Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The joy of the used book room at the library

It's where you find books like Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Cookbook. And they cost you a dime.

She had me at "Squabs Alexandra," the first recipe upon which my eyes alighted when I randomly opened the book (page 223).

From the Introduction: "I believe that the ability to prepare and serve good and attractive meals is a delightful feminine virtue." And so do I, of course, or I would not have bought this book.

Mrs. Vanderbilt goes on to say: "Many people have said, since the publication of Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette in 1952, that it should be followed by a complete cookbook. For, of course, I can cook."

Oh, to be able to say so with such confidence!


"My children and I, despite my career, have a warm and loving relationship. This comes partly, I believe, because they know that their mother, when necessity arises--and it certainly does-- is able to run the household and feed them good meals under cheerful, happy circumstances no matter what happens. Children get a great feeling of security knowing just this: that despite her necessary and often greatly enjoyed outside activities, a mother considers her children's welfare first and is willing to contribute to it with her own domestic talents."

1961: when a cookbook was not just a cookbook, but a way of life. Come to think of it, cookbooks today still tell you how to live, but it has more to do with avoiding trans fats and saving the earth.

And yet more:

"In my school I learned not only haute cuisine, but all the arts of housekeeping, even to the pleating of nightgowns with a pleating iron. For us there were no shortcuts, no scouring powders (we used brickdust), no canned, dehydrated, or frozen foods. Perhaps because of this training, I was once able to make a perfect zabaglione on a kerosene stove by the light of an oil lamp in a Virginia cabin!"

It's going to be a great summer of reading.

P.S. Pleating of nightgowns?

P.P.S. Zabaglione?


  1. This sounds great. I'd like to borrow it when I'm done with the "Gracious Living Without Servants" chapter in Mrs. Vanderbilt's "Book of Etiquette".

  2. "...I was once able to make a perfect zabaglione on a kerosene stove by the light of an oil lamp in a Virginia cabin!"

    Sorry, did you say this was written by Amy Vanderbilt or by MacGyver?