Monthly Archives: February 2013

STILL MORE OFF-THE-WALL-COOKBOOK TITLES

Today, I have five more cookbook titles for you to contemplate:

A TASTE OF MURDER/Diabolically Delicious Recipes from contemporary mystery writers

SPIES, BLACK TIES, & MANGO PIES/ Stories and Recipes from CIA Families all over the world

A TASTE FOR WAR/The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray

TO COOK, OR NOT TO COOK, WHAT IS THE QUESTION? A Collection of Favourite Recipes from Members of the Stratford Festival Acting company and Friends and –

THEY ONLY MAKE YOU CRY WHEN THEY’RE GONE/A Collection of Vidalia Onion Recipes from Bland Farms

Now that I have listed them, I can tell you unequivocally, that I have no idea where four of the books will end up being filed, I do have a spot for the onion cookbook.

But let me return to the top of the page and introduce you to A TASTE OF MURDER by Jo Grossman and Robert Weibezahl.  This cookbook was published in 1999 and tantalizes with a decadent looking chocolate torte on the washable cover, offers recipes from mystery authors such as Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Sharon McCrumb and many others.

In the Introduction, the co-authors tell us “Food has been a part of the crime novel since time immemorial (okay, maybe not that far back) so it seemed only natural that there should be a cookbook that would link those two indisputable pleasures—a good mystery and a good meal. As the idea for A TASTE OF MURDER began to take shape, we knew that it needed to be more than just a compendium that catalogued the bountiful dinners of Nero Wolfe or the number of times Miss Marple had tea. This book would celebrate the tradition of food in mysteries, of course, but we also wanted it to be up-to-date, honoring some of today’s most talented writers.  Surely some of them cook, we pondered. And all of them eat. Why not gather the recipes for their favorite dishes into a cookbook that no true mystery fan would be able to resist?  So we sent out feelers, exploited every tenuous connection we could think of, pestered publicists and editors, and tapped into the wonderful network of mystery writers and fans, begging, borrowing, and stealing with abandon, until we compiled the collection you now have before you…”

“So what exactly,” they ask “is this elusive, undeniable connection between mystery fiction and food?” and they go on to explain what they think that connection stems from. They also comment, “There is such a venerable history of dining and death. From the earliest days, when a birthday dinner proved a pivotal event in Wilkie Collins’s THE MOONSTONE, purveyors of the art of the crime novel have been peppering their plots with things to eat—and things to avoid eating. Meals as social gatherings suit the writer who likes the idea of knocking off a guest or two thereby inciting a professional or amateur detective—invariably present at the scene—to immediate action. These exercises in domestic detection can take place in palatial English country homes, chic New York apartments, or hallowed institutes of higher learning—all places where there never seems to be much to do other than eat and drink anyway….”

They go on in greater detail explaining the connections between food and crime, and offer comparisons between American and British types of crimes being committed in different kinds of settings—“Whereas the Brits enjoy a weekend-long house party, Yanks go more for a nice cocktail party where the guests are entertained but then expected to leave (if they’re still alive) Charming old pubs are replaced by dark, usually seedy bars on this side of the pond…”

There is considerably more in the way of comparisons, including the two murder weapons most often associated with food—poison and the knife.

Paragraphs later, the co–authors  comment, “There have always been mystery novels where food is as much the point as the crime—Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books leap first to mind—but the avalanche of ‘culinary’ mysteries being published today seems unstoppable. As Jeff Siegel has pointed out in a Gourmet magazine, it’s sometimes impossible to tell a detective without a menu. Diane Mott Davidson, Robert B. Parker, Mary Daheim, Camilla Crespi, Ellen Hart, Valerie S. Malmont, Tamar Myers, Lou Jane Temple, Michael bond, Peter King, Joanna Pence, Katherine     Hall Page, Phyllis Richman, and Nancy Pickard, who is continuing Virginia Rich’s Eugenia Potter series, are just a handful of the mystery writers who infuse their work with the pleasures of good cooking.  Many of these fine writers have generously contributed to A TASTE OF MURDER…”

They go on to explain how the concept for A TASTE OF MURDER was developed.  And I guess this is as good a time as any to make a confession – I love Harlan Coben’s books and have gotten one of my sons turned onto his books. I have been following Sue Grafton ever since A is for ALIBI was published – but I was never able to really get “into” some of the mystery novels peppered with recipes. Take Diane Mott Davidson—my older sister loved her books.  But I do love all the recipes. And I love the whole idea of A TASTE OF MURDER – what fun to discover what many of our favorite authors are cooking up when they are cooking up a crime?

I like the format of A TASTE OF MURDER. On each page is a recipe, by a mystery writer, accompanied by a bit of history of that author’s crime solver. And as I turn the pages and read a capsule of the plot, accompanied by a recipe (such as SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVILED EGGS, I find myself jotting down names of mystery authors whose work I may have been overlooking. And I most definitely want to try Susan Wittig Albert’s recipe for lavender cookies from her novel LAVENDER AND OLD MALICE. (I have my own lavender bush—if the freezing weather this past winter hasn’t killed it off. (oops! No pun intended!)

Amazon.com has copied of A TASTE OF MURDER, preowned copies starting at one cent for a hardbound copy. (Add 3.99 for shipping).  I couldn’t find it listed on Alibris.com.

Next on the list is SPIES, BLACK TIES, & MANGO PIES/ Stories and Recipes from CIA Families all over the world. I’m not sure where to file this one either. There are chapters ranging from Africa to the USA with other parts of the world sandwiched in between.  There is a list of foreign ingredients. In the Introduction, we learn everything we wanted to know about the CIA but didn’t know who to ask – that is, accepting that what is in the cookbook has been approved by the CIA.

Per Stephanie Glakas Tenet, who composed the Introduction, the men and women in the CIA continue to serve in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, risking their lives every day She writes, “They work in the shadowed background quietly performing their mission for our country, carrying out their endeavors with integrity and honor. They do so in the belief that their work is vital to the preservation of our country’s security…they help protect the lives of our soldiers during conflict, prevent terrorist acts before they occur..and anticipate crises around the world. Most of their efforts and successes go unheralded in the print or network news…”

She says that SPIES, BLACK TIES AND MANGO PIES gives the reader an understanding of how real CIA families face some of the more familiar challenges of raising children, running households and entertaining guest.  (I’ll say!  I did not have a clue that CIA families existed. But in this book they share recipes and anecdotes which have nourished their bodies and souls. The stories come from current and retired CIA employees and spouses, but their names remain anonymous and they will not receive public recognition or applause for their efforts—that, too, is part of belonging to an Agency family.

Proceeds from sales will provide scholarship aid for Agency dependent.

What follows is a collection of interesting stories and some great recipes—there’s a recipe for a molded chocolate mousse if you don’t object to the inclusion of ONE POUND SWEET BUTTER or A DOZEN EGGS (separated) that go into the recipe.

I am charmed by a short piece titled “How Not to Cook a Chicken” (it’s a great story). May I suggest, if you obtain a copy of the book, read the short stories first and then go back and explore the recipes.

Amazon.com has copies of SPIES, BLACK TIES, & MANGO PIES starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy. Alibris.com has copies starting at 99 cents, also for pre-owned copies.

I think this one will get filed with my foreign cookbooks.

A TASTE FOR WAR, BY WILLIAM C. DAVIS is a most unusual type of cookbook—it could also be filed with my collection of food history books, as this one is a Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray. Published in 2003 by Stackpole Books, A TASTE FOR WAR takes us behind army lines in – of all things – the American Civil War.  From the dust jacket we learn “ ‘Guns and Butter’ has long been a truism of military strategy and nowhere was the importance of food to army life more evident than in America’s Civil
War.  The Union and Confederate armies were overwhelmingly staffed by volunteer, many of whom were woefully inexperienced in the culinary arts.

Historian William C. Davis provides numerous memorable portraits of first-time cooks wrestling with a coffee grinder or pacing for hours before a pot of congealing pork, wondering helplessly when to remove it. Nonetheless, the first days of the war were a gastronomic paradise compared to later years, when diminishing resources (and unscrupulous quartermasters) forced military chefs to ever-greater heights of improvisation…”

Davis does not just confine himself to the mess table, however. He goes on to explore such locales as Northern and Southern prison camps, where food was so rare that it was treated as currency and fried rat became a much sought-after delicacy…for the truly adventurous. Davis has even included a collection of authentic recipes that allow readers to recreate the distinctive flavors and aromas of the Civil War…”

Professor William C. Davis, a native of Independence, Missouri, was educated in Northern California; he was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and is considered one of the foremost living Civil war scholars. Professor Davis is the author of more than fifty books on Civil War and Southern history as well as numerous documentary screenplays. He is the only three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Award given for book-length woks in Confederate History.

A few of Professor Davis’s titles include LONE STAR RISING, AN HONORABLE DEFEAT, THE CAUSE LOST, THREE ROADS TO THE ALAMO, LOOK AWAY and THE BATTLEFIELD. There are many more.

I predict this is one of those books that will become greatly sought after by collectors, if it isn’t already. Prices start at $3.95 on Alibris.com. That is the same price for a pre-owned copy on Amazon.com. **

Next, (on perhaps a much lighter note) is TO COOK OR NOT TO COOK: WHAT IS THE QUESTION? A collection of Favourite recipes (sic) from the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, published by the Bard’s Birthday Celebration committee and published in 1996. You might be looking for traditional British recipes, perhaps something popular several hundred years ago. I was stunned to find along with Cheese Crisps, recipes for Guacamole and Taco Dip, Chicken Divan and Barbecued chili Dogs—Still there are recipes for Christmas Pudding and a Trifle, gingerbread and Tea Scones.  (I’ve known for years how  homogenized the United States has become with its food and recipes – but had no idea that, like a virus, we’ve spread across the pond to Great Britain with such familiar recipes as No Bake Oatmeal cookies that became popular here in the 1970s.

Oh, well. TO COOK OR NOT TO COOK WHAT IS THE QUESTION? Is listed on Amazon.com with one copy priced at $4.95 (the original price was $10.95).  Alibris.com has several copies, one starting at $4.95.

“THEY ONLY MAKE YOU CRY WHEN THEY’RE GONE” is the title of a small cookbook of Vidalia onion recipes from Bland Farms, first published in March, 1989, then reprinted five times more with a sixth printing in May, 1995. (there could be more but this is the date of the one in my possession). The Bland  family decided in the late 1940s to forge a legacy, that over the years has become known as the Bland Farms, in Glennville, Georgia, The Home of the World Famous  Vidalia Sweet Onions!

Vidalia onions have a short market span when they become available in our local supermarkets here in southern California. One year, my girlfriend, Mandy, and I ordered a BOX of the onions and then split them up between us. In recent years, when I come across Vidalia onions in the supermarket, I peel and chop most of them (with a Vidalia onion chopper! my favorite kitchen gadget!) and then freeze them in quart size bags. Not quite as wonderful as a freshly sliced onion to put on a hamburger but it’s great to have some on hand when they are no longer for sale.

The Vidalia onion cookbook offers recipes for quiches (and a crustless vegetable quiche that can be cooked in the microwave!), several omelet recipes, but there are recipes for sweet onion sauce, baked onions, sautéed Vidalia sweet onions and peppers, stuffed onions, buttered Vidalia sweet onions, and many more. Mine and Bob’s favorite recipe for a Vidalia onion was to just put it – as is – on the grill and let it cook for about an hour. You don’t peel it – when I say “as is” I mean just that. You will have one utterly delectable onion to eat.

I especially want to try a recipe for HASH BROWN CASSEROLE WITH VIDALIA SWEET ONIONS and the Pickles and Relishes using Vidalia onions, but there are so many great sounding recipes that I think this cookbook isn’t going to be filed with the vegetable cookbooks; I have a small shelf of favorites on a red baker’s rack in my kitchen—the family cookbook and the Office cookbook are two of the cookbooks I keep on this rack, within reach.

Amazon.com has pre-owned copies of this cookbook, starting at $2.00 each.  Alibris.com has a few copies, including one for sale at $1.99.  Yum!

Reviews by Sandra Lee Smith

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JANE & MICHAEL STERN, COOKBOOK AUTHORS

The concept may have originated with Duncan Hines, but Jane and Michael Stern have forged a career out of traveling throughout the country and then compiling cookbooks about the foods they have tasted while traveling hither and yon.  And I suspect, being a writer myself, that some of the non-cookbooks written by the Sterns were offshoots of their travels and research into the cookbooks they have been writing for more than a few years now. I know that when I am researching one thing, others pop up and you fish around for some paper and pen or pencil to jot down other ideas that surface. Some of the books appear to be a nod towards favorite people or topics.

In 2003, I reviewed a beautiful Cookbook titled THE LOUIE’S BACKYARD COOKBOOK” by Jane and Michael Stern, with recipes by Doug Shook. This compilation at the time of publication in January, 2003, was the latest in a series from Rutledge Hill Press of Nashville, Tennessee, celebrating America’s best regional restaurants.  Louie’s Backyard is a restaurant, located in Key West, Florida. While I lived in North Miami Beach, Florida, for three years, I’m sorry to say I never made it to Key West. Louie’s Backyard Cookbook makes me yearn to go.

That said, a number of other cookbooks, well-compiled with beautiful dust jackets have been created by the Sterns. These include:

*THE BLUE WILLOW INN COOKBOOK/Voted Best Small-Restaurant in the South by Southern Living Readers, published in 2002;

*THE DURGIN-PARK COOKBOOK/Classic Yankee Cooking in the shadow of Faneuil Hall, also published in 2002;

*FAMOUS DUTCH KITCHEN RESTAURANT COOKBOOK/Family Style Diner Delights from the Heart of Pennsylvania, published in 2004;

*COOKING IN THE LOWCOUNTRY FROM THE OLD POST OFFICE RESTAURANT/Spanish Moss, Warm Carolina Nights and Fabulous Southern     Food, also published in 2004;

*SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ/Fried Chicken, Hams, and Jams from Nashville’s Favorite Café, published in 2005;

(Asterisk denotes the cookbooks in this series that I have.   But to get a better picture of what Jane and Michael Stern were writing before they latched onto the concept of the series named “A Roadfood Cookbook, Celebrating America’s Best Regional Restaurants” we have to go back in time.  In my collection, I have the books preceded with an asterisk. To date, this is the list of literary accomplishments achieved by the Sterns, possibly incomplete. Mostly, I searched on Google for titles I didn’t have, checked for titles in the ones I do have, and then ended up in Amazon.com ordering half a dozen more.  The books I ordered should be coming in the mail anyday now.

Here is a list of books written by Jane and Michael Stern:

TRUCKER: A PORTRAIT OF THE LAST AMERICAN COWBOY, 1975 Jane Stern only. One critic wrote: “like many early 70’s books on culture of the USA, it was written with heavy realism with nothing hidden-no gloss. The tone is reverent but lays out all the harsh realities of truckin’, great photos, great poetry, almost punk. 70’s graphics set the tone to this gritty ode to the “last American cowboy”. a REAL slice of American pie”.

ROADFOOD, 1977, 8th edition in 2011,Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster

AMAZING AMERICA, 1978 – out of print (and hard to find), described as: Unusual, interesting, and extraordinary sights, events, and attractions throughout the United States, ranging from the Campbell Museum in Camden, New Jersey, to the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp, California.

AUTO ADS, 1978

DOUGLAS SIRK, 1978, Michael Stern only (Sirk was a film director who was born in Germany to Danish parents, raised in Denmark but moved to Germany when he was a teenager. He started his film career in 1922 but left Germany in 1937 because of his political leanings and his Jewish wife. He made numerous films, including Magnificent Obsession in 1954 and All That Heaven Allows, in 1955)

HORROR HOLIDAY/Secrets of Vacation Survival, 1981

*SQUARE MEALS/AMERICA’S FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD COOKBOOK,  published in 1985 reprinted 2001

JANE AND MICHAEL STERN’S COAST TO COAST COOKBOOK: REAL AMERICAN FOOD, 1986

ELVIS WORLD, 1987 – Has been described as a vast universe defined by all that Elvis stands for: the music, of course, and the movies, the life and the legend, but also the cascade of material things he collected and consumed (from pink cadillacs and the cheeseburgers to diamond rings and Graceland), the glitter and the mammoth success (one billion records sold, more than anyone else in history starting with its four page-gate fold title page, this book is bursting with rare photographs, with wonderful Elvis memorabilia (1950s fans magazines: “Elvis – Hero or Heel?”  Elvis wallets, Elvis handkerchiefs, Elvis bedroom slippers with the Elvis with the Elvis phenomenon as it exists today. Elvis Presley has become an American symbol as recognizable as the American flag. He is a landmark in almost everyone’s life, and his image continues to mesmerize. Elvis has transcended his previous status as merely the most popular entertainer in history, and “Elvis world” explains and revels in this phenomenon. With affection and wit – and a touch of irreverence – the Sterns guide us through Elvis world, showing us an Elvis we’ve never seen before. –This text refers to an alternate hardcover edition.

*A TASTE OF AMERICA, published in 1988

STERNS GUILD TO DISNEY COLLECTIBLES VOLUME 1 by Michael Stern,  published in 1988

SIXTIES PEOPLE, 1990

JANE & MICHAEL STERN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POP CULTURE, VOL 2 1990

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BAD TASTE, 1990

*AMERICAN GOURMET, published in 1991

WAY OUT WEST, 1993

*HAPPY TRAILS: OUR LIFE STORY BY ROGER ROGERS, DALE EVANS, JANE AND MICHAEL STERN, 1994

STERNS GUILD TO DISNEY COLLECTIBLES VOLUME 3 by Michael Stern,  published in 1995

*EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE U.S.A. published in 1997 (My favorite Cincinnati eatery, Camp Washington Chili, is featured in this book)

THE BEATLES, A REFERENCE & VALUE GUIDE, Barbara Crawford & Michael Stern, 1998

DOG EAT DOG: A VERY HUMAN BOOK ABOUT DOGS AND DOG SHOWS, 1998

TWO PUPPIES, 1998

CHILI NATION, 1999

*UP A COUNTRY LANE, BY EVELYN BIRKBY, JANE AND MICHAEL STERN 2000 (This title came to my attention when I was writing about old time radio programs, WHEN RADIO WAS KING – Don’t touch that Dial” (June, 2009)

*BLUE PLATE SPECIALS AND BLUE RIBBON CHEFS: THE HEART AND SOUL OF AMERICA’S GREAT ROADSIDE RESTAURANTS, 2001 (does not have the logo of “a Roadfood Cookbook Celebrating America’s Best Regional Restaurants”- it appears that the logo was adopted and appears for the first time on the Blue Willow Inn Cookbook-sls)

*THE BLUE WILLOW INN COOKBOOK/Voted Best Small-Restaurant in the South by Southern Living Readers, published in 2002;

*THE DURGIN-PARK COOKBOOK/Classic Yankee Cooking in the shadow of Faneuil Hall, also published in 2002;

THE HARRY CARAY’S RESTAURANT COOKBOOK: THE OFFICIAL HOME PLATE OF THE CHICAGO CUBS, 2003

AMBULANCE GIRL:  HOW I SAVED MYSELF BY BECOMING AN EMT, 2003, Jane Stern only

*FAMOUS DUTCH KITCHEN RESTAURANT COOKBOOK/Family Style Diner Delights from the Heart of Pennsylvania, published in 2004;

*COOKING IN THE LOWCOUNTRY FROM THE OLD POST OFFICE RESTAURANT/Spanish Moss, Warm Carolina Nights and Fabulous Southern     Food, also published in 2004;

ELEGANT COMFORT FOOD FROM DORSET INN: TRADITIONAL COOKING FROM VERMONT’S OLDEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING INN, 2005 (with Sissy Hicks)

*SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ/Fried Chicken, Hams, and Jams from Nashville’s Favorite Café,  also published in 2005;

FRIENDLY RELATIONS, a novel, published in 2005

*TWO FOR THE ROAD/Our Love Affair with American Food, published in 2006

ROADFOOD SANDWICHES: RECIPES AND LORE FROM OUR FAVORITE SHOPS COAST TO COAST, 2007

500 THINGS TO EAT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE: AND THE VERY BEST PLACES TO EAT THEM, 2009

THE LEXICON OF REAL AMERICAN FOOD, 2011

CONFESSIONS OF A TAROT READER: PRACTICAL ADVICE FROM THE REALM AND BEYOND, 2011, Jane Stern only

Obviously, not every book compiled by the Sterns is a cookbook! For those who like to compile a complete bibliography of favorite authors, this should give you something to work with. I counted 39 titles. One of the articles I read in Google lists more than 40 books.

Jane and Michael Stern, who are both baby boomers born in 1946, got their foot in the door by writing books about travel and food (after college graduation, neither one could find employment in the fields they had majored in).

They may be best known for their “Roadfood” books, website and magazine columns, such as the now defunct GOURMET MAGAZINE, for which they were staff writers for 18 years. The Sterns have won many awards, including three James Beard awards and the James Beard Perrier-Jouet Award for lifetime achievement. They were inducted into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, in 1992. (When I first began delving into their titles, my first impression was that my younger brother Bill, also born in 1946, would appreciate the Sterns’ early books more than I, being a baby boomer himself. But the deeper I delved, the more fascinated I became.

The Sterns met as graduate students in art at Yale University, married in 1970 – and much to my surprise, divorced in 2008. While they now live in different cities, they continue to write and travel as a team, despite the divorce.  The Lexicon of Real American Food was published in 2011, the same year that Jane published CONFESSIONS OF A TAROT READER, based on her long-standing (but little known) career as a tarot card reader. And, although my blog articles focus primarily on cooking, cookbooks, recipes and favorite cookbook authors—I find myself intrigued by the titles of the Sterns collective or individual non-cookbook accomplishments.  It’s almost like thinking you have known somebody for a long time and suddenly discover there are layers of other interests, like the layers to an onion.

Normally, I would give you ordering information on various cookbooks—but there are too many titles to do this. I suggest, if you are interested in one of these titles, that you visit Amazon.com or Alibris.com (many of their cookbooks can be purchased very reasonably); I obtained a lot of my information on the Sterns’ books from these websites and Google. or, read my post Louie’s Backyard Cookbook, posted in June, 2012 on this blog for a sample of their  “Roadfood”  series.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMPHIS ON MY MIND

A Memphis community cookbook arrived in yesterday’s mail and had me wondering just how many Memphis cookbooks did I have? Well, not as many as I originally thought – I have two copies of the Memphis in May International Festival Cookbook which lays claim to being the Official Cookbook of the Memphis in May International Festival, Volume One, published in 1989. Are there more Memphis in May International Festival cookbooks? I wondered.  As in a Volume 2 or Volume 3?  I have been unable to find any trace of additional volumes on Google. Perhaps tagging it Volume One was a bit over ambitious on somebody’s part.

And then I discovered that my oldest Memphis Cookbook published by the Junior League of Memphis in 1976 (and a gift from my penpal, Penny, in Oklahoma)—was not the oldest edition, not by a long shot – THIS Junior League cookbook was first published in September of 1952! Between that first edition published in 1952 and republished in 1976, there were sixteen editions resulting in the publication of 194,000 copies!

17th through 20th editions were published between 1977 and 1988 and I am assuming that the newly designed cover was first created for the 1977  cookbook and what I have is a copy of the 20th edition published in 1988. This edition also has a seal proclaiming it to be the Official City of Memphis Cookbook.  Out of curiosity, I checked a few recipes in both of my copies to determine whether or not the recipes are the same. They are.

In 1970, the Junior League of Memphis published a new cookbook, PARTY POTPOURRI, which is a compilation of parties and menus.  A guide such as this is especially handy when you are hosting some kind of party and don’t know where to begin.  This cookbook offers breakfasts, brunches and coffees recipes, luncheons and teas, receptions, children’s parties, informal entertaining and even elegant entertaining. I don’t know if Party Potpourri was published more than the two editions listed in my copy published in 1971. Google was not much help other than providing me with the information that this cookbook contains over 500 recipes.

Then I also discovered that my copy of “A MAN’S TASTE” published in 1980—is also a creation of the Junior League of Memphis.  In the introduction, the Junior Leaguers comment that 1980 marked the 28th anniversary of their first publication (the Memphis Cookbook first published in 1952, which had since sold over 200,000 copies and was still going strong). They write that Party Potpourri has successfully sold over 130,000 copies.

A MAN’S TASTE is their third cookbook. They say they couldn’t bring themselves to call this one SON OF MEMPHIS COOKBOOK, feeling it would sound derivative—and they didn’t want to deny this unusual collection of men’s recipes the chance to seek its own special identity in the world of cookbooks.

Still, they write, “Son of Memphis Cook Book” would not be an inappropriate title. In the pages of A MAN’S TASTE are the names of many rightful sons and  heirs, as well as nephews, cousins, brothers and their friends—of the ladies who contributed to their first collection of Southern recipes back in 1952. The culinary talents displayed in A MAN’S TASTE did not spring from dormitory hot plates, army field kitchens, scout camps and hunting lodges alone.  “A mother’s hand may be detected here and there, light though it may be”, they write.

A MAN’S TASTE was meant to be much more than a collection of men’s recipes and not a mere sequel to what has gone before.  This was intended to be a book about men cooking, what they do and how they feel in the kitchen, and the Junior League of Memphis succeeded in this endeavor, although you will get the feeling that a cookbook by and for men was simply before its time, for don’t we see a bushel basket full of male chefs in abundance on the cooking shows on the Food Network lo these three decades later? It’s the female chefs who tend to be scarce on these television shows, but in the Unofficial Foreword, the Junior Leaguers write “We have trouble remembering exactly what it was that started people thinking about putting out a men’s cookbook.  It had something to do with the notion that there is something funny about men’s cooking, and something to do with the notion that the Junior League House-husbands (a secret society of indeterminate membership with its own handshake and heavy recurring annual dues) could make an off-beat contribution to the distinguished cookbook publishing tradition of the Memphis Junior League. The underlying premise was, as near as we can recall, that the League’s coffers might be modestly enriched through the sale of a recipe book that was, if nothing else, out of the ordinary. ..”

And out of the ordinary it was. Some recipes had to be left out—Pigeon Drop Soup and Roast Rack of Armadillo, for example, were omitted for lack of essential raw materials to test them Coral Snake Stew was abandoned for want of a single soul who would volunteer to try it first (and the contributor himself could not be found) But be not dismayed or reluctant to find a copy of A MAN’S TASTE. Weird recipes aside, there are plenty of yummy recipes for man (and woman) alike. Easily the kind of cookbook to read in bed with a packet of post-its on hand to mark your favorite recipes-to-try.
**

STIRRING RECIPES FROM MEMPHIS HEART & SOUL cookbook was also the work of the Junior League of Memphis.   This larger than life cookbook published in 1992 has a seal proclaiming it the National Winner of the Tabasco Cookbook awards for 1993.

The Memphis Cookbook published in 1970 is available on Amazon.com starting at $2.25 for a pre-owned copy.

Amazon.com has the Heart & Soul cookbook starting at $1.51 for a pre-owned copy. They also have the revised copy of the Memphis cookbook (with the blue cover) starting at $2.36 for a pre-owned copy.

The original Memphis Cookbook can be yours from Alibris.com starting at $2.36 for a pre-owned copy.  Many of these cookbooks are also available new and often for very reasonable prices.  I often find I have to shop around to see what is the best price for the best available condition. Other times (and I have complained about this before) – ordinary cookbooks such as these are priced by private vendors at hugely inflated prices.  Every so often someone writes to me and asks how much I think such-and-such a cookbook is worth; my answer always is – it’s worth as much as someone is willing to pay.

My final mention is that the 1952 edition of The Memphis Cookbook contained poetry and essays similar to what I collected and posted as the Kitchen Poets. Much love and attention to detail went into the making of that first Memphis Cookbook. Much love and attention to detail went into the making of A Man’s Taste and Stirring Recipes as well.

Reviewed by Sandra Lee Smith

MORE OFF-THE-WALL COOKBOOKS

Sometimes the titles are so far out, they’re almost “in”. That’s a little tongue-in-cheek, I suppose.  I have been thinking about far out cookbook titles for about a year, maybe ever since my penpal, Betsy, began sending some of them to me. Then, while surfing around in my WORD files, I discovered I had written about off-the-wall cookbooks back in 2011!  (See “Off-the-Wall Fascinating Cookbooks” posted September 12, 2011).

Rather than “off-the-wall”, perhaps “off-the-shelf” would be a more appropriate title. Where to file them?

For now, I have three in front of me—not your everyday community cookbook of anything remotely like a JOY of Cooking or a Betty Crocker Cookbook.  These books are something else.

TWAIN’S FEAST– Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens, by Andrew Beahrs – and

FAMOUS VEGETARIANS & THEIR FAVORITE RECIPES – Lives & Lore from Buddha to the Beatles, by Rynn Berry – and

THE WORDS WORTH EATING COOKBOOK by Jacquelyn G. Legg.

Curious? I hope so!   Let’s start, then, with “TWAIN’S FEAST”. Published in June, 2010, to mark the 175th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth and the centenary of his death. Food writer Andrew Beahrs embarked on providing a fresh look at America’s most beloved author through the foods and places he treasured most. It was a clever approach to writing about Twain—for what could be written about Mark Twain that hasn’t already been written?  And how many fans of Mark Twain’s literature would know that he was a great champion of regional cuisine?  I, who have collected regional cookbooks for over forty years, did not know this about Mark Twain. Actually, I collected Twain’s books for my significant other, Bob, who passed away in September, 2011.  I would have loved asking Bob “Did you know that in the winter of 1879, Mark Twain paused during a tour of Europe to compose a fantasy of American dishes he missed the most?”  (Then, again, Bob probably would have replied, “Oh, yeah, he wrote that in “A TRAMP ABROAD” Bob unquestionably read far more than I did—and was very well read.

Twain’s menu, made up of some eighty regional specialties, was a love letter to American food—to fresh, seasonal, local flavors—in a time before railroads had dissolved the culinary lines between Hannibal, Missouri, and San Francisco: Lake Trout from Tahoe, Hot Biscuits, Southern Style. Canvasback-duck from Baltimore and Black-bass from the Mississippi. Twain was desperately sick of European hotel cooking when he created his fantasy menu. When food writer Andrew Beahrs first read Twain’s menu in the classic work “A TRAMP ABROAD”, he saw that the dishes were regional in the truest sense of the word—all drawn fresh form grasslands, and waters.

In TWAIN’S FEAST, Andrew Beahrs skillfully weaves together elements of travelogue, literary biography and culinary history to discover whether these forgotten regional specialties can still be found on American tables. Beahrs also explores how Train’s foods were harvested and hunted and cooked, but also lets us know how these foods were remembered, longed for, and loved. Each item on Twain’s menu is tied to an important moment in his life, from the New Orleans sheepshead he enjoyed as a young man on the Mississippi (ew,ew, sorry), to the maple syrup he savored during his final years in Connecticut.

Tracking Twain’s foods led Andrew Beahrs from the dwindling prairie of rural Illinois to a six-hundred-pound coon supper in Arkansas, to the biggest oyster reef in San Francisco Bay.  Beahrs found pockets of places in the USA where Twain’s favorite foods still exist, or where intrepid farmers, fishermen and conservationists are trying to bring them back.  In TWAIN’S FEAST, Beahrs reminds us of what we’ve lost as these wild foods have disappeared from our tables. (It made me think of all the wild blackberries that grow in vast abundance in Oregon, still, today, but you’d have to be a native Oregonian to be aware of this and to know where to go to find them. I yearn to return to Oregon during berry season, to pick to my heart’s content—my friends have wild blackberries growing the length of their farmland property but stopped to also show me the abundance of blackberries growing along the Willamette River).

In the Introduction to TWAIN’S FEAST, Beahrs admits that, for his thirty-third birthday, he wanted breakfast with Mark Twain. He writes, “I’d been preparing for more than a week—reading Twain’s novels, digging through old cookbooks, shopping in half a dozen markers. Now a two-inch-thick dry-aged porterhouse rested on my kitchen counter in a nest of brown butcher paper. Buck-wheat batter and a tray of biscuits waited for the oven; dark maple syrup warmed in a small saucepan…”  In the living room, his wife had their three-year old son pinned down. Beside Beahrs was a deep, seasoned to black cast iron fryer heated over the highest possible flame…” (I have cast iron skillets such as these—some of mine are over fifty years old).

Twain writes of being homesick for home-grown foods, admitting he detested the food served up in his travels throughout Europe, from watery coffee to decayed strawberries to chicken as tasteless as paper. Andrew Beahrs set out to prepare those foods that Twain missed most, starting with breakfast, the meal Twain missed the greatest. “Wanting a steak as much as possible like those Twain enjoyed,” Beahrs writes, “I ordered  a grass-fed, dry-aged porterhouse from a small local butcher….”

You will have to read “TWAIN’S FEAST” to learn the rest. This is not a cookbook, per se, although it contains recipes—and I briefly wondered where I would file the book. In the end I decided it belongs with my food reference collection.

To see a sample of the fantasy menu in Mark Twain’s handwriting, go to www.smithsonian.com and enter “Mark Twain’s fantasy menu”. What shows up is two pages of the fantasy menu, in Twain’s own handwriting.

Andrew Beahrs is the author of two novels, and his work has appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES, GASTRONOMICA, VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW, THE WRITER’S CHRONICLE, OCEAN MAGAZINE, FOOD HISTORY NEWS and LIVING BIRD. He received his M.A. in anthropology/archeology from the University of Virginia and his M.F.A. in fiction from Spalding University.  He lives in California with his family.

TWAIN’S FEAST, Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the footsteps of Samuel Clemens, is available at www.amazon.com @ $2.48 for a pre-owned copy or new for $3.95. Directly from Amazon.com, it can be purchased new for $10.38. (Original purchase price was $25.95). It is listed on Alibris.com for 99c for a pre owned copy or new, starting at $2.84.   **

Next is FAMOUS VEGETARIANS & Their favorite recipes, subtitled “Lives & Lore from Buddha to the Beatles”, by Rynn Berry. On the back of the book we learn “More than just a cookbook author, Rynn Berry is a literary detective and scholar adventurer (hmm, reminds me of Andrew Beahrs!).  He is the first to have found and published the vegetable recipes favored by Leonardo da Vinci, which he translated from medieval Latin into English. He was also the first to have discovered vegetarian recipes for Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, which Ryann found had been written in Bronson’s wife Abigail’s handwritten recipe book (be still my heart! What wouldn’t I give to just SEE that handwritten recipe book?!)

Rynn Berry has worked similar feats of research for such vegetarian immortals as Pythagoras, Gautama the Buddha, Socrates, Jesus Christ, Plutarch, Percy Shelley, Tolstoy, Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw.  Berry also collected recipes from such contemporary vegetarians as Paul and Linda McCartney although I seem to recall that Linda McCartney wrote a cookbook so maybe that wasn’t too difficult—but Jesus Christ?

And, for what it’s worth, I immediately went to Amazon.com and checked on Linda McCartney’s cookbook – make that plural; she wrote at least 5 cookbooks, several of which were vegetarian. In any case, the recipes collected by Berry were culled from cookbooks left behind or from the notes of family members or housekeepers. Older recipes were gleaned or carefully recreated from historical accounts.  And the chapter dedicated to Jesus Christ is most fascinating; the author presents a strong case for Jesus being a vegetarian.  Recipes featured include Barley and Lentils and Wheat, Mint and Parsley Salad.

Equally fascinating is the chapter dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci, who was     “born in the sleepy hamlet of Vinci, which is about a day’s journey by mule-cart from Florence, on April 15, 1452…”  Included in the intriguing text is a recipe for Fried Figs and Beans and Chick Pea Soup.

As a child whose first own book was a copy of Little Women, given to me by my mother, I have collected all the film versions of Little Women and recently acquired a copy of a Louisa May Alcott biography. Anyone who has seen the various versions of Little Women, or read the novel (numerous times, in my case…when I was a child, if I had nothing new to read, I read my own books over and over again, until I could recite entire pages by heart), you know that the father of Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth is noticeably absent; he is off serving in a war and it was years before I realized that “the war” was the American Civil War. (American history was not my strong suit in grammar or high school; it became a beloved topic after I became an adult). Indeed, Rynn Berry writes “The life of Bronson Alcott has been largely overshadowed by the fame of his daughter, Louisa May Alcott, whose books LITTLE WOMEN and LITTLE MEN became classics of American literature. It would appear that he is mainly remembered for being Louisa May’s father, but Bronson Alcott certainly deserves a greater claim on our memory than that. After all, he was a pioneer in many fields. He was America’s first educational theorist, whose ideas on teaching and child-rearing anticipate those of Gessel and Dewey…he was a leading abolitionist …and one of America’s earliest proponents of animal rights and vegetarianism.  For his love of learning and his narrow escape from illiteracy, he had his mother to thank. Because Bronson’s mother was denied the education she always wanted, she saw to it that Bronson had every opportunity within her pinched means to improve his mind. What follows is a fascinating, albeit brief, biography of Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott. Recipes include Fruitlands Apple Pan Dowdy and a recipe for Ginger Snaps, from Abigail Alcott’s handwritten collection.

Not a cookbook, although it contains recipes. Not a book to put on my shelf with celebrity cookbooks—this too, belongs, I think, with my collection of food reference books.

Amazon.com has copies of FAMOUS VEGETARIANS starting at one cent for paperback pre-owned copies and $2.91 for new, while they have hard bound copies starting at $1.12.  Alibris.com notes “see all from $1.12”.  **

THE WORDS WORTH EATING COOKBOOK, featuring over 500 recipes from the Words Worth Eating Collection is a thick spiral-bound cookbook compiled by Jacquelyn G. Legg.

In the introduction she writes, “The recipes in the WORDS WORTH EATING COOKBOOK have been collected over many years. They include recipes from the author’s own family recipe collections, treasured contributions from friends and prize-winning Words worth Eating recipes…”

Well, knock me over with a feather-baster* and call me cook, it turns out that the Words Worth Eating recipes were originally created in 1978 for Ukrop’s super markets in Richmond Virginia—recipes were printed on cards every week for many years (undoubtedly like the recipe cards I pick up in MY supermarkets all the time, and share with penpals)—these recipes make up the contents of the WORDS WORTH EATING cookbook.  (Here I was, thinking that the collection had a much loftier background).

*apparently, feather-basters have completely disappeared from our culinary landscape. Are you kidding me? My grandmother used a feather-baster to baste her strudels with melted butter!  I remember having a feather baster—my guess is that it was made with duck feathers. Sigh.

But look what I found in a website:

Czech & Slovak Feather Basters  Saturday, September 18, 2010 –

“Inside the museum store, Marge Stone will present the centuries-old technique of making feather basters, also known as peroutky. This baking tool is used for brushing butter or egg yolk across delicate dough of koláče, cookies and bread. This program is part of the NCSML Family Folkways Series that also includes the following presentations: bobbin lace-making in October; wheat weaving in November, and Hanácké Kraslice – Straw-Decorated Eggs in January….”   Well, I wasn’t so delusional after all. My only question now is,  how did my German grandmother know about Czech and Slovak feather basters? Or, were feather basters commonly used throughout Europe years ago?                                                                                        

Jacqueline Legg was involved in the development of a cookbook titled VIRGINIA HOSPITALITY, a highly successful cookbook created by the Junior League of  Hampton Roads, published in 1995 (and which, of course, I have). Shortly after the Junior League cookbook was published, Jacqueline Legg was asked to create a weekly recipe program for a family owned chain of supermarkets.  In addition to the weekly recipes. Mrs. Legg developed two seafood cookbooks, a low cholesterol cookbook and a gift packet of TWO DOZEN DELECTABLE DESSERTS. After that, WORDS WORTH EATING COOKBOOK follows most traditional pathways. Still, you have to admit, the story is interesting. I still don’t know where it should be filed on my book shelves. **

Happy cookbook collecting! And much happier cooking in the kitchen!

Sandy