Category: valentines

December 02, 2005

The late Clementine Paddleford, who was food writer for The New York Herald Tribune, wrote a valuable book on regional cookery, How America Eats. In an interview with Horace Sutton of Saturday Review, [Craig] Claiborne said: "I had been to school in Europe, and I knew all the sauces...Clem knew not one thing about food." Well, Claiborne did not then, nor does he now, know all his sauces. As for Clem, whatever her shortcomings, she was a good reporter...she liked people and she had a good ear. She quotes, for example, a Dr. Coffin saying, "You must know the history of every lobster you cook. But if you must pick your lobsters at teh local market, the only alternative is to get them lively. Cook in Maine sea water." She goes on to give his recipe for Maine Lobster Stew, one of America's truly great dishes. She tells also of a Miss Sue, no longer young, who "used to cater two flossy events in a day and cook everything myself...I'm old-fashioned with my pie cooking, never use store stuff and I want lard in pie crust and fresh apples. Now Addie here uses all the new fangles and she has good luck, but I couldn't, never will." Alas, Clem's ear was better than her editor's taste; there is no mention of lard in the recipe that follows -- it must have gotten kitchen tested out by the home economists.

The book is now out of print but the publishers have put out a new version; they changed the name, dropped the attractive regional approach, took out every word of Clem's wonderful chitchat with the friends she made everywhere. What did they want to do that for?

       -- John L. Hess and Karen Hess, The Taste of America

We all have hometown appetites. Every other person is a bundle of longing for the simplicities of good taste once enjoyed on the farm or in the hometown they left behind.

          -- Clementine Paddleford, in a a 1949 interview with the Saturday Evening Post

Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.

          -- Clementine Paddleford's mother, from Paddleford's essay "A Flower for My Mother"

Because R.W. Apple, Jr. didn't make the plea in an otherwise compelling article about Clementine Paddleford in this week's New York Times Dining In/Dining Out section, I will do so here. Dear Scribners, a division of Simon & Schuster, won't you please consider bringing How America Eats back into print? Dear Other Publishers, if Scribners won't do it, will you? Will you please contact the Chase Manhattan Bank, executors of the estate of Clementine Paddleford, and do what it does to bring this book back to us?

I'll admit to a bit of churlish self-interest -- self-interested churlishness? -- in this application. I was born the year that Clementine Paddleford died, and the year after the newspaper for which she wrote for over 30 years (The New York Herald Tribune) ceased publication, but I had heard her name evoked by other food writers with admiration and affection for years. When I acquired my copy of The Taste of America in 2000, the Hesses' words filled me with a brimming desire to get my hands on a copy of How America Eats and experience Ms. Paddleford's meticulously-researched, good-humored prose firsthand. It's too bad that that desire didn't translate into a phone call to Kitchen Arts and Letters, which conducts free book searches for as long as it takes to find your book, and which won't require you to buy the book if you change your mind in the course of the search. Had I been smart, I would have asked them to search early and search often, but I was not smart. In 2001 Saveur ran a cover story about Paddleford and mentioned Kitchen Arts as a possible source of How America Eats, and within days there was a waiting list *this* long for it. I'm on the list, but I have the feeling that it will be years before a copy will be found for me. For a brief happy moment I thought I had found it in a used bookstore in Providence, but what I had found was The Best of American Cooking, the excised, bowdlerized version.

Ms. Paddleford was a born-and-bred Kansas girl, studying journalism at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas before continuing her studies at New York University, and I would guess that the Hale Library at KSU would have a copy of How America Eats in their collection. The KSU Archives are home to the Paddleford Collection, 363 boxes of Ms. Paddleford's books, papers, correspondence and ephemera such as menus and press releases, and I am not at all ashamed to admit that right now my idea of the perfect vacation would be to sit in the Hale Library, turning over every single piece of paper in those boxes. It only takes a paragraph, a few sentences, even, of Ms. Paddleford's prose to make me want to read more of it. From R.W. Apple's article, I read her description of the oyster stew at Grand Central Oyster Bar: "...a milky, sea-fresh smell curls up through the warm air," and I wonder why I'm not spending every lunch hour at the Oyster Bar, which is a less-than-fifteen-minute walk from my office. As much as I try not to lift entire paragraphs from the Times, I'm going to quote this paragraph of Apple's, which is largely composed of Paddleford quotes, because they are just too good:

Her thing was describing foods and their flavors. She once famously spoke of "a tiny radish of scarlet, tipped modestly in white." She rejoiced in the harvest-time "scent of apples down orchard lanes, a drowsy winy scent permeating the country cellar, spreading across the market place." And when she traveled to Fulton, Mo., in 1946 for Winston Churchill's famous Iron Curtain speech, she wrote that the great man was served a souffle that arrived in front of him "with a rapturous, half-hushed sigh as it settled softly to melt and vanish in a moment like smoke or a dream."

At least once a year I read some article that decries the saturation of the cookbook/foodwriting market, proclaiming that there are just too damn many foodie books out there, but I can't help but think that there is room for food writing that is both brainy and accessible, meticulous without being daunting, friendly without being cloying. This is writing that deserves another generation reading it. Scribners, are you listening?

Posted by Bakerina at 12:58 AM in valentines • (4) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
November 24, 2005

Cheeses_and_hubbards

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
>From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,--our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin pie!

-- John Greenleaf Whittier, The Pumpkin

Gladdentheheart

Posted by Bakerina at 03:02 PM in valentines • (1) Comments
October 24, 2005

No fanfare tonight, dear friends, no poesies, no corny plays on words.  Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of Laurie Colwin, whose absence I continue to feel every single day.  On November 21, 2004, as part of the run-up to Thanksgiving, I wrote the post that follows below.  I still mean it all, every single word.

I have mentioned twice, in passing, that last night's posted cornbread and prosciutto stuffing recipe was created by the late Laurie Colwin, who I used to describe as "my absolute, positive favorite living writer" until that terrible Sunday in October of 1992 when, curled up with my brand-new fiance in our fourth-floor walkup studio on 15th and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, I opened the Inquirer and read it: "Laurie Colwin, 48, Prolific Author." I felt the texture of the air change after I read that headline, rather like the way the air changes when you are suddenly slapped across the face. All of a sudden, you realize that the air you have been breathing up to that moment has been filled with something familiar and reassuring, and that something is snatched away from you and replaced with something hard and mean, and you know you will be breathing it for the rest of your life.

Before I go any further, I must clarify: Laurie Colwin and I had never met. To say that I considered her a friend feels like the height of presumption to me, simply because she had friends, plenty of them, people in whose lives she was embedded, who lost much more than I did when they lost her. I could try to claim some kind of kinship or meeting of minds based on how her writing, both her fiction and her essays for Gourmet that eventually turned into the collections Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, but the fact is, our minds never met and any feelings of kinship are strictly one-sided. Nevertheless, I can't deny that with the exception of my parents, Ms. Colwin was the single greatest influence on my adult cooking life. I bought my copy of Home Cooking the year I graduated from college and began to cook for myself, and it is safe to say that I have thought of Ms. Colwin at least once a day ever since. It is thanks to her that I started shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket the year that I moved to New York; that I began searching out meat and poultry and eggs and produce from non-intensively-farmed sources; that I bought and read The Taste of America, the book that caused a quantum shift in the way I thought about food, cooking and history; that I started buying bags of fermented black beans in Chinatown to throw into my tomato and eggplant sauce; that I started reading Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, the other two-thirds of my culinary triumverate; that I discovered what a beautiful thing English food could be as long as it was prepared with care and skill; that I learned how to make jam, and thus developed the confidence to branch into jelly from there. I once wrote an essay about her for the foodies.com e-group newsletter, in which I mentioned that my copies of Home Cooking and More Home Cooking were so worn out that they were pretty much held together by faith and little else. In addition to cooking from these books, I read and reread and reread them. I read them on the subway, to and from work and the market. I have read them in the bathtub. I have read them while in the throes of depression, and I have read them while recovering from migraines, when I felt just well enough to read but not well enough to do anything else.

My introduction to Laurie Colwin began long before she started writing for Gourmet, before I'd had even the slightest idea of what sort of hold she'd have over my own foodways. Her short story "My Mistress," part of the collection Another Marvelous Thing, was included in the 1985 Best American Short Stories collection, edited by Shannon Ravenel. "My Mistress" is a sweet sad beauty of a story, the tale of the adulterous lovers Francis Clemens and Josephine "Billy" Delille, who carry on an affair as sweet as it is futureless. Francis is a middle-aged, wealthy, socially prominent husband and father of adult children; his life is orderly, the kind of order born out of having money and applying it usefully and well. Billy is an economics professor, married to a mathematician as brilliant and socially maladroit as she is; she is messy and no-frills, living in cheerful chaos, dressed in ratty clothing and shoes held together with duct tape. They both love their spouses. Francis is a devoted father. Billy knows that one day she and her husband Grey will have a baby. They are embedded in their own lives, fiercely in love with the details of those lives, fully aware that each is baffled by the way that the other lives and would wither were they to live in such circumstances, and yet they love each other with an intensity that shakes them. I read this story in college after a steady diet of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. To say that it shook up some preconceived notions I'd had on a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing is putting it mildly. Not surprisingly, I found the most evocative and deeply-rendered moment in the story to be the one that involved food. Frank and Billy decide to go to New England for a stolen vacation. As they lie in bed together, Billy announces that she is going to fix them a snack, and returns with a plate of toasted cheese on bread. Francis observes that this is the first thing she has ever cooked for him, as her sustenance usually takes the form of tough little water biscuits and a squirt of seltzer from a siphon on her desk. Billy watches him contemplate the toasted cheese and she bursts into tears, admitting that she has no idea what sort of meal he may have wanted. They end up devouring the hot, slightly greasy, crunchy sandwiches, keeping them warm in a cold room, and in that moment, everyone -- Francis, Billy, the reader -- has exactly what they need.

Ms. Colwin was an absolute genius at conveying mood through food in her novels and stories. She wrote about admiring Barbara Pym and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers for putting food to terrific use in their books, but I think that she had a pearl-perfect talent for it, easily on a par with Washington Irving in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Her novel Happy All the Time, about two cousins, best friends from childhood, and the women they end up courting and marrying, is rich with food metaphors and signifiers. After the first night that Guido Morris and his beloved Holly Sturgis spend together, he feels overwrought by the consummation of their relationship, dazzled and panicked, and he is unnerved and infuriated by Holly's unflappability as she calmly does the Sunday crossword puzzle, sitting at table in her nightshirt, "neat as a cupcake." Misty Berkowitz spends nearly half the book putting up a prickly, elegant defense against the attentions of Guido's cousin, Vincent Cardworthy; when she realizes that she has fallen in love with Vincent and agrees to marry him, she feels "as well-placed in the universe as a fresh loaf of bread." Holly, independently wealthy and a pursuer of knowledge for knowledge's sake, is also a marvelous cook; her perfectionist and mercurial nature is tempered by the generosity of spirit that shines through her cooking. She prepares kippers, scrambled eggs and a croquembouche for Vincent and Misty's wedding breakfast, and she and Misty join together in a newly-found sense of kinship and affection and produce the meal that ends the novel: grilled striped bass that Vincent and Guido catch earlier in the day, salad, potatoes, a Lady Baltimore cake they buy in the village where they are spending the weekend. Even lines that seem like throwaways are full of meaning: in her last novel, A Big Storm Knocked It Over, she starts a sentence with "After they devoured a few excellent sandwiches..." and suddenly I found myself at a posh overpriced midtown deli, ordering smoked turkey and boursin cheese on an onion ficelle. Now that, I thought, is a writer.

A Big Storm Knocked It Over and More Home Cooking were her last published works, appearing in 1993, nearly a full year after her death. More Home Cooking was particularly agonizing for me to read, because I knew this would be it: no more trolling the library for her new novels, no more Gourmet columns. I could not imagine a universe in which there were no more words to be had from her, and while I have( just barely) reconciled myself to this, it always catches me around Thanksgiving and manages to land at least one good blow, not unlike the one I caught on my ear last week on the subway. Thanksgiving is usually a high point of the year for me, for the whole food-preparation ritual, for the four-day weekend, for the Thanksgiving birthday I have once every six years. At some point, though, I remember that Ms. Colwin's final column for Gourmet ran a month after her death, in which she wrote about finally tiring of the cornbread and prosciutto stuffing, and coming up with a new stuffing that was so successful that there were no leftovers, and her sadness about not being able to eat a nice plate of cold stuffing for breakfast was mitigated by the fact that she had found a new stuffing she could eat happily for years. She closes the column by saying that someday it will be her daughter's turn to host Thanksgiving, and she looked forward to see what new traditions would begin at her daughter's table. I think of this, and I miss her so terribly.

(A beautiful tribute to Ms. Colwin by her childhood friend Willard Spiegelman, printed in Gastronomica, can be found here. One of my favorite essays from Home Cooking, "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir," can be found here.)

Posted by Bakerina at 10:04 PM in valentines • (0) Comments
October 20, 2005

It is not something on which one can make a living, but tonight, slogging through the egg research, I had a moment of purest research-based incandescent happiness, the kind where your immediate surroundings fall away from you because you're enraptured by what you see on the page in front of you.  Call me a sap, call me a nerd, call me a sentimental fool, but I am delighted by this beautiful piece of writing, found in The Virginia House-wife by Mary Randolph, originally published in 1824, now published in facsimile by the University of South Carolina Press, with historical notes and commentaries by the grand and brilliant Karen Hess.  (This is another book that really deserves a post of its own, which gives me an idea...)  Although it is no longer necessary to rinse salt from butter or to stone raisins, the advice here still holds true; if you follow Mrs. Randolph's directions, your cakes will be the better for them.  If you happened to read today's lead article in the Dining In/Dining Out section of the New York Times, and you asked yourself, "Is there really no middle ground between Rachael Ray and haute cuisine/celebrity chefs/foam-and-sous-vide nerds/elite foodies?", get yourself a copy of The Virginia House-wife, and know the answer:  There is a middle ground.  It's called home cooking, and while not all of it is adaptable from generation to generation, century to century, a formidable amount of it is.  It is embedded in our history -- it *is* our history -- and it would be a shame to lose it.

Without further ado...

OBSERVATIONS ON PUDDINGS AND CAKES.

The salt should always be washed from butter, when it is to be used in any thing that has sugar for an ingredient, and also from that which is melted to grease any kind of mould for baking, otherwise, there will be a disagreeable salt taste on the outer side of the article baked.  Raisins should be stoned and cut in two, and have some flour sifted over them, stir them gently in the flour, and take them out free from lumps; the small quantity that adheres to them will prevent their sticking together, or falling in a mass to the bottom.  Eggs must be fresh, or they will not beat well; it is better to separate the yelks from the whites always, though it is a more troublesome process, but for some things it is essential to do so; when they are to be mixed with milk, let it cool after boiling, or the eggs will poach, and only set it on the fire a few minutes to take off the raw taste of the eggs, stirring it all the time.  Currants require washing in many waters to cleanse them; they must be picked and well dried, or they will stick together.  Almonds should be put in hot water till the skins will slip off, which is called blanching; they must always be pounded with rose or orange flower water, to prevent their oiling.  When cream is used, put it in just before the mixture is ready; much beating will decompose it.  Before a pudding or cake is begun, every ingredient necessary for it must be ready; when the process is retarded by neglecting to have them prepared, the article is injured.  The oven must be in a proper state, and the paste in the dishes or moulds ready for such things as require it.  Promptitude is necessary in all our actions, but never moreso than when engaged in making cakes and puddings.  When only one or two eggs are to be used, cooks generally think it needless to beat them; it is an error; eggs injure every thing unless they are made light before they are used.  Cloths for boiling puddings should be made of German sheeting; an article less thick will admit the water and injure the pudding.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:37 AM in valentines • (2) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
October 13, 2005

Basin_spring

Whatever I have, dear friends, it's not a virus, but it might as well be.  It could be a result of three straight days of rain, insufficient vitamins or a mind full of worry.  Either way, it has left me with aching sinuses, muscle pain from my ankles to the small of my back, joint pain in my elbows, and an unfortunate burst of rotten attitude when Lloyd told me that he had forgotten to pick up a New York Times today ("but it's WEDNESDAY!  Yeah, I know that all I do is bitch about how boring the food section is, but...it's WEDNESDAY!"wink.

It is time for to bring out the big guns.  Chicken and ginger wontons in dark chicken stock.  Apples baked with maple syrup.  Pears baked with butter and moscato d'asti.  Fruity red tea to put me to sleep, strong black coffee to wake me up.  Morphine on the stereo.  At Home With the Braithwaites on order from Netflix.  A picture of my favorite building in the U.S.A., so designated not only because it's a beautiful building in a beautiful town in a beautiful state, but also because I can't help but love a building that advertises its own greatness.  (Note to Self:  Lay in a supply of Basin Water, to see if it cures 90 percent of what ails me.)  Beautiful and goodhearted friends.  Time, time, time, see what becomes of me.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:04 AM in valentines • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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