Adventures in the Culinary Arts I


I have a cookbook collection, that at first glance, to some, seems a least an embarrassing amassment of gastronomic knowledge or, at worst case, the sign of an unchecked obsession. Long before I learned how to cook, I collected cook books, with the hope of some day actually using them. Even without any plans to cook, when not in search of a recipe, I still will peruse a cookbook. But, I must confess, there are several that I have never used.

My very first cookbook was bought in the Spring of 1980, in a Covent Garden junk shop (long since gone, I assume, as this was the tattered Covent Garden of the past, not the gentrified Covent Garden of today) called The Inside Out Shoppe. I had wandered through there one day with a friend and found The Covent Garden Cookbook, an intriguing volume, with illustrations that seem much like today’s graphic novels, that not only discusses the proper treatment, storage and preparation of vegetables, but also discusses the long history of the Covent Garden market.

I don’t remember what else I bought on that trip to England and doubt that I still have anything but photographs and a framed brass rubbing stored somewhere in my basement, but I still have this cookbook. And, I was hooked! Since then, cookbooks are just about the only item that I’m likely to bring home from a trip.

Which is how I acquired, apparently from the note I wrote in the front cover in 2004, The Monticello Cook Book, which claims on the front to contain recipes of great Worth and of the widest Variety. Secrets of the delectable Dishes from Ancient & Modern times by the good Ladies of the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle.

Yesterday, with an abundance of blueberries in my kitchen, I decided to make blueberry jam. Surely one of the simplest things to do, as all you need is a pot, some blueberries and a heat source. You may want a bit of sugar if they are too tart, or a bit of lemon if you need to add some acidity, but blueberries, pot, and heat are all that are needed — and some patience as you slowly reduce the berries to a wonderful, bubbly, thick jam. The kind of jam that you can’t wait to eat. The kind a jam that you don’t care if it isn’t going to last more than a few days — you will eat it before it spoils. The kind of jam that cries out to be put on some kind of bread, fresh out of the oven. Which is how I happened, while scanning my kitchen book case (yes, it is a full book case, in my kitchen!), I came across The Monticello CookBook, which appears to have never been put to use in my kitchen.

It was late in the afternoon, and I had no yeast nor desire to venture out to the store, so a quick bread was the obvious choice and I quickly settled upon the recipe for “Nut Bread”. But, since I’m not a chemist — err, I mean, a baker — I didn’t really think through this recipe before I began. It wasn’t until I added the milk and the egg that I started to wonder. Really? Only 1 egg? Only 1 cup of milk? as I started to mix what I expected to be a batter, but was really a dough. 3.5 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 3.5 t baking powder, 1 cup nuts, 1 egg, 1 cup milk: that makes a very dry dough!

Putting my concerns behind, and realizing that I had enough time to get rid of the evidence of another baking failure before anyone else was home, I decided to proceed with the recipe. And you know what? It was funny looking. It wasn’t like any nut bread that I’ve ever had, but it was good. The perfect complement to my blueberry jam.

What it was, regardless of what the good ladies of Albemarle thought when they put together this collection in 1950, is a scone. I pulled the King Arthur Flour Cookbook off the shelf this afternoon to read what they have to say about scones. “The oldest quick bread”, the book said, and that if one could master a quick bread dough, one should be able to make easy work of a quick bread batter. As for the basic King Arthur scone recipe, it was amazingly like the one I used, except it called for butter, with the precise measurement of “2 to 8 tablespoons (each end of the spectrum is fine…)”.
(edited: I was corrected by my SO (hereafter to be referred to as Mr. Foodie) that the King Arthur was his cookbook!)
Regardless of what you call it, I think I did an okay job with it and there is yet another cookbook on my shelves that I can say I have used.

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2 responses to “Adventures in the Culinary Arts I

  1. oh, yum! I don’t know what looks better – the scone or the jam! I don’t have too many cookbooks (yet) and while they aren’t used regularly I think most of them have been used a few times. Cooking MAGAZINES on the other hand? Ooof. Way too many of those and unwilling to toss them…

    • Thanks, Courtney. I have tons of cooking mags as well, and bits and pieces of paper, boxes, notecards, etc., with recipes on them. Many I claim I’m going to file some day — some I even pasted to paper & put in notebooks, but most are these piles a papers. Rely completely on serendipity to find something. Usually that works.