THYME IN A BOTTLE

“Hi, I’m Ingrid Croce and THYME IN A BOTTLE is my life story in a cookbook”. This is how Ingrid Croce Introduces herself and captivates her audience from page one.

Who could be better qualified to write a cookbook titled THYME IN A BOTTLE than Ingrid Croce, wife of the late Jim Croce, whose TIME IN A BOTTLE is still played, frequently, on mellow/easy listening radio stations. Jim Croce died in an airplane crash in Louisiana in 1973. Croce, incidentally, also wrote-and-recorded “Operator”, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “I’ll have to say I love you in a song”. His career was just starting to take off when he died, never knowing that at least one of his songs would become an all-time favorite classic.

From Google we learned that Croce was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 1043. He first learned to play the accordion at the age of five. He later became a self taught guitar player.

Jim attended Villanova College in Pennsylvania and it was in his freshman year that he began to get serious about a musical career. He played in several bands doing a variety of music. It was also at college that he met his wife, Ingrid.

In 1969 he moved to New York with Ingrid and an old friend from college. They began playing in clubs and coffeehouses for more than a year.

It was there that they recorded their first album. However, the album was not a success and they grew tired of life in the city. The Croces then decided to move to Lyndell, Pennsylvania, where their only child, Adrian James Croce, was born. Although they lived a much simpler life, money was short, so Jim began selling the guitars he collected while living in New York. He worked construction jobs again and for studios in NY, dong background vocals for radio commercials.
Eventually, Jim was heard and signed by ABC/Dunhill record label in 1972 and released his second album, “YOU DON’T MESS AROUND WITH JIM”.

His rock style and soulful ballads became popular with American radio stations. This album gave Jim the success he had dreamed about – The title album, “YOU DON’T MESS AROUND WITH JIM” became a top ten hit. His third album was an even bigger success. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was a chart topping single that reached number one and eventually went Gold. Jim Croce was now traveling all over the country doing concerts and making television appearances.

One of his favorite songs, “Time in a Bottle” was used as theme song on a television movie titled “She Lives,” in early September of that year. It was after being heard on national television that this now legendary song became a radio success. However, only two months after “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” went to the top of the charts, Jim Croce was killed in an airplane crash.

Jim had finished what would be his last concert at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. His small charter airplane took off in bad weather and crashed into a tree right after take off, killing Jim, his lead guitarist Maury Muehleisen and the airplanes crew.

After his death, Jim Croce’s music continued to grow in popularity. He will always be known as one of the most talented singer, songwriter and musicians that we were blessed to have for such a short time.

There is no way of knowing just where Jim’s career would have taken him if he had not died so tragically just when his dreams were becoming realities. People who knew Jim Croce spoke of what a genuine, kind and easy-going man he was. His music was so easy for everyone to relate to. Jim Croce is buried at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazer, Pennsylvania. An album titled, “Photographs and Memories” was released in 1974 as his greatest hits package. He was only thirty years ago when he died.

The following is a list of Croce’s top ten songs:

1. “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”
2. “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”
3. “Time in a Bottle”
4. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”
5. “One Less Set of Footsteps”
6. “It Doesn’t Have to be That Way”
7. “Roller Derby Queen”
8. “I Got a Name”
9. “I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song”
10. “Lover’s Cross”

(Some of these can be heard on Youtube with Jim singing).

Getting back to “THYME IN A BOTTLE”, this cookbook came to me by way of the publishers, HarperCollins, when I was doing cookbook reviews for the now defunct cookbook newsletter the Cookbook Collectors Exchange.

What you may not know is that in 1985, Ingrid opened Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar in San Diego, California, as a tribute to her late husband, singer and songwriter. Jim Croce. Many of the recipes made famous in her restaurants (for she parlayed the success of her first restaurant into a group of popular restaurants) can be found in THYME IN A BOTTLE.

THYME IN A BOTTLE features Italian favorites of the Croce family, as well as Russian and Jewish classics from Ingrid’s own childhood.

Not just a cookbook—THYME IN A BOTTLE chronicles Jim & Ingrid’s lives. Their sometimes troubled marriage, and the difficulties she faced after Jim’s death, leaving her with a young son to raise and a myriad of legal battles to obtain what was rightfully hers and her son’s; the rights and royalties to her husband’s music. (It took Ingrid until 1986 to win back their writer and artist royalties).

Long-time friend Arlo Guthrie said “When I had finished devouring this book by my friend Ingrid Croce-Rock, I wasn’t sure what had happened. It’s part story, part history, part recipe, part restaurant and part Ingrid. I listened, I laughed, I cried and I got the munchies—all within a short space of time. There were moments,” Guthrie continues, “when I was riveted and wanting more, and moments when I drifted between her life and my own, where they touched or ran together side by side through our common traditions. I felt my tears fall softly as details unfolded of our shared sorrow…”

“And,” says Guthrie, “this isn’t literature, this is life”. What a lovely tribute!

And I agree; after reading THYME IN A BOTTLE, I felt like I really knew Ingrid. I wanted to call her up or go visit her at the restaurant—mostly I wanted to share her book with others.

About the recipes found in THYME IN A BOTTLE; the author explains that written recipes were non-existent in her home, when she was growing up. “Traditions and circumstances of our dinners and their preparations,” she says, “were handed down with explanations like a ‘little of this and a little of that’ You had to be there, side by side in the kitchen with the cook to learn the ingredients and their measure and to taste the cook’s stew”.

This, she writes, is how her grandmother and mother learned to cook and this method allowed room for personal interpretation and creativity. (I was also reminded of my paternal grandmother’s cooking. Nothing was ever written down. The recipes that survived were learned by my grandmother’s daughter-in-law, my Aunt Dolly, who was a teenage bride in WW2 and learned grandma’s cooking by standing at her elbow, watching and learning).

Ingrid was a teenager when she married Jim Croce, and he was the cook in the family—fueled, she says, by generations of Croce’s scrumptious Northern Italian cuisine. But again, nothing was put down in writing!

Ingrid tells us how Jim’s Croce’s father gave her a Fannie Farmer cookbook and how, from it, she practiced making bread, roasted colorful legumes for frittatas , vegetable and chicken stocks, mixed organic salads and fresh baked fruit pies.

As a housewife and mother,” Ingrid writes, she practiced her cooking and pored over cookbooks as if they were novels. (aha—can’t many of us relate to that?)

Ingrid says “from Marion Cunningham to Fannie Flagg, from Alice Waters to Annie Somerville, M.F.K. Fisher and Richard Sax, I have dripped batter, spattered oil, salivated and compared notes. As a cookbook junkie, I learned how raw becomes cooked, dredged, minced and braised…”

In 1984, Ingrid opened her own restaurant, and out of necessity began to write down her family traditions. As Ingrid traveled and was given the opportunity to taste other kinds of food and food combinations, her repertoire of recipes expanded—and we get to benefit from all of it.

THYME IN A BOTTLE is the kind of cookbook you will read like a novel…it’s one of my favorite kind of cookbooks, combining history and life with food. It is filled with wonderful recipes, interspersed with Ingrid’s friendly, chatty style. Yu might want to do as I did—I went out and bought a CD of Jim Croce’s music—to further set the mood. Be advised—this isn’t an Italian cookbook, although it contains many Italian recipes from the Croce family; it isn’t a Russian Jewish cookbook even though Ingrid shares some of her family favorites…it isn’t a Southwestern cookbook even though Ingrid provides us with some of the tried-and-true recipes from her restaurant menus…I guess I would say this is a compilation of one’s woman’s life experiences in the kitchen. That is something we can all relate to.

Ingrid Croce was named one of the top ten female businesswomen in San Diego by the San Diego Business Journal, and her restaurants have received Gold Medallion Awards from the California Restaurant. She is now happily married to business partner, Jim Rock.

(Sandy’s note: my review of THYME IN A BOTTLE was originally written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1996. I’m not sure how current all of the restaurant related information is—however, that being said, when you Google Ingrid Croce, information about her restaurant and a photograph of her—immediately come up. I’m only sorry I didn’t try to find it when I was in San Diego a few years ago with my younger sister and one of our nieces).

THYME IN A BOTTLE is available at Amazon.com; it is $7.97 for a new copy or priced at one cent & up for a pre-owned copy. I couldn’t find a listing on Alibris.com.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

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