizabeth David, Rick Rodgers and Ruth Reichl. (Rick Rodgers and Ruth Reichl are both well known cookbook authors. Ruth Reichl was the editor of “Gourmet” magazine before it closed its doors). You can buy it new, hardcover, for $18.75 at Alibris.com but there aren’t a lot of copies floating around at this time.

Elizabeth David is the author of the following:

*MEDITERRANEAN FOOD, 1950
*FRENCH COUNTRY COOKING, 1951
*ITALIAN FOOD, 1954
*SUMMER COOKING, 1955
*FRENCH PROVINCIAL COOKING, 1960
*SPICES, SALT AND AROMATICS IN THE ENGLISH KITCHEN, 1970
*ENGLISH BREAD AND YEAST COOKERY, 1977
*AN OMELETTE AND A GLASS OF WINE, 1984

OTHER POSTHUMOUS PUBLICATIONS:

*HARVEST OF THE COLD MONTHS, 1994
*SOUTH WIND THROUGH THE KITCHEN: THE BEST OF ELIZABETH DAVID, 1998
*ELIZABETH DAVID’S CHRISTMAS, 2003
*ELIZABETH DAVID’S CLASSICS (Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, Summer Cooking) 1980
*AT ELIZABETH DAVID’S TABLE: HER VERY BEST EVERYDAY RECIPES, 2010

You may also wish to find a copy of “ELIZABETH DAVID: A BIOGRAPHY, by Lisa Chaney.

Happy cooking and happy cookbook reading!

–Sandra Lee Smith

WHEN MAMA’S IN THE KITCHEN (A POEM)

When mama’s in the kitchen
Making biscuits, cake, or bread,
Or even simple cookies,
I mind each word she says;

We both put on our aprons
That mama sewed herself,
She sends me to the pantry
To fetch things down from the shelf.

From the well I tote in water,
And eggs from the chicken coop,
I fetch kindling from the woodpile;
And Mama says we’ll make some soup.

She kills a hen no longer laying,
With a quick twist of its neck,
And has me plucking out the feathers,
I am good at this, by heck.

From the garden mama fetches
Parsley, carrots, beans;
From the cellar Pa brings up taters,
The finest ones he’s seen.

When the chicken’s cooking
In a big pot on the stove,
Mama sets to mixing things
To make bread, a couple loaves.

She bakes bread in a roaster;
It rises light and brown,
And with a bit of butter,
A crust is mighty fine.

By dinnertime we’re eating
Hot chicken soup and bread,
And with a glass of ice cold milk,
You know that you’ve been fed.

–Sandra Lee Smith

IN MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN (A POEM)

For Stephanie & all the other nieces & nephews who wonder about how their aunts & uncles (or mother or father) really lived…I put it into a poem for you.

IN MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN

In my mother’s kitchen
At 1618 Sutter Street,
We all sat around an old white wooden table
That was covered with oilcloth,
And it was there that my sister
And brothers and I
Did our homework,
While my mother did the ironing,
And a small Crosley radio
On top of the refrigerator
Was tuned to the radio “shows”
We listened to every night,
Shows like The Lone Ranger and
Mr. & Mrs. North,
The Shadow and
Lights Out,
And one of my favorites,
Baby Snooks,
My Friend Irma and
Our Miss Brooks;
These programs were on every day
And every night
Along with shows like Jack Benny
And Amos and Andy.
There were dozens of these programs
Which we listened to
While working on essays or
Our arithmetic lessons.
My Mother’s kitchen was not, actually,
A very large room
But along one wall, on the left side,
There was a stove, and a tall narrow cabinet
Where my mother stored spices
And bottles of things like vinegar and
Kitchen Bouquet;
Next to it there was a
Large built-in cupboard with
Curious stained glass in the upper cupboard doors,
And then an open space
Underneath which there was a drawer
Where all sorts of things were tossed, from rubber bands
To Wilson Evaporated milk labels (which could be redeemed
For free things like dish towels or pot holders),
As well as paper clips and crayons and bobby pins,
Pencils and erasers and old used envelopes,
My mother’s one and only cookbook, Ida Bailey Allen’s
Service Cookbook that she bought at Woolworth’s,
A pair of kitchen scissors and
World War II ration books for each one of us
That she kept long after the war was over.
Whenever you needed something like string or
A rubber band, you looked inside the kitchen drawer.
Next to this big build in kitchen cupboard
There was a narrow built in cupboard
Where canned goods and staples were stored
And where my father ingeniously cut a square
Hole into the floor so that my mother
Could drop soiled laundry collected
From the second floor bedrooms.
In the basement, my father built large
Cupboards, one of which contained
The laundry that had been dropped in the hole from above.
Once, my brother Biff got stuck in the
Hole when we were playing hide & seek.
There was a back door, outside of which
There was a box where the milkman
Left bottles of milk,
And a kitchen window that looked out
Onto the back yard. In the corner
Along that wall was the refrigerator
On top of which was the little radio;
There must have been
A window on the other kitchen wall,
The long wall opposite the great kitchen cupboard
But I can’t quite envision it. My mother had
A mangle ironer that she seldom ever used
And it was a catchall for things piled on top of it.
On the 4th wall, opposite the back door,
Was the kitchen sink
Where my sister and brother and I
Washed, dried and put away dishes
And learned the lyrics to popular songs
From a songbook Becky bought each week
For ten cents from Carl’s Drug Store.
This was my mother’s kitchen,
Where we ate supper every night
At six o’ clock sharp
And you did not eat
If you were not at the table.
I never missed supper
And sat to my mother’s right
At the kitchen table.
It was in my mother’s kitchen
That I learned to cook,
Studying recipes in the Ida Bailey Allen cookbook
And making sure we had all of the ingredients
In the pantry.
It was in my mother’s kitchen
That I began making muffins and brownies,
Peanut butter cookies and a cookie called
Hermits and another called Rocks.
If you could read directions, I discovered,
You could cook.
It was also in my mother’s kitchen
That I began to write stories
On an old under wood typewriter
That my father bought for my brother and me
To use; it was too heavy to carry upstairs
And so I typed, two-fingers, while sitting
At the kitchen table.
These are the things I remember about
My mother’s kitchen.
It was, I think, the hub of the house.

–Sandra Lee Smith

WHEN MAMA BAKES A CAKE (A POEM)

Sometimes when breakfast dishes have
Been washed and put away,
My mama looks at me and says
“Let’s bake a cake today!”
From a peg she takes her apron
While from a low peg, I take mine,
We tie the strings behind our backs,
And don’t we look just fine?
Mama’s biggest yellow bowl
Stands upon the kitchen table,
And I step up on a little stool,
To help, because I’m able.
Mama cracks some eggs fresh from the barn,
I take a fork and stir them up,
You have to beat those eggs a lot,
Before you can add a cup
Of sugar, butter, flour too,
And soda for the rising,
And Mama grates some nutmeg in,
For a taste that’s right surprising;
It’s my job to butter up the pans
And dust them both with flour,
And then the cakes go into bake,
And that takes ‘near an hour.
While they bake, we tidied up,
And tiptoe cross the floor,
Cause you don’t want those cakes to fall,
And have to make some more.
The kitchen fills with spicy scent,
And I can hardly stand the wait,
It’s always something special, when
My Mama bakes a cake.

–Sandra Lee Smith

SUMMER SUNSHINE (A POEM)

In the spring we had wildflowers,
An abundance of wildflowers
Dozens of different varieties
Brought to bloom by winter and spring showers;
Now it is hot, and dry,
The summer sunshine bakes the ground,
The plants and grass –
And every living creature burrow deep
Below the earth.
You try to run errands in the early morning hours
Before the sun gets too hot
Even though all of the merchants and storekeepers
Have air conditioning blasting what feels like
An artic chill
As you dash from hot car
To cold supermarket
Impatient for autumn
For a change of seasons.
Not for me the summer sunshine
Not for the fainthearted, the summer heat.

–Sandra Lee Smith