Rabelais contributes to Eater National’s ’72 Ways Food Can Change the World

September 22nd, 2014

history_cookbooksI spend most of my day surrounded by rare cookbooks, examining recipes, food writing, and publishing information from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first. My primary task is researching and cataloguing printed and manuscript books, all in the hope of selling them to a small list of collectors and research libraries that purchase such things. One advantage of close contact with historical cookbooks is that it gives me perspective on what’s happening with contemporary food. It’s tempting to say that an understanding of historical food and cooking lets you see that “it’s all been done before.” So many of the touchstones of modern diet—vegan, raw, Paleo, hyperlocal, and global grazing—have precedents in the distant and not so distant past.

If your food history comes from Twitter, you might think kitchen garden cooking started with Alice Waters, but you might take a look at Nicolas de Bonnefons’ Les Délices de la Campagne, Suite du Jardinier François, published in Paris in 1654. Not only does the book provide instructions for the cultivating, preserving, and cooking of fresh garden foods, it encourages that the food be prepared simply and that the ingredients be allowed to speak for themselves. This type of gardening and cooking was a common practice, but here was a book expounding farm-to-table as a truly desirable approach.

“What persists is that food changes, and that the forces shaping the food of any time are large and manifold ”When I’m annoyed by a restaurant diner snapping iPhone pictures of a nicely plated dish, I recall the tiny engraving in a volume of Grimod de la Reynière’s Almanach des Gourmands, some of the earliest restaurant criticism. In the engraving, a group of men dine at a restaurant table, while adjacent, a secretary at a small table records their thoughts and criticisms. There’s a food career long gone.

But the “nothing new” approach is an oversimplification. What persists is that food changes, and that the forces shaping the food of any time are large and manifold: the economy, social mobility, migration, crop failure, markets and prices, scientific advances, ideas about health and nutrition, and of course war and the dislocation it brings. While food is always subject to grand forces, it is itself a grand force. Among the earliest writing, Babylonian tablets now 4,500 years old contain lists of foodstuffs and simple recipes for beer. They are the original food writing. Ancient writing like this is the province of kings and rulers of empires, and reminds us that food itself—the ingredients, the recipes, and the way we share meals—while subject to so many outside influences, is itself power.

One can hope that one day in the distant future, in a much-changed world or on a distant planet, people will notice again that food is a subject worth thinking about, worth debating and sometimes arguing over. And if they do so, let’s hope they don’t think they’re the first to do so, but turn to the twenty-first century—or the eighteenth or the third—for some perspective.

See all of the ’72 ways Food Changes the World’ comments on Eater.com.


Found in a cookbook…

September 16th, 2014



[found pasted into Charles Copeland’s The Cuisine (Boston 1872)].


July 10th, 2014

jersey queen

“Coming on a bank covered with wild strawberries, I ate all within reach, moved to a new vantage point and began again. One might stay all summer with pan, sieve and fishing rod, amassing gold and living off trout and fraises-des-bois, a sybaritic Carpathian Tom Tiddler.”

–        Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water

Post-Civil War advertising art goes gonzo

July 9th, 2014

#002A   An exhibition at the Harvard Business School.

Working on a big booze business archive

December 30th, 2013

For a few weeks now, we’ve been working away on the business archive of a 19th and early 20th century wine and spirits importer and distributor. Many boxes of financial ledgers, checkbooks, correspondence and other miscellaneous paper might look like a big mess waiting for the recycler to some, but it’s our job to make some sense of it and find it a new a home. Our friend Sharon Kitchens, of the Portland Press Herald’s Root Blog, came to check out the archive and see what it might all mean. Here’re her impressions and a brief interview with me:

And here’s a picture of just a few of the massive ledger volumes.

So what’s good this season?

December 11th, 2013
‘Tis the season of annual lists and lists and more lists (and even more lists). As the years go by, I appreciate certain things about these lists, like the fact that no matter how plugged in we are to the cookbook world, something interesting sneaks by us. But what’s really been happening is I now realize that these lists are not so meaningful, not because they are ‘wrong’, but because what’s ‘right’ about them is not right for everyone. Open any one of these things up for discussion, and it becomes clear that there is little consensus on how people use cookbooks, what people expect from cookbooks and even what some of the basic terms mean. A recent request by Russ Parsons for input on just such a list was a good example of this.

So this year, we’re just offering a short list  of a few books we like our selves. These books work for the way we like to eat and cook. They encourage and inspire us, and are a pleasure to spend time with. we carry these books in our shop, but not on our website, as there are plenty of options for buying new books online.

Two of my favorite new British books are by authors I always look forward to reading: Simon Hopkinson and Nigel Slater. Slater’s original, The Kitchen Diaries, is one of my most used cookbooks because it’s a perfect match for the way I cook; it mirrors the rhythms of the seasons and of the meals through the week. Kitchen Diaries II (or as it’s known in the States, Notes from the Larder) lets me continue into a new year.   Simon Hopkinson’s dishes always seem like old favorites, and with a bit of extra care I can elevate my cooking to something more special. The recipes in Simon Hopkinson Cooks are a bit simpler than in my favorite, Week In, Week Out, but I still approach every one of his recipes with relish.

Tim Hayward, editor of the wonderful periodical (now annual) Fire & Knives, gave us Food DIY, a how-to guide to all of the food creation that happens outside of kitchen meal prep: smoking, terrines, confits, preserving, clam bakes, spit roasting, and sloe gin among other things. It’s kind of a guy thing, and lots of fun.

I always seem to be cooking for eight, even when I’m cooking for two, but Joe Yonan’s Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook is terrific. Lots of simple recipes that yield big flavor through interesting, and now-to-me indispensable, combinations. Pasta with Squash and Miso, Guac-a-chi (avocados and kimchi), and Spicy Kale Salad with Miso-Mushroom omelet are all easy and delicious. And we have signed copies available.

Gabriel Rucker et al’s  Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird was instantly attractive, as I love cooking birds, and there are lots of tasty bird recipes to be had, including Chicken Fried Quail, Duck Nuggets, and Maple-Laquered Squab. But there’s also a lot more, including good rabbit recipes, the now famous Jacked Pork Chops, and other food you want to eat while standing around a flaming barrel clutching a tumbler of bourbon.

There are more big chef books this year than any year since 2008, which makes me nervous for the economy. I had limited time with all of them, as many are very new releases and take real work to tease out any understanding, but I’m thrilled to see Heston Blumenthal’s Historic Heston, a companion of sorts to his thoroughly modern masterwork, The Fat Duck Cookbook. In Historic Heston, the chef takes us on a 500-year chronological tour of great British dishes, which he has deconstructed and reassembled with the precision you’d expect. As an antiquarian, and a serious home cook, I look forward to spending some real time with this book. On the tables in the shop, we also have Rene Redzepi’s Work in Progress, Daniel Patterson’s Coi, Alex Atala’s D.O.M., David Kinch’s Manresa and others.

I’m a big fan of Ole Mouritsen’s Seaweeds: Edible, Available and Sustainable. It’s a masterpiece of single subject food writing. Part natural science book, part recipe collection, and part guidebook for potential food applications, Seaweeds remains readable and enjoyable even if seaweed is not a favorite ingredient. This book doesn’t just satisfy curiosity about its subject, it creates curiosity.

The one book this year that truly makes me happy to be a cookbook seller is Ed Behr’s 50 Foods. I’ve always marveled at the level of knowledge food shoppers in parts of Europe can exhibit. They really know what to look for, ask for, demand from the market sellers and grocers. Very few Americans have that sort of specific information about the uses of various ingredients, and what to look for when shopping for them. Ed Behr knows this well. In 50 Foods, he takes us on a tour of fifty foods that we need to understand if we want to cook and eat better. the writing is knowledgable, the tone is never preachy, and even the hard core food fan will come away with a better understanding of what makes great food.

There are others I’m excited about but have not yet spent enough time with, so let’s just say I look forward to cooking from Susan Goin’s A.O.C., and David Tani’s One Good Dish, among others.

The Holiday Season

December 8th, 2013

It’s no coincidence that the darkest, longest nights of the year bring some of the biggest, most sumptuous celebrations of the year. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve bridge the gap between the harvest plenty and the scarcity of the long cold months. The later three feast days find their roots in the Winter Solstice, the turning point in the calendar after which the days start to lengthen.  To celebrate the season, we offer a short list of interesting and enjoyable books about food and drink, including dining guides, cocktail manuals, fine press editions of great food writing, signed books, classic children’s cookbooks, and more.Remember that in addition to the rare and unusual books we stock, we carry a large selection of contemporary new cookbooks, both domestic and imported, and are happy to ship anywhere in the world.We look forward to seeing many of you over the coming weeks and in the New Year, and we really do appreciate your continued interest and support.

“Jimmy” Late of Ciro’s London

July 6th, 2013

Just now cataloguing a lovely copy of Cocktails, by “Jimmy” late of Ciro’s London. It’s missing the attractive, blue dust jacket, but the jacket is scarce. I’ve only ever sold one copy with a jacket. “Jimmy” remains a bit of a mystery. Some have conjectured that he may have been Jimmy Charters, who worked in Deauville and Monte Carlo, but I’ve found nothing beyond that.

While Googling around for more info on Ciro’s , I found this short little video of Ciro’s London in 1932. Interestingly, there is champagne, wine, and even tea in the film, but nary a cocktail. And sadly no shot of the bar where perhaps we may have glanced Jimmy, mixing a Pegu Club (his book appears to have been just the second appearance of this classic).


pocket brunch

August 1st, 2012


This past Sunday we were thrilled to be part of a new Portland food venue, Pocket Brunch. It was the best of what Portland offers as an inventive food town. A great group of professionals, and professional eaters, gathered in a private home for a five course brunch prepared by Rocco Salvatore Talarico, Joel Beauchamp and Josh & Katie Schier-Potocki. These are scheduled to be monthly events so you can get in on the action by buying tickets from the website. But don’t take our seats…!


This weekend, August 4th, we will not have our regular open hours, due to a scheduling mishap. We apologise for this mix-up and hope that it does not inconvenience too many folks.  We will be back in the saddle Saturday August 11th. Hope to see you then!  And remember you can call to make an appointment if Saturdays don’t work for you.



green coriander

July 28th, 2012

When the plant has gone to seed, because cilantro always bolts and goes to seed, there is one more use for it before it dries into those delicious little orbs. Our friend Peter Smith turned us on to green coriander last year, and now I wait eagerly for the pods to appear. The flavor is, as one expects, half way between the grassy greenness of cilantro and the sweet spiciness of dried coriander. Last night I sauteed six ears of fresh Maine corn kernels with a green pepper, a sliced Vidalia onion and a handful of the green coriander pods that I had crushed with the flat of my knife. Lovely. If you have a garden and you grow cilantro I bet you’ve got these little beauties waiting for you out there, go check it out!  They pop right off the stems with little resistance. We’ve also crushed them into a vinaigrette, but I was thinking this morning that would make a great compound butter, maybe with a little minced shallot. Spread on a piece of grilled fish or chicken. Ooooh. Coriander has become one of my go-to dried herbs along with whole cumin seed.  I grind the two in my mortar and pestle and then sprinkle over chopped cauliflower on a sheet tray with some olive oil, s&p and chopped garlic.  Into a 400 degree oven until the cauliflower crisps up. Fab.


What’s in your garden?