06 March, 2007

Hampton Court by proxy, and a little research

Yes, it's useful to have a ten-year-old who does exciting things during the day while her mother grocery shops and researches her cookbook. Avery spent the day with her classmates yesterday getting to, exploring, and getting back from Hampton Court Palace. This is no easy feat as it turns out, involving a coach journey and a ferry journey, with 23 little girls. I always think at these times that Miss Leslie needs to make a lot more money than she probably does. However, the stories that came back made it sound like a definite destination. The ghost of Catherine Howard, the unfaithful and ultimately headless fifth wife of Henry VIII! "Really, Mummy, the ghost walks the Great Hall wailing and moaning!" And, unaccountably, a nameless puppy ghost who brushes against the legs of visitors. And a totally mysterious ghost caught on CCTV! I'm not making this up.

And on the way to the Palace, they stopped at the National Archives, the repository of everything from the Domesday Book to family histories of the British people. Most importantly, for the gulls, was an actual autograph of Henry VIII himself, brought out especially by a docent and laid reverentially before the children. "I could have touched it! But I didn't," Avery crowed, and then said, "You know, Henry VIII wasn't really so much a bad person as he was... full of himself."

I myself had a much less eventful day, but interesting nonetheless. I really am getting deep into my project to re-publish some of the recipes of the great Gladys Taber. Yesterday I delved into a whole area of scholarship that I did not know existed: the history of cookbooks. Who knew there were culinary scholars? Well, I think I knew that there were people who studied the history of food, and eating, but now there is what I can only think of as a meta-field, of people actually studying the development of the cookbook industry. And as every devotee of a meta-field knows, there will be... conferences. I have attended so many meta-field conferences in my former life as a feminist art historian that I feel, reading the list of conference topics, as if I have heard the papers already. I myself used to give papers at the meetings of the devotees of Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies, with titles like "Uncovering the Gender Messages in the Sculpture of Camille Claudel Between 1881-1886." I'm actually making that up, but I'm sure there was a paper close to it. So now I am moving into the foodie realm of such arcane specialisation, and I really look forward to it. There's nothing like an expert, and it's almost as much fun listening to one as being one oneself.

But I digress. My point is that there is a lot more to editing a 60-year-old cookbook than just taking out the MSG in the recipes and noting the decline of canned salmon as a major ingredient since 1947. I really want to give a flavor, so to speak, of who was writing about food in the 1940s, what their attitudes toward cooking and hospitality and family life were, how differently we in 2007 might (I'm not sure yet) feel about food and cooking. So I'm going to be reading all about it. Then there is a whole other tiny meta-meta-industry that I am fascinated by, and that is the children's cookbook. I have no fewer than four, right here on my shelf, two old classics of which there are probably modern editions, and two entirely obscure volumes, The Ginnie and Geneva Cookbook, and The Beany Malone Cookbook. These are completely intriguing books of recipes cooked by the entirely fictitious heroines of two series of girls' books from the 1950s! Can you imagine? That being said, Avery did make an awfully good layer cake from one of the recipes, so it turns out even fictional people can cook.

Well, school pickup and riding lesson beckon, and today I really am going to take my camera with me so I can get good pictures of the instructors at the barn, for the eventual iPhoto book I'm planning as a present to the barn owners. Have you checked out iPhoto books? It's so convenient to drag the photos you've downloaded right onto programmed pages, click "buy now", and a week or so later you have a gift that will get a bigger roar of approval than just about anything else you could make or give. Give it a try.

Oh, and in the spirit of old-fashioned comfort food, here's a lovely warming dinner for you and your child on a damp March night.

Sauteed Chicken Breasts With Calvados and Cream
(serves two)

3 tbsps butter
2 boneless skinless chicken breast fillets
1/3 cup Calvados
1/3 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 bay leaves
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
8 little button mushrooms, coarsely chopped

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet, then saute the chicken breasts on one side for 3 minutes and turn, saute on the other side for 3 minutes. Remove and place on a platter and set aside. Deglaze the skillet with the Calvados and simmer until the alcohol burns off, just a couple of minutes. Throw in the garlic, shallot and bay leaves and simmer until garlic is soft, then add sour cream, whisk until blended, and season to taste. Place the chicken breasts in the sauce (pouring in any juice that accumulated on the platter) and scatter the mushrooms around, stirring so they are coated with sauce. Simmer until chicken is done, about 8 minutes. Serve on noodles, and nice little pile of steamed broccoli for your conscience on the side.

1 comment:

CLM said...

I remember begging for the Beany Malone cookbook for Christmas, and being thrilled when I got it! The macaroon recipe was very good although I think we decided my mother's meatloaf was better than Johnny's. Although I read all the Catherine Wooley books also, I don't think I ever laid eyes on the Ginnie and Gineva cookbook. I assume it contains bread and fudge!

If you ever make it back to the US and to Massachusetts, my alma mater has a wonderful cookbook collection you would enjoy. See http://www.radcliffe.edu/schles/culinary.php

You might enjoy Young Bess by Margaret Irwin. That was my favorite book about Elizabeth I growing up, and I reread it almost as many times as I did Beany and my Betsy-Tacys. Another must book is Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.