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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