the new & old.

A British chef by the name of Nigel Slater published a cookbook titled Tender, in 2009. The book is filled with absolutely glorious images, a very stylish sense of design, and sumptuous writing and description. It is a book beholden with beauty. Sometime in the early to mid 20th century, The Chicago Evening American published Practical Recipes for the Housewife – but the exact date of copyright is unknown. (Research was done). The book is tattered, torn, and covered in notes scrawled in a perfect script of pencil. Folded in the back pages are recipes from newspaper clippings: Pressed Meat, Dinner Punch, Vinegar Taffy and Hawaiian Dream Cake among them.

I decided I would choose a recipe from each book, found next to one another in the very deep corners of Gleeson Library. To cook a meal transcendent of era and trend, I aimed to find two dishes to compliment one another – the sources spanning more than half a century. Pork chops with fried apples and a potato gratin.

In the evening, I bought my produce at the vegetable market closest to my apartment; a local, cash-only, stop where bright vegetables line the exterior of the store and oranges roll out into the sidewalk from their large bins. The pork chops were frozen in the back of my freezer, left over from an impulse buy when I was most likely browsing alternatives, feeling bored of chicken.

Slater’s book was devoted to explaining, detailing, and chronicling his own vegetable patch and the very nouveau-British style of cooking he has obviously mastered. His recipes were mostly vague explanations of side-dishes; ideas really. I borrowed from him a Gratin Dauphinois – made of potatoes, garlic, cream, gruyere, prosciutto and rosemary.  He gave a simple explanation of a classic gratin, how to construct one, and additions one could add based on taste and preference (I very much agreed with the suggestion of ham, herbs, and cheese.) The writing left a fair amount of trust in the cook – its procedure was refreshingly vague and language on point with my style: “Lay the potato slices in the dish orderly or hugger-mugger as the mood takes you,” it read. 

The second recipe, intended for housewives, was just as simple. Taking two sentences to instruct the reader how to fry a pork chop, and two more sentences to suggest they be served with fried apples, cooked in the pork fat of the same pan.

Each recipe really only provided a perfect suggestion and minimal instruction; they were exactly the same in format and approach, despite their origin – antiquated American or British modern. In our search for recipes, the almost automatic reaction is to browse the web, google, pin and scroll. But to browse by book is an entirely different and more wholesome approach to cooking. A well-worn cook book is one with grease stains, water marks, and flour pressed between the pages. But, we must of course refrain from doing that to our laptops and ipads. The bygone days of cook books aren’t necessarily extinct – they don’t have to be. One meal can be constructed carefully from both a time when women in the kitchen relied on the sharing of printed recipes, and now, where the market is considerably different. Really, it’s just as the mood takes you.