BOOK REVIEW: Specialites de la Maison

specialitesHAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW how to prepare pâté for 75? How about pigeon pie? You will find out in the charmingly antiquated Specialites de la Maison (HarperCollins), a most unusual cookbook corralling recipes of the rich and famous on the eve of World War II.

Originally published as a fund-raiser by American Friends of France, it was re-discovered recently on a rare-book dealer’s shelves by Brooklyn-based writer Christine Schwartz Hartley, who shepherded it along into a new facsimile edition, complete with its original red-and-white checked covers, whimsical pen and ink illustrations, and dust jacket, left, by Clement Hurd of Goodnight Moon fame.

The appeals of this culinary curiosity are many. With recipes contributed by notables like Salvador Dali, Katherine Hepburn, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Cole Porter, Madame Igor Stravinsky, and scores of other celebs and aristocrats, it’s an intriguing glimpse into how the other half ate.

Which turns out to be, in most cases, surprisingly simply. With the exception of that pâté and a few others, the recipes look almost do-able. They’re written in a plain-spoken, second-person style; the tone reminds me of my grandmother’s recipe for borscht, which began, “Go to the greengrocer and pick out a nice bunch of beets…”

Here we have Herbert Bayard Swope’s hamburger: “Have your friend the butcher give you a cut of the best Top Round steak…” And Mrs. Douglas Ives’ Bananas Flambees Kirsch: “When you sit down to luncheon, have cook put bananas in copper saucepan…”

It’s altogether fun to read, this window into a past in which endives were creamed, lettuce broiled, and muffins made with tomato juice. You start reading the recipes, thinking how odd they are (Anita Loos’ Liverburger, Herman Oelrichs’ Bedspread for Two), and find yourself salivating. I am going to try Mrs. Louis Paget’s Eggs Madras, which involves fried hard-boiled eggs, rice, and cream sauce.

If you’re wondering who some of these people are (or were), there are biographical notes at the back, specially written for this new edition and as juicy as the recipes themselves.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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2 Responses to BOOK REVIEW: Specialites de la Maison

  1. Astor C says:

    Culinary curiosity indeed! And what IS a liverburger???

  2. cara says:

    Liver ground with milk-soaked bread and fried in a pan — very pre-war.

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