Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Is It About A Fannie Farmer Cookbook?

I grew up in Fannie Farmer country, so that may have something to do with my fascination with her cookbooks. I cannot pass one up when I see them at yard sales, estate sales or even my mother-in-law's bookshelf.
Each one is filled with classic New England comfort food recipes. Sometimes, all it takes is reading them over to make me content.
In the back of this 1937 edition is an advertisement for two books written by one Della Lutes. I had never heard of her before and wondered why it was that her books were advertised in a book devoted to baking, braising and blanching.

Reading the descriptions yielded the answer:
The Country Kitchen

Chosen by the American booksellers as "the most original book of 1936." It is the story of a country family in the 1870's; of Father, autocratic, obstinate, kindly, generous, whose Achilles heel was his appetite; of Mother, who eased Father along because ructions weren't worth while, but who had her own way of bringing him to terms; of "Delly", a little girl with wide eyes and sharp ears, who took it all in and now, years afterwards, has put it into words. "Worth treasuring for the recipes alone."- New York Times Book Review.

Home Grown
This is the welcome companion volume to "The Country Kitchen." Here are more delightful stories of the same beloved characters, and more of the mouth-watering recipes with which Mother kept Father under control: apple dowdy, pigeon pie, Black Queen's Cake, and many others- thirty American dishes every housewife will appreciate.
Well, a more fitting partnership could not be found- two novels about cooking being advertised in a cookbook.

I was intrigued by these two titles. I wanted to be able to read them, hold them, make some of the recipes! But, how?
A quick look-see on the Internet found me at the Alibris website. I entered the title "The Country Kitchen" in the search bar and held my breath. Imagine my delight when a list popped up one the screen before me, of both titles. Perfect. I ordered both of them.

They are as delightful as the reviews say they are. But, you may want to judge for yourself.

From "The Country Kitchen":

"There was a certain "cream cake" of which my father was very fond, and which my mother often made for supper when company was coming. This called for four eggs (beaten separately), one cup of sugar, one cup of flour, one-fourth cup of butter (creamed with the sugar), one-third of a cup of milk, three teaspoonfuls of baking powder, and one teaspoon of lemon juice. This was baked in layer tins and put together with a cream made of one cup thick sour cream, one cup of sugar, one-half cup of hickory nutmeats rolled fine.. This was mixed, boiled and spread between layers. The cake was then frosted with white of eggs and sugar."

One must assume that housewives at that time knew exactly how long to bake this cake, and at what temperature. And have you ever shelled hickory nuts? I have. They are very hard nuts that yield very little meat. A half a cup of nutmeats probably took the better part of an afternoon to shell. Unless, of course, they knew a trick to make it go faster.

From "Home Grown":

Tildy's creative forte lay in the construction of pies. Not better than my mother's, whose rhubarb, apple, pumpkin, and mince beat a rhythmic homophony through the seasons, but equal to hers; and the making done, I have thought since, in a different mood. MY mother would sometimes breathe a sigh when she had to go in from a wistful contemplation of summer mists withdrawing flimsily over the meadow before the militant advance of the braggart sun. But she would go in, and she would peel the thin skin from a Yellow Harvest with a steady knife and weld the crisp, juicy portions into a luscious filling bedded below and coverleted above with such crust as the Elysian ovens might burst with envy to behold. And if her eyes wandered to the window, the meadow, the high-riding sun, and the fleeting mists, her fingers never stumbled in their cunning, nor did her spirit lose its poise."

What a treasure these two books have turned out to be. I find myself going back to them, reading bits here and there, and try to evoke that same atmosphere in my own kitchen, modern conveniences aside. My goal is to recreate some of the recipes, as long as I can figure out that temperature and time thing.

Who's hungry for pie?


Utah Grammie said...

Oh I love that you found them! Isn't this internet awesome! I think I may want them as well. And, can you believe I haven't a Fanny Farmer book yet? What, was I born in a barn??

I'll look these two up and let you know, but they sure sound like my cuppa tea!

The Feathered Nest said...

What treasures Karin!!! I love the way they "read", I find myself wanting to read them aloud with a southern plantation drawl ~ they almost make me want to cook...almost. :) I'd rather be cookin' up a little art! Have a great weekend sweetie ~ xxoo, Dawn
(my word verification is "squalor", do you think they can see my house?)

Betty said...

Thanks for sharing these books...I'm no cook, but I think I'll look for these...just reading them would be a pleasure!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, I'm always hungry for pie!!
My great-aunt was famous in her little town for her Caramel Cake. She was also famous for never giving out her recipes. So the ladies of the church decided to do a cookbook and ask her to include the recipe, thinking, I'm sure, that she couldn't possibly turn them down. Well, she didn't, but the recipe gave detailed directions on how to make a basic yellow cake and then it just said...."frost with caramel icing". Of course, there was no recipe for that included! That old cookbook is a treasure for our family!

whimseycreations said...

I have my mother's Fanny Farmer cookbook - edition from 1947 - that she must have received as a wedding gift. Remind me to show it to you next time you're over for hooking.