From the Stacks: Oldies but Goodies

Russ Parsons begins his Hungry Reader column in the October/November 2016 issue of Saveur (#185) with “Before there was Julia, there was Edouard de Pomaine. Before Marcella, there was Ada Boni. And before Alice and the rest of the California crowd, there was Helen Evans Brown. The fact that most cooks today will react to those names with puzzlement is unfortunate.”

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Boni, de Pomaine and Brown introduced Americans to Italian, French and California cooking and ingredients at a time when employing a home cook was going the way of the dodo. Some folks were in the kitchen cooking for the first time; The Talisman Italian Cook Book, French Cooking in 10 Minutes, and West Coast Cook Book showed them how to do it.

Boni’s work may bring a smile to readers of a certain age; it’s probably the book used by their mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen. It was originally published in Italy in 1928. Parsons gives high marks: “Talisman offers recipes of a range and quality that almost any contemporary cookbook would be proud to present. This is home cooking of the highest order." That after the 1950 American version excised many of the thousands of recipes collected by Boni, a writer for a Roman food magazine – they were deemed either non-Italian or called “for ingredients totally unavailable in this country [USA] even in the form of acceptable substitutes.” Parsons cites a recipe for Polenta with Sausage Gravy.  Buon appetito!

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French Cooking in 10 Minutes, first published in 1930, was subtitled Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life. Recipes are stripped down and presented in a direct and witty manner. De Pomaine’s style of writing (friendly and descriptive) is the reason The Observer named it one of the 50 best cookbooks of all time! The original dust jacket is very simple – illustration in red ink, in the style of Toulouse de Lautrec, and text in green ink on ivory paper, an eye catching and reflective introduction to the gems within the 140 pages. Minute Steak is Parsons’ adapted recipe.

West Coast Cook Book is a classic of American regional cooking. First published in 1952, Brown highlights California and Pacific slope cuisine – fresh ingredients, simply prepared, to be shared with others. Her ingredients were readily available in California markets and backyards and tweaked the curiosity of cooks in other locales, where “foreign” food was sometimes viewed with hesitation. Figs, avocados, abalone and artichokes are some of the foods used. Parson says that Brown’s treasure is the chronicle of classic California dishes and recipes. He gives us an adapted recipe for Green Goddess dressing.

As Parson says, these books “offered instruction for those whom circumstances had forced into the kitchen for the first time.” You can find Cooking in 10 Minutes  and The Talisman Italian Cook Book  in the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library.  We’re still on the lookout for a copy of West Coast Cook Book.