Archive for September, 2010

Food Junk

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I’m borrowing the name of this little column from William Woys Weaver, who uses the term to describe ‘culinary ephemera’ in an article in Fine Books Magazine in February of ’09. One reasonable definition of ephemera is printed material produced with the intention of having a limited life span. So culinary ephemera includes lots of categories: menus, trade cards, printed labels, catalogues, and much more.

In today’s world, items in those categories might be thought of as mundane and easily overlooked, but they often are carefully produced, occasionally beautifully printed, and more often than one might think, carry important historical information. Weaver has produced a new book, Culinary Ephemera. An Illustrated History, one of his many terrific books on food and food culture, for the California Studies in Food & Culture series, edited by Darra Goldstein. In this beautifully produced book from the University of California, he outlines the many categories of culinary ephemera, tells interesting stories about these little slips of paper, and illustrates it all with wonderful examples culled from his own collection and other important collections around America.

At Rabelais, we also have a nice (albeit much smaller) collection of culinary ephemera on hand. We have menus, some quite rare, as well as trade and business cards, wine and spirits labels, seed packets, product cookbooks, advertising booklets, and much more, from the 18th century through the 20th. Much of it is finely printed, with bold graphics and enticing illustration. Prices run from a few dollars to a few thousand. The examples you see here are from our collection. For info about the book, or to purchase, click here.

Canal House Cookbooks

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

by Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hirsheimer

We are always talking about what makes a good cookbook, and what makes a cookbook good. There are a couple of authors who come to mind: Nigel Slater; David Tanis; Mark Bittman; Yotam Ottolenghi. Their books are favorites.
In the Canal House series of seasonal books, put out three times a year by Hamilton and Hirsheimer, we have found another favorite. The books are relevant, clear and enticing. They have a point of view, an opinion(s). They tell stories. The recipes feel intimately familiar, comfortable, encouraging. It is even more pleasing that Canal House publishes its own books. They’re an independent business in a conglomerate world and we love them for that. We have volumes 2, 3 & 4 available right now. Volume 1 is currently out-of-print, although we are encouraging them to reprint. Volume 5 will come out in early October. So we think you should come in and check them out. Or if you are not in Maine, check them out on our website: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4.

do you cook?

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise”
–  Henry David Thoreau

The question still surprises me when it is asked, “do you cook?” Aside from the ridiculous obviousness of being surrounded by some pretty amazing food porn all day long, it stands to reason that selling books about food would presuppose a desire to cook. And yet the question is still asked. What puzzles me most is that the question is asked at all.  I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t cook.  There are few regular rituals that involve so much craft,  I cannot fathom why anyone would deprive themselves of the daily pleasure of preparing something to eat. Cooking satisfies so many urges, both primal and intellectual. Preparing a meal, whatever form it may take, is a way to connect to those around us. And isn’t that what we are all looking for, ways to connect?

In our house we have two different styles of cooking. I am a cook defined by limits. I go to the fridge, scan the counter, forage in the garden for what dinner will be.  I like the challenge of making something delicious from what is on hand. Often I put the meal together on the drive home. Sometimes that idea gets thrown out when I see what is actually available. Don likes to scheme and plan and dream. He stretches more, looks for obscure ingredients and challenging techniques. The books that we gravitate towards reflect those different approaches. He looks for pages of description, specialty ingredients, precise technique.  I like simple formulas, familiar building blocks, casual suggestions.

But at the end of the day we both love to cook for each other, and the eclectic, charming and diverse group of people who are our friends and family.  So, of course we cook….
–   Samantha


Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I am a desultory gardener.
In late January when the holiday madness is over, when the light is low in the sky, when the days are shorter and quieter, I sit with a pile of seed catalogs.  Then, I am a diligent gardener. My garden is beautiful. It is full of myriad vegetables all happily thriving and feeding us. Weeds are just a flickering shadow of an idea.  Everything is well watered, planted in succession, thinned to the proper spacing, mulched. Spring always begins with the best of intentions. Beds are lined with rows of seeds. Weeds are kept in check. With the first salad greens come the flush of satisfaction. We can grow our own food.
But August, well August is a different story. I start to slow down on harvesting by mid-July. The heat of the summer sun is the perfect foil for my laziness.  Things get a little out of hand.  We try and stay on top of the pole beans but inevitably some get missed only to be discovered later, pods bursting.  Zucchini.  Need I say more? Tomatoes, if we are so lucky as to have fruit ripening at this point (which we do this year), are suffering from early blight. They are spindly sticks of stems with pendulous fruit begrudgingly shading red. The garden is looking tired, dusty, overgrown. This is when I discover the bumper crop of cucumbers/zucchini/beans that need to be dealt with.  We have eaten our fill for the moment and need to find another outlet for this plenitude.  So that’s when I haul out the canning books. Pickles. Dilly beans. Zucchini relish. Hello winter stash.
(image above is ‘Radishes,’ oil on canvas, by Judith Logan, on display at Rabelais through November 2, 2010)