January 2011 Newsletter

By Bill Holland

First off, a Happy New Year to you. May you have good health and prosper -- and enjoy cool old cookbooks and cook up a storm for family and friends.

A bit of this and that this month….

This Just In…

Saveur Magazine’s Jan.- Feb. 2011 issue features its Top 100, and this issue top cooks share their favorite cookbook faves, among other things. We are happy to report we have a number on hand, including: Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food, James Beard’s American Cookery and
Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys and Girls.

Saveur cookbook spotlights usually cause a rush at brick and mortar and online cookbook shops. We are girding ourselves.

My Trusty Old Calphalons

The other day I was stirring grits in my old Calphalon 1 ½ qt. black anodized aluminum sauce pan, and I said to myself, “Pan, I’m gonna tell folks how good you are.”

The pan is a first-generation Calphalon, probably from the late ‘70s. It was actually known at that time (and stamped) as a product of the Commercial Aluminum Cookware Co. Once I’d cooked with one of them, I kept on the lookout for others at estate and jumble sales. They came my way.

The reason I like them is that they are almost as good as heavy expensive copper pans for inductive and even-heated cooking. The originals are about 3 mm thick, restaurant quality. The more current Calphalon product is thinner by far. I’ve learned over the years that the thicker the pot, the better it will cook. Thinner stuff increases the chances of hot spots or scorching.

A good word about anodized aluminum. It has a much harder finish, resists corrosion, and is non-reactive. Unlike the aluminum cookware of yore, you can cook a tomato sauce in an anodized aluminum pan all day and all will be cool.

However, there was a flaw in the design of the first generation of Calphalon --  the handles. They certainly look impressive, sturdy and no-nonsense: big three-riveted mounts cementing a straight iron handle dipped in (I believe) bright-colored tin. But, unless you are a kitchen pro, one who always carries a (dry) towel tucked in your apron or draped over your shoulder for grabbing hot handles, these bad boys can put a sizzle on your hand.

To their credit, as Calphalon grew, their designers quickly figured out how to make “cool” handles, and for a time, they made the same thick pots with curved, divided handles. Look for those. Being so elemental, I can’t believe they’ll become collectible, but who knows. Soon afterwards, Calphalon abandoned their pro ware line (like the stuff  I’m extolling), and that was the end of the thick 3 mm stuff.

The new anodized stuff Calphalon makes these days is okay, but it’s not the most serious kitchen ware. There was obviously a corporate decision to blow off the pro market and focus on shoppers looking for less expensive cookware at Target and T.J. Maxx. With that cookware, unless you’re careful, there’s a greater chance for burning, scorching and uneven heat distribution.

Best course of action? Try – if you have the time and inclination -- to find the last of the thick-walled Calaphons, the ones with the “new” curved handles. You’ll find them at church sales, thrift shops, estate sales or on (gag) eBay, etc. Good stuff.

Note: Anodized aluminum cookware and dishwashers do not get along. Eventually the harsh chemicals in the powder will ruin the dark finish and turn it to a splotchy milky grey. Incidentally, Calphalon will not stand behind its warranty if you put that cookware in the dishwasher. Soak them in soapy water in the sink and then hand-wash. It’s worth the effort.


Now on to cookbook talk. We’re hoping you might enjoy browsing through our shop, now that you might have a few winter hours to yourself. Maybe one of the more than 1,100 books will ring your chimes….

We also want to let you know that if you wish to browse our most recent acquisitions, just click on “New Products” at the bottom of our “Categories” listing on the left hand side of our home page. It’s set up to display the most recent ones first.

Below are a few recent acquisitions that we like, among them both classics and rarer out-of-print items.

The Splendid Table, by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, Morrow, 1992, first edition. Heavy, oversized hardback with DJ, 529 with index. Subtitled "Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food,"

If the title rings a bell, it’s because the author is one in the same as the host of the weekend cooking show on NPR. This was her first book, and it secured her reputation as a magazine writer, cooking school owner and public radio mainstay,

The intro says that Kasper’s book was the first American cookbook to present the food of this northern region. "It will take you from Parma, Bologna, Modena, Ravenna, and Ferrara to tiny villages in the foothills of the Apennines, from Renaissance banquet halls to the simplest of farmhouses, offering history, folklore, and substantive cooking tips along the way." We have two copies.

Manual de Cocina Moderna, by Ernestina Varona de Mora, Vega y Cia publishers, Havana. This one’s as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s the 1955 sixth edition of the original 1932 publication, a book that codified traditional Cuban cookery. The author is one of the most hallowed (if largely overlooked today) Cuban culinary writers of the 20th century, right up there with Dolores Alfonso de Torralba and Nitza Villapol.

It was initially published a year before Batista took power in 1933; this edition was printed in Havana four years before Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime 27 years later in 1959. By this time, many Cubans began embracing U.S. convenience foods and many of the recipes in this treasured book were left behind..

It’s only in Good condition (which means, in bookseller-speak, not so good). We’re offering it because of its importance and rarity – we have been unable to find another copy of this title for sale – in any edition – on any Internet book site. Luckily, the book’s pages are intact because they were sewn bound, not glued or stapled. However, the paper cover shows extensive wear and the spine has torn away but held together by tape.

Cooking with the Experts, by William I. Kaufman, Random House, first printing, 1955. Hardback, with DJ, 248 pages. An astounding historical snapshot. The author presents recipes of 90 pioneer TV cooks and cooking teachers, mostly women, who had 5-15 minute cooking shows on local TV stations across the country from the late ‘40s into the ‘50s back in the days of black and white TV. The recipes are astoundingly good for the era, with most calling for fresh, seasonal ingredients. But for us, the treasure of this book are the biographies of each host, accompanied by a b&w photo of them in TV studios. Their cooking shows were not just in major market stations on the coasts, but also in secondary market TV studios: Memphis, Davenport, Columbus, Omaha and Wheeling.

Most of these hosts were in their 30s or 40s in 1955, so sadly, most are gone now. Perhaps readers of a certain age might remember a few:  Ruth Bean at WATV in New York City, Mary Wilson at WPTZ-TV, Philadelphia, Scoop Kennedy at KDSU-TV in New Orleans, “Mama” Weiss at KHJ-TV in Los Angeles and Ruth Crane at WMAL-TV in Washington, D.C.

Washington’s Crane, for example, was a go-getter, and went by the title “Washington’s First Lady of Radio and Television.” She was past president of both The National Ann. Of Women Broadcasters and The Advertising Club of Washington. Her Arroz con Pollo recipe is top notch.

Mama Weiss got her L.A. TV job because her restaurant was a local favorite. Born in Hungary in 1910, she came to America with her husband, who was in the furniture business until the 1929 stock market crash. They opened a restaurant in the living room their home, with Mama at the stove, and Hubby out front,  eventually attracting film stars like John Barrymore. She retired from the restaurant in 1953, but apparently customers missed the couple and the “old world fare and song of the chubby, gay couple,”  and so the TV station call came. Hard to find, but we’ve acquired two copies.

Larousse Gastronomique, by Prosper Montagné, American editor, Charlotte Turgeon, Crown Publishers, 1961 first English language translation from the French. Originally published in France in 1937. It is still the accepted classic culinary reference work. If you’re a serious cook, you should have one in your collection.

It’s an oversized, heavy (6 lbs.) hardback, with embossed blue covers with a DJ, 1101 pages. More than 1,000 illustrations and photos; 8,500 recipes. It has an introduction by none other than Auguste Escoffier, who read and approved the first draft before he died in 1935.
This has the original translated text, before it was tidied up and "modernized" in the '90s. Encyclopedic in scope, this edition also includes pithy quotations from 19th century French culinary masters such as Brilliat-Savarin's comment that a dessert without cheese is like a woman with only one eye.

The book is in very good condition, although the DJ has some wear at extremities. VG+/VG. We have several other copies, one also with slightly worn DJ, in similar condition, 1965 sixth printing; and one without a DJ, similar VG+ condition, 1966 seventh printing.

Olney Inn Cook Book – Entertaining in the Maryland Manner, by Bea Sandler, 1972. Pictorial slick paper covers, black comb binding, 84 pages. Another classic Maryland restaurant cookbook, with a collection of "receipts, great menus and ideas for entertaining.”

Originally an 1826 large farmhouse 20 miles north of Washington, D.C., it became the Olney Inn restaurant in 1926 and quickly became popular, achieving major status when in the late '30s it became a go-to dining out place for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who even held meetings in private rooms there.
The country-themed fare, fresh from the Chesapeake Bay, local farms or its own bakery, explains itself: recipes for menu items like Oyster Bisque, Maryland smothered fried chicken, Imperial Crab, corn pudding or sweet potato soufflés, Broiled Rockfish with Lemon Butter Sauce and deep dish cobblers.

The Olney Inn made its way into the modern area, but sadly, a suspicious fire in 1978 burned it  to the ground. There's a delightful reminiscence from the last owner's daughter at
http://www.raisin-toast.com/myopus/2010/01/memories-of-the-olney-inn.html.  We have two copies. VG+.

One more, one we found truly fascinating:

V.I. (Virgin Islands) Cuisine with Ivan and Christine, by Doris and Ivan Jadan (Zhadan), Mooshka Press, V.I., 2001 revised edition of the 1973 publication. Soft covers, comb binding, 101 pages, b&w photos of contributors and V.I. children throughout. If you like to learn about and cook authentic Caribbean food, this is for you.

In it you'll find amazing Virgin Islands/St. John specialties such as Goutu Gumbo, Anchovied Angelfish, Wilks and Rice and of course Salt Fish Cakes and Kallaloo.

The authors were not born in the Virgin Islands, but made their home there for many decades, and embraced the indigenous cuisine wholeheartedly.
Co-author Ivan Jadan, from 1928 onwards, was a major opera star in the USSR. He was obviously an unlikely V.I. resident. He was the first major artist dissident to escape Stalin's terror in 1941, and reached the U.S. eight years later.  He also survived an assassination attempt while in New York City in 1949. They fled to the Virgin Islands. His wife's introduction (in the original, earlier edition only) explains further:
"Former Premier Lyric Tenor of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow (1928-1941), Ivan Jadan does, in fact, sing for his suppers on St. John in and around the cook house where these suppers are prepared. How he came to the Virgin Islands in 1955 is an opera in four acts and this is only meant to be a cook book...Over the past 29 years on St. John, we have chopped, mixed, beaten, stirred, kneaded, stewed, sautéed, baked, fried, boiled, broiled, steamed, frozen, jelled -- in a word, cooked each of these recipes in our Cook House."

After enjoying himself thoroughly at his home in St. John, Ivan Jadan died in 1995 at age 95. Many of these recipes first appeared during in the '60s and '70s in the Jadan's food column in The Daily News of the Virgin Islands. Very hard to find. VG+.

These are just a few of the remarkable cookbooks we offer, cookbooks that usually illuminate the lives of the authors and their respect and love for making good food.  I hope you’ll find  a few that you fancy.