Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fun with used Cookbooks

Some books date well, some don't. Fiction ages gracefully: old paperbacks have charm. On the flip side, who wants a travel book more than a year or two old?

Cookbooks usually do not date well. Food photography evolves as quickly as our palates. Sure, there are timeless classics. But on the whole, most cookbooks more than 10 years old are duds.

Nonetheless, among the many quirky books we see over our used buy counter, I get the most enjoyment out of odd cookbooks. Here are two recent arrivals.

Part I: Bubble-and-Squeak

I love The Sausage Book mostly for the author's bio on the back. Click to enlarge. But the stories herein are swell, too. Here 's an excerpt, lovingly transcribed for your pleasure, which I want to believe is a true story:
There is a famous English dish first introduced to your respondent here by the famous British bank robber and double agent, Eddie Chapman, in a pub in Knightsbridge. We were making the traditional Sunday afternoon pub crawl, and after about eleven gins apiece we felt hungry. "I know of a place where the bubble-and-squeak isn't bad by 'arf," Eddie said, and forthwith led me out to it.
The place was small. I forget its name; it was something like The Queen's Elbow. It was in a mews in a building that had been standing for at least two hundred years, slanting off to the side like its drunken cus
tomers after they left at night. There was a buzz as Chapman and I entered, for everybody recognized him. Before the war, he had been wanted by every policeman and detective in the British Isles, and had been accused of forty-odd bank robberies.
During the war, they gave him a chance to get out--provided he would attempt to parachute into France, offer his services to the Nazis, and then, pretending to act as their man, would blow up a huge industrial establishment. "Anything to blow out of stir," he said to me. "So I took the bastards up on their offers."

The war over, Chapman went completely straight, wrote a couple of books, and launched himself into the real estate business. If I had not known something of his background, I never would have believed, that day in the pub, that he once had been England's No. 1 Wanted Man.

"Try som
e of this, old cock," he said, handing me a dish of bubble-and-squeak. It was greenish, and looked like something the hungriest pig in the world would have turned down.
"You must be joking," I said.

"Try it," Chapman said, rather sternly. I tried it, and it turned out to be delicious. I ate two whole portions, washing it down with some Whitbread's.

When I got home, I tried to make it in my own kitchen. The effort was not successful. I could not duplicate the flavor the dish had had in The King's Truss, or whatever that pub was called.

One day some material arrived from Jones Dairy Farm. In it was a recipe for bubble-and-squeak. I had been fighting the bubble-and-squeak battle for so long I had become convinced I would never be able to master it. Tastebud memories from the Chapman lunch haunted me, however, and I decided to try the Jones
rule. It turned out to be authentic, exactly as I remembered the dish at The Prince's Kidney, or whatever that tiny place was called.

For the recipe, which follows, you'll have to buy the book. $10 seems fair for this gem.

Part 2: All in the Family

Yes, it's Edith Bunker's All in the Family Cookbook. Surely not the first novelty cookbook and surely not the last, it's a gem of the sub-genre. The fun is in comments like this, "Edith's" introduction to Chicken-Peach Bake (p. 93):
"Honestly, I think I could put cling peaches in Archie's coffe and he'd be banging his cup for more. He's jut crazy about them cling peaches. One of his favorite dishes is this thing where I bake them with chicken breasts and broccoli and cheese."
Or the intro to Stuffed Breasts of Veal (p. 80):
"Clara Wiedemeyer gave me this recipe and she says it's sort of Jewish. Archie said, 'That figgers. It's a fact. Women of Clara's particular domination develop stuffed bazooms. They ain't exactly lacking in the posternal area either.'"
Even the chapter headings entertain, like Chapter 3: "You can do the darndest things with chopped meat." And Chapter 5: "Other ways to fix your meat." Oh, Meathead!

I'm tempted to honor the 1971 price of this book, $.95, but our Remainder Guy will be mad if it really sells, so I'll have to price it at the same price as the pint I'll buy him if anyone buys this: $4.

Email pete AT greenapplebooks DOT com if you want either of these. Otherwise they're going back onto the shelves for the non blog-reading public in a few days.

1 comment:

Spiros said...

My Cockney Rhyming Slang must be getting rusty; I thought "bubble and squeak" was slang for "Greek".