I've started 2009 out with a bang, reading-wise. It helped that I visited bookstores every day for the first four days of the year (and, naturally, brought at least one book home from each). So, thus far (and in no particular order):
1. The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of "American Cookery", 1796, by Amelia Simmons.
Before Simmons' cookbook was published, housewives depended on cookbooks published in England. Even when these were reprinted for the American market, they did not take account of American tastes, or, more important, American ingredients. Here we find "receipts" using cornmeal and squash, and the first for pumpkin pie as we know it. And we find American language: "molasses" rather than "treacle", for instance, and other Americanisms.
Miss Simmons' directions as to how to choose the best meat and fish are not entirely useless today, though I do not think that we need inquire as to whether our veal was brought to market in panniers or carriages, as opposed to being "bro't in bags, and flouncing on a sweaty horse"!
Much experimentation would be required to duplicate some of the recipes here (how hot should an oven be to equate to "a clear good fire that will not want stirring or altering"?), but many could easily be followed by today's cooks. The size of these, though! These cooks did not make small portions. Consider a recipe for "A rich Cake", requiring 2 pounds of butter, 5 of flour, 15 eggs, 1 pint of emptins (a sort of yeast), 1 pint of wine, 2 1/2 pounds of raisins, a gill of brandy another of rose-water, 2 1/2 pounds of loaf sugar and 1 oz. of cinnamon. Rich, indeed!
A fascinating glimpse into America's culinary history.
2. Third Helpings, by Calvin Trillin
Mr. Trillin is far and away one of my favorite food writers. His obvious pleasure in good food, taken in good company, is delightful, and his humor infectious. In this collection of essays, he searches for the origin of Buffalo chicken wings, hunts for the perfect sausage sandwich at the Feast of San Gennaro, and attempts (with minimal success) to broaden his daughters' culinary horizons. Always a joy to read him.
3. Ingo Maurer, by Michael Webb
One of Chronicle Books' Compact Design Portfolio series, this small volume is a brief introduction to the work of lighting designer Ingo Maurer. I first fell in love with his work when I visited an exhibit of it at the Cooper-Hewitt in New York City (completely by accident - I was there to see another exhibit). Had you told me that I would covet a hanging lamp made of broken crockery and cutlery, I'd have said you were nuts. But I do. I'm quite fond of his Lucellinos as well, winged lightbulbs that fly alone or in flocks. So I was quite happy to find this little book. It is primarily photographs, though there is a short essay by Mr. Webb.
(More to come.)