AN UPDATE ON THOSE INCOMPARABLE BROWNS: CORA, ROSE, AND BOB BROWN, COOKBOOK AUTHORS
Posted on May 24, 2012 | 13 Comments |
(Originally posted February 13, 2011)
Back in 1965, when I first began collecting cookbooks, one of my first cookbook penpals was a woman in Michigan, Betsy, who has remained my friend to this day. I have been the happy recipient of many of her cookbooks as she began to downsize.
Betsy was the person who “introduced” me to the Browns – Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, authors of over a dozen really fantastic, outstanding cookbooks. Betsy had some duplicates of the Browns’ cookbooks and sent them to me. Well, I was quickly hooked. And it was the Browns’ “America Cooks” (published 1940 by Halcyon House), that really turned me onto church-and-club community cookbooks. (I was stunned to see “America Cooks” listed at $300 by an antiquarian book dealer. I bought an extra copy for $5.00 some time ago and gave it to someone who didn’t have a copy!)
Every one of you who reads cookbooks like novels (and thinks you are the only person in the world who does this) would find “America Cooks” a most readable cookbook. Since “America Cooks” was published in 1940, others have followed in the Browns’ footsteps with dozens of cookbooks with “America” in the titles. None can compare with The Browns’ “America Cooks”.
In the foreword, the Browns wr0te, “We put in twenty years of culinary adventuring in as many countries and wrote a dozen books about it before finding out that we might as well have stayed at home and specialized in the regional dishes of our own forty-eight states. For America cooks and devours a greater variety of viands than any other country. We’re the world’s richest stewpot and there’s scarcely a notable foreign dish or drink that can’t be had to perfection in one or another section of our country….”
“For many years we Browns have been collecting regional American cooking lore, gathering characteristic recipes from each of the forty-eight states (Hawaii and Alaska had not yet become states in 1940) with colorful notes on regional culinary customs. Our collection is complete and savory. It has been our aim to make this America’s culinary source book, a means whereby each state and city may interchange its fine foods and dishes with every other, from coast to coast and from border to border. Here are forty-eight different cookbooks merged into one handy volume—a guide to the best in food and drink that this bounteous country offers. Obviously, no one person nor three, can cover every kitchen, even with such enthusiastic help as we have had from several hundred local authorities. But we believe this is our best food book, and in order to build it bigger and better in later editions, we should like to swap regional recipes and gustatory lore with all who are interested…”
And seventy something years later, I think “America Cooks” remains the Browns’ best food book. However, that being said, I found the most elusive cookbook of the Browns to be “THE VEGETABLE COOK BOOK”, subtitled “FROM TROWEL TO TABLE” by Cora, Rose and Bob Brown. Published by J. B. Lippincott Company in 1939—I only recently obtained a copy through Alibris.com and paid a whopping $25.00 for a copy. (I justified it by it having the original dust jacket and being a first edition—although to tell the truth, I rarely spend that much on a book. And it seems that other copies are going for much higher prices.
Cora Brown, Robert’s mother, was born in Charlotte, Michigan, graduated from the Chicago Conservatory of music, married and brought up a family. She took up writing fiction and in 1920 went to Brazil to become co-publisher with her son and daughter in law, Rose. Cora lived with Bob and Rose in Japan, China, France, Germany, etc, becoming familiar with foreign customs and kitchens and collecting recipes with Rose. Cora is the author of “The Guide to Rio de Janeiro” and co-authored ten cookbooks with Bob and Rose.
Rose Brown was born in Middletown, Ohio (not far from my hometown of Cincinnati), and graduated from Barnard College and Teachers College. She was a teacher, interior decorator, and journalist, contributing articles on cooking to Colliers, Vogue, This Week and other magazines. Rose was co-author with Cora and Bob on most of their cookbooks. One cookbook that does not list Cora is “Look Before You Cook” which shows Rose and Bob as authors. One cookbook authored solely by Bob Brown is “The Complete Book of Cheese.” “Culinary Americana” was written by Eleanor Parker and Bob Brown—Eleanor becoming Bob’s wife after Rose’s death.
According to Lippincott, the initiation of Rose into the mysteries of cooking was over a camp fire with game and instruction by her father. During World War I, she worked as a writer for the Committee of Public Information in Santiago, Chile. In Buenos Aires, Mrs. Brown became co publisher with Bob Brown of weekly magazines in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico and London. Rose Brown had her own kitchen in a dozen countries and traveled all over the world, always pursuing her hobbies of collecting recipes and cooking lore—and going fishing with her husband. Rose Brown passed away in 1952.
Bob brown was born in Chicago and was graduated from Oak Park High School and the University of Wisconsin. He arrived in New York in 1908 to enter the writing lists, contributing verse and fiction to practically all the periodicals of the time. One of his first books, written after the end of Prohibition, was called “Let There Be Beer!” He then collaborated with his mother and wife Rose on “The Wine Cookbook,” first published in 1934 and reprinted many times. A 1960 edition was re-named “Cooking with Wine” .
Robert Carlton Brown (1886-1959) was a writer, editor, publisher, and traveler. From 1908 to 1917, he wrote poetry and prose for numerous magazines and newspapers in New York City, publishing two pulp novels, “What Happened to Mary” and “The Remarkable Adventures of Christopher Poe” (1913), and one volume of poetry, “My Marjonary” (1916).
In 1918, Bob Brown traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America, writing for the U.S. Committee of Public Information in Santiago de Chile. In 1919, he moved with his wife, Rose Brown, to Rio de Janeiro, where they founded Brazilian American, a weekly magazine that ran until 1929. With Brown’s mother, Cora, the Browns also established magazines in Mexico City and London: Mexican American (1924-1929) and British American (1926-1929).
Following the stock market crash of 1929, the Browns retired from publishing and traveled through Asia and Europe, settling in France from 1929-1933. Brown became involved in the expatriate literary community in Paris, publishing several volumes of poetry, including” Globe Gliding” (1930), “Gems” (1931), “Words” (1931), and “Demonics” (1931), as well as “1450-1950” (1929), a book of visual poetry.
While in France, Brown also made plans toward, and wrote a manifesto for, the development of a “reading machine” involving the magnified projection of miniaturized type printed on movable spools of tape. Arguing that such a device would enable literature to compete with cinema in a visual age, Brown published a book of “Readies”—poems by Gertrude Stein, Fillipo Marinetti, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and others, typeset in a manner appropriate to operation of his projected reading machine.
Although Brown’s reading machine was never developed, his papers include letters and papers pertaining to its projected design and technical specifications, as well as a collection of his own published and unpublished visual and conceptual writing. (Bob Brown was way ahead of his time – today, we have the Kindle and Nook. I can’t help but wonder if someone came across his manifesto and ran with it).
In 1933, Brown returned to New York. In the 1930s, he wrote a series of international cookbooks in collaboration with Rose and Cora Brown. He also lived in cooperative colonies in Arkansas and Louisiana, visited the USSR, and wrote a book, “Can We Co-Operate” (1940), regarding the parameters of a viable American socialism. In 1941, he and Rose returned to South America. While traveling down the Amazon they amassed a substantial collection of art and cultural artifacts and collaborated on a book, “Amazing Amazon” (1942). The Browns eventually reestablished residence in Rio de Janeiro, where they lived until Rose Brown’s death in 1952.
After thirty years of living in many foreign countries, and following the deaths of Cora and Rose, Bob Brown closed their mountain home in Petropolis, Brazil, and returned to New York, where he married Eleanor Parker in 1953. Brown continued to write and ran a shop called Bob Brown’s Books in Greenwich Village and ran a mail order business until his death in 1959. Shortly after Brown’s death, a new edition of “1450-1950” was published by Jonathan Williams’s Jargon/Corinth Press.
During his lifetime, Bob Brown authored more than a thousand short stories and thirty full length books.
The Browns appear to have used a number of different publishers for their cookbooks. While “Soups, Sauces and Gravies,” “Fish and Sea Food Cookbook,” Salad and Herbs” were published by Lippincott, “The Complete Book of Cheese” was published by Gramercy Publishing Company. “America Cooks” and “10,000 Snacks” were published by Halcyon House and “The European Cook Book” by Prentice-Hall, Inc. A few were published by companies I am unfamiliar with; “The Country Cookbook” by A.S. Barnes and Company, and “Most for Your Money Cookbook” by Modern Age Books. “Culinary Americana”, co-authored by Brown Brown and Eleanor Parker Brown, was published by Roving Eye Press (Bob Brown’s own publication name). For whatever reason, the Browns appear to have shopped around whenever they had a book ready for publication. (Or did they copyright them all first, and then shop for publishers?)
Recently, I began to rediscover the fabulous cookbooks written the Browns. Some unexpected surprises turned up—for instance, as I was browsing through the pages of “Most for Your Money” I found a chapter titled “Mulligans Slugullions, Lobscouses and Burgoos”—while I am unfamiliar with mulligans and lobscouses, I’ve written about slumgullion stew in sandychatter and have received messages from readers from time to time, sharing their stories about slumgullion stews of their childhoods. It starts out “Jack London’s recipe for slumgullion is both simple and appetizing…” providing some enlightenment about the history of slumgullion. (some other time, perhaps we can explore the obscure and mostly forgotten names of recipes).
And – synchronicity – I had just finished writing about sauces for my blog when I rediscovered, on my bookshelves, the Browns “Soups Sauces and Gravies” which simply reaffirmed my belief that the best cookbooks on sauces will be found in older cookbooks. This cookbook by the Browns was published in 1939.
The most complete list I have of the Browns’ cookbooks is as follows:
The Wine Cookbook, by Cora, Rose & Bob Brown, originally published in 1934, revised edition 1944, Little Brown & Company. In 1960 Bob Brown published a reprint of The Wine Cookbook with the title “Cooking With Wine” and under his Roving Eye Press logo.
The European Cook Book/The European Cookbook for American Homes is apparently the same book with slightly different titles. Subtitled The Four in One book of continental cookery, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France. I saw and nearly purchased on the internet an English version of the same book from a dealer in England.
I already have three copies, don’t need a fourth! However, it should be noted that the original European Cook Book for American Homes was published in 1936 by Farrar & Rinehart. The 1951 edition with a shortened title was published by Prentice-Hall.
The Country Cook Book by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1937 by A.S. Barnes and Company.
Most for your Money Cook Book, by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1938 by Modern Age Books
Salads and Herbs, By Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1938 by J.B. Lippincott
The South American Cookbook (what I have is a Dover Publication reprint first published in 1971. The original was published by Doubleday, Doran & Company in 1939 – Cora, Rose and Bob Brown
Soups, Sauces and Gravies by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1939 by J.B. Lippincott Company
The Vegetable Cookbook by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1939 by J.B. Lippincott
America Cooks by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1940 by Halcyon House.
Outdoor Cooking by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1940 The Greystone Press (*notes that parts of this book appeared in Collier’s and Esquire magazines)
Fish and Seafood Cook Book by Cora, Rose and Bob Brown, published 1940 by J.B. Lippincott Company
Look Before you Cook by Rose and Bob Brown, published 1941 by Consumers Union of the United States, Inc.
10,000 Snacks by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, published 1948 by Halcyon House—the format and chatty style of 10,000 snacks is quite similar to “America Cooks”.
The Complete Book of Cheese, by Bob Brown, published 1955 by Gramercy Publishing
Culinary Americana by Eleanor Parker Brown and Bob Brown is a bibliography of cookbooks published in the cities and towns of the United States during the years from 1860 through 1960. It is believed that the first fund-raiser cookbook was compiled and published during the Civil War, by women to raised money for the Sanitation Commission. Culinary American focuses primarily on “regional” cookbooks, and notes that, “Certainly, it was after the War (i.e., the Civil War) that we find them printed in many states of the union,” writes Eleanor Parker Brown in the Introduction to Culinary Americana,
“A survey of 200 cookbooks of our own collection, published at various times during this last century in Massachusetts showed that they came from seventy-four different cities and villages. In the case of many of the smaller places, these titles constitute the only books ever printed in these localities, which makes them important landmarks in the history of bookmaking in the state.
The regional cookbooks are a treasure trove of original recipes, as well as a record of old ‘receipts,’ reflecting the nationality background of the settlers of the community. Thus you will expect, and find, German foods in the old books of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Scandinavian receipts in the pamphlets of the Midwest, and Spanish dishes in the booklets published in the southwest…the little books, some in the handwriting of the contributor, often with signed recipes, gives us a glimpse of the gallant women who proudly cooked these meals and generously gave up their secrets ‘for the benefit of…others…”
Eleanor Parker Brown also shares with us, in the introduction, “Bob Brown first got together a cookbook collection for reference when he began to write about cooking. He had 1500 volumes which were purchased promptly by a grocery chain store as nucleus for their research library. It was then necessary for him to start a new collection. This was the origin of an interest in cookery books which lasted, and grew, to the end of this life. Bob saw cook books as social and cultural history in America; particularly, those regional books which were so close to the heart of the country…”
Eleanor says that after Bob’s sudden death, she continued work o this bibliography.” Culinary Americana includes listings of all the regional cookbooks we could either locate or obtain information about. It runs the gamut from ‘fifteen cent dinners for families of six’ to the extravagant and elaborate collations of Oscar of the Waldorf….”
“Culinary Americana” is the kind of book that cookbook collectors simply drool over.
As an aside, I find it curious that the Browns flooded the cookbook market within the span of a few years; from “The Wine Cookbook”, published in 1934, to “Look Before You Cook” published in 1941, the Browns published eleven cookbooks. Then they appear to have gone on hiatus until 10,000 snacks was published in 1948. However, given the extent of their travels and living in countries all over the world – it crossed my mind that perhaps all of these cookbooks were “in the works” while they lived abroad—and perhaps came home to get their cookbooks published.
I’m speculating, of course. The first time I wrote about the Browns (for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1994) – information was scarce. Almost everything I wrote about was gleaned from the books or their dust jackets. Today, thanks to the internet, there is more biographical information available but not enough to satisfy my greedy soul. Of all the authors I have collected in the past 45 years, those by The Browns remain my all time favorites. I was stunned to discover Bob Brown had a bookstore and that he wrote over a thousand short stories and 30 full length books.
Yowza! – this trio did it all.
Another update! Some months ago I was stunned to receive a message on my blog from Rory Brown—Bob Brown was his great grandfather; Cora Brown was his great-great-grandmother. It isn’t the first time (and hopefully won’t be the last) that a descendant of someone I have written about on Sandychatter has written to me. It was with Rory’s assistance that I located a copy of the Browns’ Vegetable Cookbook. I’m not sure why this particular cookbook has been so elusive—possibly because it was never reprinted like some of the other cookbooks have been? The Brown descendants have mentioned the possibility of having the books reprinted—wouldn’t that be nice?
Meantime, here’s a bit to chew on from The Vegetable Cookbook – it starts out “Speaking of Spinach” and introduces us to Cora’s great-granddaughter, Sylvie—then age 4—at a Thanksgiving dinner of the whole Brown family “Last Thanksgiving” which I assume to have taken place in 1938, since the book was published in 1939. The Browns noted that “She possessed herself in patience until the napkin was knotted in place and the plate set before her. Surveying the many good things, she made a quick choice, jabbed her fork into the beans with a forthright gesture, appraised the mouthful, wiped a buttery trickle from her chin, beamed around at everybody and gave a little squeal of delight—‘Oh, I just love string beans, don’t you, Bob?’” and the authors take it from there.
Well, I love Spinach and home-grown cooked green beans (aka string beans) and the Browns write that “Greens are only an appetizing nibble at our subject, for in Florida alone, the State Department of Agriculture lists more than sixty local favorites” which they go on to list. The Browns stated they had, for years, been ardent readers of seed catalogs and had gardens of their own whenever they had the chance. It was from growing their own that they had the idea of writing The Vegetable Cook Book – from Trowel to Table”. They wrote of being fed up with “woody turnips, wilted spinach, limp beans and peas that would give you some bruises on the gullet, frayed heads of cauliflower, broccoli and iceberg lettuce past their prime, as well as those terrible lopsided little scallions that are sold for spring onions by grocers nowadays, we got a head start with a compost bed and survey of half a hundred catalogs…”
I wonder what the Browns would think if they could observe the produce department in many supermarkets more than seventy years later—the array is, admittedly, dazzling—but I find too often that whatever I buy fresh needs to be used almost immediately. A few days later, most lettuce and other greens has to be thrown out.
But returning to The Vegetable Cook Book – I was entertained (and reminded of personal experiences) as they wrote of their first vegetable gardens, forgetting what was planted where when the little sticks identifying various veggies would be lost or blown away and other hit-or-miss experiences…everyone who has had similar experiences will relate. For almost 25 years, I had a house-mate also named Bob, who tended our compost and planted the veggie gardens at our home in the San Fernando Valley, until we moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008 and discovered the need to re-learn gardening in the desert.
But getting back to my favorite cookbook authors–following their introduction and induction into vegetable gardening, the Browns move forward, alphabetically from Artichokes and Asparagus to Avocados (with a side-trip into the variables of vegetables that are a fruit, or fruits that are a vegetable, such as tomatoes and avocados). There are chapters on cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery and chives, Kohlrabi and parsley, parsnips, peas – and many more…all the way down to Yams. I suspect that possibly one reason why The Vegetable Cook Book is so difficult to find is that it’s a dictionary of sorts, listing all the vegetables available to the Browns—with ways to cook them—maybe it belongs with my reference books rather than the cookbooks!
“The Vegetable Cook Book, From Trowel to Table” may pose a challenge for sandychatter readers to find a copy—but it’s sure to become a favorite reference cookbook if and when you do. (Cookbook collectors love the challenge of searching for a particular book).
—Sandra Lee Smith
REMEMBERING HENRI CHARPENTIER
Posted on January 1, 2011 | 1 Comment | Edit
It was my original intention, early in the last decade, to write reviews about some of my favorite–but perhaps overlooked and forgotten–cookbook authors. This project was waylaid when the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, for which I wrote articles throughout the 1990s, folded. It was a great forum for the kind of writing I enjoy doing most.
But fast forward a decade and I find myself with a blog and the ability to write and share with you just about anything that is on my mind. I hope you will enjoy reading about Henri Charpentier! – sls **
It was while reading through Lee Edwards Benning’s book, “THE COOK’S TALES” for something else entirely that I discovered S is for Suzette – as in Crepes Suzette. This reminded me that I have a copy of “THE HENRI CHARPENTIER COOKBOOK” (purchased at a used bookstore for $15.00), and had always planned to write something about him.
It has always been my belief that Henri Charpentier created Crepes Suzette. Benning casts a shadow of doubt on this belief in her book “THE COOK’S TALES”.
Henri Charpentier (1880-1961) had a most intriguing, colorful career which began when, at the age of ten years, he served as a page boy on the Riviera. He served his apprenticeship as a Master Chef in the major dining capitals of Europe: HOTEL DE PARIS in Monte Carlo, MAXIMS and TOUR D’ARGENT in Paris, THE CAFÉ ROYALE and SAVOY in London, as well as other famous hotels in Moscow, Munich and Rome. Charpentier was a student of Escoffier, Jean Camous and Cesar Ritz.
Among Charpentier’s European patrons and friends were Queen Victoria, stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, and King Edward VII, for whom, Charpentier claimed, he created Crepes Suzette.
“Adventurous and ambitious,” state the publishers of “THE HENRI CHARPENTIER COOKBOOK, “Henri came to America in the early 1900s, with his new bride. He worked in the dining rooms of New York’s most distinguished hotels until 1906 when he opened THE ORIGINAL HENRI RESTAURANT in his home in the rural village of Lynbrook, Long Island. The small dining room had only two tables. Felomena, his wife, was in charge, while Henri continued to work in the city during the day to finance the new undertaking…”
During its first year, THE ORIGINAL HENRI RESTAURANT took in only $500 but its owners were not discouraged. The turning point came when J.P. Morgan, one of the most notable financial figures of the time, discovered the little dining place in the country, rumored to serve finer cuisine than in New York City.
HENRI’S grew and prospered until it occupied a rambling mansion on many acres, with sunken gardens and promenades. Over the next 25 years, it attracted the wealthiest and most notable world celebrities.
Among the famous who made the 45 minute trip from New York City were Rudyard Kipling, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Diamond Jim Brady who, wearing $500,000 worth of precious gems and accompanied by two bodyguards, often paid dinner checks totaling $500.00, adding a $100 tip for the waiter.
HENRI’S restaurant continued to flourish until the 18th Amendment to the Constitution introduced prohibition to this country.
“In April 1930,” say the publishers, “12 government agents swooped down on the Mecca of ultra-society smashing hundreds of bottles on the premises and confiscating approximately $100,000 worth of rare wines and champagnes.”
And, although the judge refused to close Henri’s because it was too respectable, the further use of brandy or liquor in food was strictly forbidden. Since preparation of most dishes thus became a felony, prohibition put an end to the type of cuisine for which THE ORIGINAL HENRI’S was famous. It was also the beginning of the restaurant’s decline.
The once famous restaurant became almost deserted but remained open. Henri opened an outdoor dance floor and offered a depression-price dinner for $1.50 and a printed menu for the first time.
A few years later, the French government and John D. Rockefeller approached Henri to open the MAISON FRANCAISE in brand-new Rockefeller Center; however, despite an avalanche of publicity and critical acclaim, Henri experienced financial difficulties from the very beginning. An artist rather than a businessman, he failed to realize that the new café was too small for the rent he paid.
It was also the height of the depression and Henri refused to compromise his standards. In April 1935, the doors of the Maison Francaise closed and Henri was evicted for non-payment of $12,000 in back rent.
Throughout the next three years, Henri struggled to rebuild THE ORIGINAL HENRI’S which he and his wife had managed to hold onto. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to sell some of his remaining real estate to pay the back taxes on the Lynbrook property, the site of THE ORIGINAL HENRI’S. (Henri had been offered $375,000 for the 20 acres of land in 1926 but was unable to find a buyer in 1938 for $10,000. The property was eventually confiscated and razed.
Tired of New York, Henri moved to Chicago where he operated a restaurant, the Cafe de Paris, for a while before moving to Los Angeles, where, after World War II, Henri opened a new Henri’s on Sunset Strip. It was described as an artistic triumph but once again, restaurant economics were severe and Henri was not geared to economizing.
However, for the last 15 years of his life, Henri presided over the type of restaurant he loved most, in Redondo Beach (California). The restaurant served a maximum of 16 guests every night, allowing him to supervise the preparation of each dish. There he served a different kind of royalty that included movie stars such as Bing Crosby and John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman, and Ethel Barrymore. It was so popular that reservations had to be made four years in advance!
Henri’s cookbook was originally privately printed in 1945 and distributed to a select circle of friends. The book’s original title was “FOOD AND FINESSE – THE BRIDE’S BIBLE” and was dedicated to “the queen of the throne – the charming American woman.” The book was designed to serve two (the bride and the groom) and, the publishers note, unlike most master chef’s, Henri had the ability to write his recipes in a simple, concise fashion. Each recipe was his own creation.
Henri Charpentier’s cookbook is also a book of memoirs, which makes fascinating reading. Perhaps the most amusing is his story “A English Plum Pudding in Contes” when his foster brother, Jean Camous, who was at that time a protégé of Escoffier, sent a plum pudding to the French village where Henri was living with his foster family. No one in the village had any idea what a plum pudding was or how it was to be used. Henri embarks on telling the story of the arrival of the plum pudding, which is truly hilarious.
He also tells the story of how he met Queen Victoria and many other famous people, for whom he created many of his specialty dishes – including the famous Crepes Suzette.
According to Henri, Edward, Prince of Wales, the son of Queen Victoria, came often to the Café d Paris in Monte Carlo where, in 1895, Henri—at the age of fifteen—was striving to hold his position as a kind of assistant waiter against the growing hostility of the maitre d’. “Day after day,” Henri recalls, “the Prince came to the Café for his luncheon.” Henri says that he often helped serve the Prince until one day through a series of fortunate circumstances, it fell to Henri’s lot to wait upon the Prince and his party.
He recalled that in the party were eight gentlemen and one little girl, the daughter of one of the gentlemen. Henri writes the following, “I had often experimented with what are called French pancakes, and I had watched Maman Camous make them with one egg and much flour. She prepared thin strips of lemon and orange peel with sugar syrup and then cooked the cake and syrup together. As a commis des rangs, who had his share of confidence, I believed I could improve on that. I was not hampered by the poverty of Contes [his hometown] and I had the advantage of my training under Jean Camous [Henri’s foster brother].
The pancakes had to be cooked twice, and since the first was a smoky operation it was performed in the kitchen. But the rest of the process occurred in the dining room right where a prince or princess might watch how it was done. I stood in front of a chafing dish making the sauce. Everything was going along all right when suddenly the cordials caught fire! My heart leaped with the flames…” Henri thought he was ruined. The Prince and his friends were waiting. How could he begin all over?
He tasted it and thought, “This is the most delicious melody of sweet flavors I’ve ever tasted.” Charpentier believed that the accident, which caused the cordials to flame, was precisely what was needed to bring all those various instruments into one harmony of taste. Henri plunged his supply of folded pancakes into the boiling sauce. “I submerged them,” he recalled, “I turned them deftly, and, again inspired, I added two more ponies of a previously prepared blend of equal parts of maraschino, curacao and kirshwasser. My wide pan was alive once more with blue and orange flame and as the colors died from the pan I looked up to see the Prince of Wales watching me.
That day he was dressed all in gray with a cravat in light blue. There was a carnation in his button hole. His gray beard was faultless. His chin went up and his nostrils inhaled. I thought then, and I think now, he was the world’s most perfect gentleman. He ate the pancakes with a fork but used a spoon to capture the remaining syrup….”
The Prince of Wales asked Henri the name of the dish he had just eaten, to which Henri replied that it was to be called Crepes Princesse. The Prince recognized it as a compliment but protested with mock ferocity that there was a lady present. “She was alert,” writes Henri, “and rose to her feet and holding her little skirt wide with both hands she made him a curtsey….”
The Prince then asked Henri to change the name from Crepes Princesse to Crepes Suzette. The next day, Henri received a present from the Prince, a jeweled ring, a Panama hat and a cane. “After that,” says Henri, “how could the maitre d’ possibly dismiss the fifteen year old Henri?”
Now, fast-forward to 1992 and Lee Edwards Benning’s research for “THE COOK’S TALE” and the chapter, “S is for Suzette”. Benning considers Crepes Suzette to be the cookdom’s version of the whodunit. She notes the clues as to who inspired it and does relate the story Henri told in the original “FOOD AND FINESSE, THE BRIDE’S BIBLE” which ultimately became the foundation for Price/Stern/Sloan’s “THE HENRI CHARPENTIER COOKBOOK”.
However, Benning notes that the accounts of how the dish originated are contradictory.
“Did it,” asks Benning, “as an occasional dish will do, leap to life like a gastronomic Minerva, springing fully armed and with a tremendous battle cry from the brain of a single creator? Did it evolve slowly as successive cooks added to it and improved it? Was it an accident, the result of a cook’s mistake? Could it have resulted from spontaneously combusting in several places at once—a case of great minds thinking alike?” Benning suggests we judge for ourselves. Henri’s story, as it was told, stood until his death in 1961.
“Then,” says Benning, “brave naysayers came forward to question not only Charpentier’s veracity but his expertise in the kitchen. They laughed at the thought that a fifteen-year old assistant waiter had access to, much less conversation with, a prince. That the maitre d’hôte would have allowed this callow youth near the person of the prince with his chafing dish. That the chef de cuisine would have even allowed the lad into our out of his kitchen…”
“Version two,” says Benning, “comes from Joseph Donon—one of the last private chefs in America—who wrote in FRANCE-AMERICAN that, among others, the crepes were invented by another chef, Monsieur Joseph, for a German actress, Suzanne ‘Suzette’ Reichenburg. According to Donon, Monsieur Joseph first made the crepes in 1889 while working at the restaurant Paillard, at the rue de la Chaussee-d’Antin and the boulevard des Italiens….” At this time, the pancakes were spread with an orange-sugar-butter sauce and remained nameless. “When Monsieur Joseph opened his own restaurant, the Marivaux, he continued to make the crepes…”
Apparently, in 1897, a play opened in which a character, a maid called Suzette, was to serve the principals some pancakes. These were supplied nightly by Monsieur Joseph from his restaurant. And so the restaurant staff would know for whom the pancakes were intended, they were called simply pancakes for Suzette or crepes Suzette. Since eating cold pancakes isn’t especially appetizing, just before they were rushed over to the theater every night, Monsieur Joseph dipped them into a sizzling mixture of butter, sugar and orange juice. No liqueurs, no alcohol, no flames.
From yet another source we have version #3. Louis P. De Gouy was a contemporary of Charpentier. De Gouy had worked at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo too—but as a chef. He also worked, as had Charpentier, at the Waldorf-Astoria here in America. According to De Gouy, crepes Suzette originally appeared in a cookbook published in 1674. According to De Gouy, Jean Reboux is credited with creating the crepes, which were served with afternoon tea to Louis XV and fellow huntsmen in the forest of Fontainebleau by order of Princesse (Suzette) de Carignan, who was infatuated with the king.
“Was she,” asks Benning, “the source of both of Charpentier’s names: first crepes princesse and then crepes Suzette?”
Version four, says Benning, “is presented by still another authority, Robert Courtine, alias Savarin. Savarin claims that all the previous claims are incorrect. He says that true crepes Suzette were made with tangerines…”
“Alas,” laments Benning, “tangerines, also known as mandarin oranges, were not introduced from China until the nineteenth century, so they could not have been used for crepes princesse. Further, the tangerine yields much less oil than any other orange, changing the recipe dramatically…..”
So much for version four.
It seems possible—perhaps logical—that Henri Charpentier didn’t really create Crepes Suzette when he was a fifteen-year-old waiter at a famous Monte Carlo restaurant. Undoubtedly, however, he managed to make them famous throughout his spectacular career. It was a good story, though and Henri Charpentier’s Cookbook provides entertaining recollections, true or otherwise, along with a collection of recipes. One also can’t help but wonder why those naysayers didn’t come forward until after Charpentier’s death to dispute the authenticity of his recipe.
In any event, no one disputed that Crepes Suzette makes for good eating.
Now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.
The Henri Charpentier Cookbook was originally published in 1945 as “FOOD AND FINESSE, THE BRIDE’S BIBLE.” It was republished in 1970 by Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers under the title “THE HENRI CHARPENTIER COOKBOOK”.
Imagine my surprise when I entered Henri Charpentier’s name onto my favorite information website, Google.com, and discovered that Modern Library Food series has re-published Henri’s book in 2001 with a new introduction by Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl. The new name of the book is “LIFE A LA HENRI” and it should be available to you through most of your bookstore resources.
–Sandra Lee Smith
MARION CUNNINGHAM, COOKBOOK AUTHOR
I first learned the sad news from one of my blog subscribers, who wrote asking had I heard? And would I be writing something about Marion Cunningham? “No, I hadn’t heard,” I responded and added “Good idea to write something about her –let me see how many of her cookbooks are on my shelves…”
I didn’t have her books shelved together with favorite authors but rather – filed according to content. I knew, for instance, that The Breakfast Book was in the garage library with other breakfast/brunch cookbooks. I knew LOST RECIPES and THE SUPPER BOOK were on a shelf in my bedroom, along with other comfort food and often thumbed-through cookbooks. All of the Fannie Farmer cookbooks in my possession are on a shelf in the garage library. Then I realized I didn’t have ALL of her books and remedied this by placing an order with Alibris.com. That being said, I find I have eight different editions of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, neither of which was #12 or #13, the two that Marion worked on. I’ve ordered one of these from Alibris.com. (Kind of reminded me of all the work I have put in, back in the day, collecting the Congressional Club cookbooks.)
Marion Cunningham passed away Wednesday, July 11, 2012, at the John Muir Medical Center in Northern California, where she had been admitted on Tuesday with respiratory problems. Family friend, John Carroll, confirmed her death. Marion had been living at an assisted-care home in Walnut Creek, the small San Francisco Bay Area city where she had raised her family. She was 90 years old. I was shocked to learn she had Alzheimer’s disease, which took my own mother’s life in September, 2000.
Marion Enwright was born in Los Angeles on February 11, 1922, to Joseph and Maryann (Spelta) Enright. She grew up as a Southern California beach girl, tall, blonde, and elegant and graduated from high school in Los Angeles. (In her own words she admitted, “I barely made it out of high school. I never paid attention to my teachers…” That comment is debatable, considering what she produced, once she started writing.)
In one of the columns she wrote for the L.A. Times that can still be found in the Times archives, she wrote for the food section about her southern California childhood: “In the small foothill town of La Crescenta where I grew up,” she wrote, “We spent long summer evenings, after breathlessly hot days, swinging in the hammock…Around 8 each evening, it seemed that everyone in town walked down to Watson’s drugstore to buy a quart of ice cream..(our neighbors) the Merricks made root beer with great success except for the first summer when they couldn’t afford a bottle-capper. They made their first batch corked it and put it in the attic to ferment. In a day or two, all the corks flew out of the bottles, making a colossal mess.”
I laughed over a comment of Marion’s about her mother’s cooking: “My mother followed the government pamphlets on nutrition that she sent away for, and paid no attention to taste” – I have written on my blog a number of times about my own mother’s terrible cooking. We were kindred spirits in more ways than one.
In 1942 Marion married Robert Cunningham, a medical malpractice lawyer, whom she had known since kindergarten. He was a lawyer with a taste for canned pork and beans and well-done red meat. She once summed up his culinary range this way: “He doesn’t like homemade bread and he doesn’t like vegetables. The only green thing he says he likes is money.” (I am struck by the similarities between Marion’s marriage and my own, except mine finally ended in divorce in 1986.)
The newly-wed Cunninghams moved to San Diego, where he was serving in the Marines. During WW2, a time when men were in short supply for many civilian jobs, Marion worked in a gas station for a while. “I always used to think I would own my own station,” she said in a 1991 interview with the New York Times. “I know more than most women about cars.”
“During the five years we lived in Laguna,” she wrote in an article about home entertaining for The Times in 1990, “every friend we knew from our school days arrived to visit (and often to stay). In order to feed this steady stream, I made casseroles, stews, soups and big hearty salads with thick creamy dressings. All good to eat and cheap to make. (Another parallel to my own life and marriage where I usually had a steady stream of visitors—either friends of my four sons or my husband. I served dinner at 6 pm every night and everyone knew if they showed up they would be fed.)
Marion and Robert eventually settled in Walnut Creek, outside Oakland, in northern California. Robert Cunningham died in 1987 from lung cancer.
Marion spent the first half of her adult life raising her children, Mark and Catherine, who survive her, and tending to the family’s ranch home in Walnut Creek. And for much of that time she struggled with agoraphobia, a fear of open and public places. It was so intense at times that she could barely cross the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. She had also developed a problem with alcohol.
In 1972, Marion, at age 50, wanted to go to Oregon to attend cooking classes led by famous food writer/cookbook author James Beard. She stopped drinking, cold-turkey, and faced her phobias. To prepare for the trip she bought three airline tickets to Los Angeles and took two friends to sit on either side of her. They had lunch and flew back. She overcame her fears and attended the class. It was her first experience traveling out of the State of California. Talk about a life-changing experience!
James Beard took to the tall, blue-eyed homemaker (perhaps in much the same way that he took to Helen Evans Brown, another California cookbook author) and for the next 11 years Marion was his assistant, helping him establish cooking classes in the Bay Area.
The job gave her a ringside seat to a period in American cooking when regional food, organic produce and a new way of cooking and eating were just becoming part of the culinary dialogue.
That trip, which Mrs. Cunningham said was the first time she felt a sense of power and hope in many years, was the beginning of a journey that would change not only her life but the Bay Area culinary community.
Author/editor Ruth Reichl described the relationship between Beard and Cunningham as “One of the great odd marriages in this food world. Cunningham took care of Beard and he took care of her. Their relationship was so sweet and so protective. It really was a kind of mutual support thing.”
Marion’s association with Beard also gave her the big break of her career, in the late 1970s when he passed her name to Judith Jones, a well-known New York culinary editor, who was looking for someone to rewrite The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. (The original Boston Cooking School cookbook, published in 1896 had undergone a number of revisions since Fannie first wrote her cookbook. The update Marion would write was the 12th revision. She would also do a 13th revision. Revision #11 was done by Wilma Lord Perkins).
“Marion Cunningham epitomized good American food,” Judith Jones, who became her longtime editor at Knopf, said in a statement Wednesday. “She was someone who had an ability to take a dish, savor it in her mouth and give it new life. At a time when Americans were embracing all kinds of foreign cuisine, Marion Cunningham’s love and respect for American food helped ‘The Fannie Farmer Cookbook’ once again earn a place in kitchens across America.”
“It was really a gift out of the blue,” Cunningham said. The only problem was, she didn’t think she had a bit of skill. Oh, she could cook. Cooking had always been something that comforted her. She learned it early on, first watching her father and Italian immigrant mother and grandmother struggle to feed a family during the depression, later trying to make a home from the small salary her Marine Corps husband brought in , and finally, as a mother of two. Initially, she balked saying “I barely made it out of high school. I never paid attention to my teachers. I don’t know where to put periods or commas. How can I do a book?”
But she did, and the 12th revision of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, one of the best selling cookbooks in America, was published in 1979. Cunningham was 57.
Former Gourmet Editor Ruth Reichl later mused that Mrs. Cunningham had completely reinvented herself at midlife and never thought it even remotely remarkable. Reichl also commented that not only did Cunningham know everyone and everything, she was the person you called when you had a triumph or when things weren’t going so well.
The revision of the Fannie Farmer cookbook led to seven more cookbooks; her own television show, Cunningham & Company, which ran for more than 70 episodes, sometimes on the Food Network; and a longstanding cooking column for the Chronicle.
In 1989 Cunningham and a friend started the Baker’s Dozen, an informal group of San Francisco bakers. It grew to more than 200 members and led to another cookbook, The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, written/edited by Rick Rodgers.
In 1993, Marion received the Grand Dame award from Les Dames d’Escoffier “in recognition and appreciation of her extraordinary achievement and contribution to the culinary arts.” In 1994, she was named Scholar-in-Residence by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
In 1999, Marion published a book titled Learning to Cook with Marion (Alfred A. Knoof. Inc.), written for adults who know nothing about home cooking, but would like to learn.
Michael Bauer, the Executive food editor of the San Francisco Chronicle said that more than anyone else, Marion Cunningham gave legitimacy to home cooking. She took what many people would say was housewife food and really gave it respect by force of her own personality.”
Cunningham’s most enduring trait may have been her ability to make even novice cooks feel as if they could accomplish something in the kitchen.
Indeed, she took many of them under her wing and drew from them for her popular book “Learning to Cook”.” She made it her life’s work to champion home cooking and preserve the family supper table. It was a theme she focused on in the preface to “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook”, the classic American volume that she was hired to revise in the late 1970s. Like many others, Ruth Reichl, the author and former restaurant critic for The New York Times (and editor of Gourmet magazine before it folded in 2009) came to regard Cunningham as a mother figure.
She was the glue that held the nascent food movement together, Reichl said, the touchstone, the person you checked in with to find out who was doing what all over the country.”
Ruth Reichl also wrote, in The Times in 1992, when she was the newspaper’s food editor “If Beard was the father of American cooking, Cunningham became its mother.”
Marion loved to go to the supermarket and look into the shopping carts of total strangers, whom she would then interview about their cooking skills. She made it her life’s work to champion home cooking and preserve the family supper table.
All traits I can readily identify with; I love going into supermarkets in other cities, just to see what they have on their shelves that I don’t find on the shelves in MY supermarkets. (I have been known to buy condiments, like unusual mustards, in stores in Ohio or Florida, to bring home for us to try). I also collect recipe cards (given away free in supermarkets) to exchange with some of my penpals). And I grew up in a home where dinner was on the table at 6 pm—every night. Consequently, throughout the years of raising my sons, they had a home cooked meal every night. We also had unexpected visitors for dinner at night, friends my sons or husband brought home—everyone knew that I always cooked dinner—so I made a lot.
Marion, I think, would have approved of my home cooking. She wrote that “too many families seldom sit down together; it’s gobble and go”. In an interview in 2002 she said “No one is cooking at home anymore, so we are losing all the wonderful lessons we learn at the dinner table…” She became a champion for family meals.
Ms. Cunningham bought a Jaguar with her first royalty check from “THE BREAKFAST BOOK”; the Jaguar became identified with her and she would drive it to a different Bay Area restaurant almost every night, sometimes logging 2,500 miles a month.
Along the way, Marion collected a passel of friends who changed how America cooked and ate, including her close friend Chuck Williams, whose kitchenware company, Williams-Sonoma, was just getting started.
One of the people she discovered was a young Alice Waters, who co-founded Chez Panisse in 1971 with film producer Paul Aratow. Alice was cooking organic and local food at her little restaurant in Berkeley California. Marion took James Beard to the restaurant in 1974 and he put it on the culinary map, marking the beginnings of California cuisine and the modern organic movement.
“She was always my biggest cheerleader,” Ms. Waters once said in an interview. “I just can see her even now with her coffee and coffeecake. That’s kind of where she liked to live.”
Waters also said “I always felt like Marion was a best friend of mine, but I’m sure I’m not alone. Her empathy, charm and humor inspired deep friendships; she was always ready to listen if one needed to talk—one could call her day or night. It’s true we didn’t agree on iceberg lettuce but we did agree on a few other things—including the uselessness of the microwave. Marion never thought cooking was a lofty activity; she was a home cook, someone who loved and knew the importance of eating together at the table with family and friends.”
Cunningham, like her good friend Alice Waters and Julia Child, was a celebrity chef long before it was a household term. In addition to her cookbooks, she wrote articles for Bon appétit and Gourmet magazines, as well as the Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times.
(On reflection, I decided that my earliest knowledge about Marion Cunningham stemmed from recipes/articles published in the Los Angeles Times over the years. I collected the S.O.S. food column recipes for several decades, until the newspaper changed the format and the column no longer appealed to me).
Russ Parsons, who writes a food column in the Los Angeles Times wrote a tribute to Marion, explaining that he worked with her for several years before he actually met her. In the 1990s he was one of her editors—she had a column in the L.A. Times called The Home Cook—but their conversations were mostly over the telephone since she lived in the Bay Area and he in southern California.
Eventually, he writes, on a trip to San Francisco and the two finally met in person. Parsons writes, “Up pulled a long gold Jaguar, and out of it climbed one of the most stylish, older women I’d ever seen. Not fashionable—nothing flashy—but tall and slim and dressed just so, her silver hair tied close. There was certainly nothing old-fashioned or matronly about her.”
“We walked into the restaurant”, Parsons continued “where Marion greeted half of the wait staff and all of the chefs by name. That was Marion Cunningham, one part America’s grandma, one part culinary godfather…”
He goes on to comment that it might seem odd that she had two sides, the dining sophisticate and the cooking traditionalist, who could coexist so seamlessly, but they did. “American home cooking had no fiercer advocate than Cunningham. She loved iceberg lettuce beyond all reason. A good bowl of vegetable soup could send her into rhapsodies. Sure, she might dine out every night in some of the most glamorous restaurants in the world, but she also knew the value of a well-prepared biscuit…” (The title of Parsons’ tribute to Marion was titled “AN APPRECIATION: MARION CUNNINGHAM WAS FANNIE FARMER, BUT WITH A DELICIOUS FLAIR” and appeared in the July 14, 2012 edition of the L.A. Times)
The James Beard Foundation provided a profile of Marion Cunningham that everyone will read and “wish they were there” This was written when Marion was 81 years old and focused on Marion in her home.
“Have you ever had a waffle in Marion Cunningham’s kitchen? Some of the biggest names in food have, driving through the hills east of San Francisco to the low-slung house on an acre of land where Cunningham has lived for 42 years. They sit at her kitchen table, near a wall of snapshots that tell the story of a culinary life: there’s Ruth Reichl holding a baby, a boyishly young Chuck Williams, Edna Lewis sitting in the sun, MFK and Julia, and James Beard goofing off as a teenager.
People journey to Cunningham’s house to eat pepper bacon, gossip, and watch one of America’s most famous cooks pour thin, yeast-leavened batter into a pair of waffle irons. She uses an old recipe*, one she discovered when she first revised the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook.”
Going to Marion’s for Waffles has become almost a badge of honor for some of the best professional chefs and food writers in the country. But for Cunningham, the informal gatherings are simply an extension of what she has been preaching for much of her cooking career: sharing simple, delicious food around a family table is the most important thing in life.
She fills her table with neighbors, old friends, and young people who are hungry to learn to cook. It is not a stretch to imagine that James Beard, with whom Cunningham worked side by side for 11 years and who ate those waffles, would be pleased…”
“Cunningham, who keeps current on food trends by driving into San Francisco five nights a week, has a natural media presence. She had her own television show for a time, and shows up regularly in food articles and at seminars. She goes to the local supermarket every day just to see how people are shopping. Through classes and books like “COOKING WITH CHILDREN” and “LEARNING TO COOK WITH MARION CUNNINGHAM,” she has introduced countless people to the kitchen with her patient and folksy, but determined, approach.
Cunningham viewed the dinner table as the modern tribal fire—the place where stories are shared, families are created, and culture is passed on. And she’s fought to protect it as fewer and fewer families eat together.
‘Today, strangers cook most of the food we eat’ she said. ‘If you stop to think about it, people are living like they are in motels. They get fast food, take it home and turn on the TV. We need to sit, facing people, with great regularity, so we are making an exchange and are civilized. We learn such simple, basic life lessons at the dinner table. If you’re handed a platter and take everything off, you are not leaving anything for others.’…”
“She has been one of the hearts of this whole food revolution,” says Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl who in her memoir, ‘TENDER AT THE BONE’ writes lovingly about how Cunningham served as both a personal and professional guide when Reichl was a new food writer. “She’s like the den mother of the food movement. She’s the way we all keep connected to each other.” [All of the above from the Beard Foundation was written 9 years ago, when Cunningham was a mere 81 years old—there is a great deal more to the article which a penpal found for me on the Internet].
Michael Bauer, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “Marion also captured friends with her self-effacing ways and her razor-sharp analysis that was always on point but never mean-spirited. She always started her criticisms with, “Well, dear, don’t you think …”
She claimed to have barely finished high school. Yet when she thought her equally gifted lawyer husband was lauding his intelligence over her, she secretly took the Mensa test and qualified for membership. She never joined because she had proved her point.
That same titanium spirit propelled her through her last work, when the first hints of disease started to appear. It was a challenge, but she wanted to record recipes that she felt were falling into oblivion, like cream of celery soup, Country Captain and Lazy Daisy cake. (All of which did find their way into LOST RECIPES).
It was shortly after the book (LOST RECIPES) was published in 2003 that she received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. After a long, heartfelt standing ovation, she told the adoring crowd of the country’s top chefs and cookbook authors that if her life ended now she would be happy.
Soon after, the Alzheimer’s fog began to descend more rapidly. She covered up her momentary forgetfulness by saying “my files are full” when she showed up late for a dinner reservation or called in a panic because she went to the wrong restaurant. Her decline, until the last five years or so when she was isolated in a residential care facility, was as elegant as her ascent.
When she gave up driving, she continued to invite friends to her home in Walnut Creek. After she was forced to leave her home and could no longer cook, she dreamed of her favorite pastimes. During sleep she would make the motion of stirring a pot, as if teaching a cooking class; at other times, she appeared to be talking on the telephone.
We tend to immortalize those who pass on and gloss over their less-attractive quirks, but Marion Cunningham was a special person. She had a temper, and if you were the rare person who ended up on her bad side, everyone would know it. But for the most part, her quick sense of humor and caring nature drew her to the top minds in the food world…”
Since I can’t finish this post without a recipe or two of Marion Cunningham’s, I chose Raised Raffles which appears in The Fannie Farmer Cook Book published in 1896 but was reprinted – at least – in the 1922 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. It is also in the Eleventh Edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, published in 1965.
The recipe for Raised Waffles was also contributed by Marion in the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, for which she was a contributor in1997, as well as The Breakfast Book and Lost Recipes. In Lost Recipes, Marion notes “This recipe comes from the 1896 Fannie Farmer cookbooks. The Raised Waffle recipe alone could have sold a million copies. Another food writer commented “Being asked to come over for waffles and bacon at Marion Cunningham’s Walnut Creek ranch house was akin to winning a James Beard award. No invitation was as coveted in the food world since MFK Fisher, who died in 1992, would hold court in her Glen Ellen home”.
*Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles
The batter is prepared the night before, so all you have to do the next morning is cook them. Serve them hot with room temperature butter and warmed maple syrup. A note of warning: These do not bake up well in a Belgian waffle iron.
• 1/2 cup warm water
• 1 package active dry yeast
• 2 cups milk, warmed
• 1/2 cup butter, melted
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 large eggs
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Instructions: Use a large mixing bowl – the batter will rise to double its original volume. Put the water in the mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes, until yeast dissolves. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar and flour to the yeast and beat until smooth and blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda and stir until well mixed. The batter will be very thin. Cook on a very hot waffle iron (use about 1/3 cup batter per grid). Bake until the waffles are golden and crisp to the touch.
Note: If there is any leftover batter, store in a covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for several days.
Per waffle: 265 calories, 7 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat (9 g saturated), 92 mg cholesterol, 421 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
Sandy’s cooknote: If you keep dry yeast in your pantry (or refrigerator), this recipe is one for which you would most likely have all the ingredients on hand and could prepare, in part, the night before. Waffles and pancakes were two of Bob’s favorite foods so I made them frequently. I think it was his favorite meal.
**I could read Marion’s books and type up her recipes for hours on end; it’s like sitting in the kitchen of a good friend and being allowed to copy some of her recipes (which I have been known to do in the homes of girlfriends) –I Just couldn’t resist sharing one more recipe of Marion’s that provides a bit more insight to the woman—and might be the coffee cake her friend Alice Waters has referred to:
Marion Cunningham’s Coffee Cake
Yield: Makes one 10-inch tube cake
• 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
• 1 cup sugar
• 3 eggs
• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup sour cream
• 5 teaspoons vanilla extract
To make this cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan.
Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat for several seconds. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes, or until light and creamy. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and stir with a fork to blend well. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix well.
Spoon the batter into the pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a straw comes out clean when inserted into the center. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto a rack and cool a little bit before slicing. Serve warm.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF MARION CUNNINGHAM’S COOKBOOKS:
THE FANNIE FARMER COOKBOOK*, Twelfth edition with Jeri Laber published in 1979
THE FANNIE FARMER BAKING COOKBOOK, Alfred A. Knopf, 1984
THE BREAKFAST BOOK published by Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1987
THE SUPPER BOOK, Alfred a. Knopf, 1992
COOKING WITH CHILDREN, 1995
THE FANNIE FARMER COOKBOOK, Thirteenth edition, published in September, 1996
LEARNING TO COOK WITH MARION CUNNINGHAM, published 1999
GOOD EATING, a combination of THE BREAKFAST BOOK AND THE SUPPER BOOK, published 1999.
LOST RECIPES, published by Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2003
COMPLIMENTS OF THE CHEF 100 Great Recipes from the Innovating Restaurants & Cafes of Berkeley, California, foreword by Marion Cunningham, compiled by the Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El, with Paul T. Johnston, Aris Books, 1985
THE GREENS COOKBOOK (multiple authors) 1987
CALIFORNIA WALNUTS/TALK OF THE TOWN –published by the California Walnut Marketing Board, foreword by Marion Cunningham, published 1984, contains some of her own recipes.
MAPLE SYRUP COOKBOOK (Author is Ken Haedrich; a charming foreword was written by Marion Cunningham, who was a friend of his for many years), 2001
*Sandy’s Cooknote: Regarding the Fannie Farmer cookbook which has been published in various sizes and, at last count, 13 editions, two of which were edited by Marion Cunningham. There were at least two facsimile editions; one has a green dust jacket and was published by Weathervane Books; the second has a yellow dust jacket with blue print and was also published by Weathervane Books. The only date indicated on both books is 1896, for the original publishing of the cookbook. More recent editions are referred to simply as “the Fannie Farmer cookbook” but the original – and some later editions – carried the title of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. I had thought to write an article about Fannie Farmer about a year ago but got sidetracked when Bob became so ill. And the lady had a most interesting life—perhaps now I can get the article about Fannie Farmer finished for you!
To summarize—if one can truly summarize a life as challenging and inspiring as Marion Cunningham’s—you only have to Google her life to find story after story, written by those who knew her. (Fannie Farmer, like Marion, had serious obstacles to overcome and I am willing to bet that Marion was inspired by the similarities in their respective lives.
Columnist Russ Parsons also offers a comment that might explain something about Marion Cunningham, in which he states, “Maybe because her own family was somewhat chaotic—she was quite open about having been an alcoholic into her 50s—she would argue all the more passionately the necessity of breaking bread together…”
I wish I could have known Marion Cunningham. I wish I could have sat at her kitchen table and watch her make raised waffles. I am saddened that Alzheimer’s robbed her of the last years of her creative life just as the disease robbed my mother of the last years of her life.
I am also left with many questions about Marion, a woman who championed family meals and family values. In article after article written about her passing, there is only a passing reference to her husband, Robert and two children, Mark and Catherine. Nowhere, in all the articles I have found about her preparing waffles and bacon for friends, have I finally found references to son Mark, or daughter Catherine being present. I finally found an obit reference to Robert Cunningham, stating that he died in 1987 of lung cancer.
Rest in peace, Marion Cunningham.
—Sandra Lee Smith, July, 2012, updated 1-8-16