The Great Cookbook Swap

I started collecting cookbooks about 20 years ago. I inherited the first items in my collection from my mother, who’d been collecting cookbooks since I was little. She liked to bake at holidays, but mostly she preferred reading and imagining the recipes in her head. I am just the same way – I cook most days, and I don’t mind it (unless I’m in the middle of writing something) and I love baking once in awhile. But show me a good cookbook – vintage if possible – and I will happily go off and read it.

One of my latest finds is this on you 1929 cookbook on your left, called Good Meals and How to Prepare Them. It was a giveaway for the readers of Good Housekeeping.  My copy was pretty well used – but I couldn’t leave it in the thrift store. I’ll tell you more about it in another post, because there are some incredible recipes in there. I also picked up a 1930s GE promotional cookbook called The New Art - the New Art being “Modern Cooking,” which of course was expedited by GE appliances.

Now, there are some  modern cookbooks I have that I’m not that crazy about. I do have a lot, and some of them just didn’t work out for me – you know how that is. But they’d be great for someone else. I’m thinking about trying an online book swap so that someone who likes – let’s say – Spanish cuisine – can have my giant Spanish cookbook.

I was sorry to see that the book swap at Goodreads will be closing at the end of this month, but you’ll still be able to exchange books with other readers at BooksfreeSwap. is a community for book lovers in the U.S.  You can join for free and trade books (and audiobooks) with other readers – pass along the books you don’t want anymore and get some new ones, that you do want, in return. After you sign up, you make a list of the books you want to swap and they’ll let you know by email when someone would like one of your books. You send it, using a Postage Paid mailing label you can print out from the site – the recipient pays for the shipping and handling.

You’ll want to make your own wish list, too. When someone else lists a book that you want, you’ll get an email. Then you pay the shipping and handling, and the book or books will be sent to you, anywhere in the U.S. You can browse the available books before you sign up – I did, and they have a terrific, huge selection of books in just about any category you can imagine, from Alternative History and Action to True Crime and Travel. And of course I checked out Cooking – they have tons of modern cookbooks and books on culinary history and chef’s memoirs and…well, a lot of good stuff. If you love books – and want to trade in some books you don’t read or want anymore for some great new reads, do check out BooksfreeSwap.

The Artful Ice Cream

Shire Books

Ivan Day’s charming and mouth-watering history of ice cream – a link is under the cover image on the left- has opened my eyes to the amazing world of Victorian ice cream. Even though the very first written recipes for “iced cream” date from the 17th century, it really was the Victorians who transformed this favorite dessert into High Art.

Molds from The Royal English and Foreign Confectioner Chas Francatelli 1862
The Royal English and Foreign Confectioner (1862)

For example, did you know that in the 19th century, at a fancy dinner, you might be served an incredible trompe l’oeil (literally “trick of the eye” – meaning something made to look like something else) ice cream in the shape of  a roast joint of beef surrounded by champagne bottles (all done in ice creams, mind you) -  or a huge filigreed fruit basket – or even the Taj Mahal? Day’s book is illustrated with some incredible pictures from cookery books, and even photographs of Victorian ice cream molds. Day has included photographs of some modern recreations of Victorian trompe d’oeil ice creams – and they really are lovely.

Agnes Marshall, inventor of an ice cream freezer in the 1880s, had some good recipes – her Sultan Pudding, for example, was made of vanilla and maraschino cherry ice cream, with Turkish Delight decorations, and was shaped like a mosque. “Ideal for ball suppers,” she noted (and I have made a note of the same, if I ever give one of these). Or perhaps you’d prefer ice cream in the shape of asparagus stalks tied with a ribbon? Miss Marshall can do that, too.

Ice Cream, of course, continues on to the 20th century, to ice cream carts and ice cream popsicles and cones, all lavishly illustrated, all fascinating. But it is the Victorian ice creams that I like the best. Not just the shapes, but the flavors, too: orange flower, chestnut, almond macaroon, tea, apricot, damson plum. Even the odd 17th century flavor of parmesan cheese was still made then. Day includes the parmesan recipe along with a few others, at the end of the book, in case you’d like to try it.  I think I’ll try the other 17th century iced cream favorite, burnt almond, instead.

Ice Cream by Ivan Day
Shire Library, 2011 (64 pp.)

[Here's the disclosure part: Shire Books kindly sent a free copy of Ice Cream to me, but all the opinions above are my own.]

Book Review: Discovering Words In the Kitchen

Discovering Words In the Kitchen
Julian Walker
Shire Books, 2010
96 pp.

I am known, in my family, for getting up from the table in the middle of dinner to go look up a word in the dictionary. Often it is the same Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology that my mother used to consult when she needed to look up a word we were using in conversation at dinner many years ago (so you can see where I got it from!). My family are kind and tolerant, and they like word history too, so they just smile when they hear me say “let me just look that up” and go off to the bookshelves in the next room.

Now, with Discovering Words in the Kitchen – a wonderful little culinary etymological dictionary – I can have my words and eat them (or rather, eat my dinner) too. Walker’s introduction is a concise and helpful history of dining in Britain through the ages. The rest of the book is divided into sections dealing with all manner of ingredients – fruits, vegetables, cereals and so on – as well as with a few common dishes such as the omelette. The omelette (to give you an example of the things you can learn from this book) is either a variation of the Old French oeufs mêlés (mixed eggs) or possibly  from the Medieval French alumette (from the Latin for “thin layer” or “sword blade”). Kitchen implements, cupboard ingredients and general cooking terms are also covered.

So now I keep Discovering Words in the Kitchen right in the kitchen and instead of simmering (originally simpering, but also possibly from the Germanic root sim meaning to hum) when I need to drop a bit of word history into the conversational soup (Old English soppe, something in which soppets or suppets – toasted bits of bread – were dunked) – I will be able to stay in my chair and refer to this informative and very enjoyable book. This will please everyone here at home except one of the cats, who feels that she ought to have a place at the table, and takes my seat every time I leave it.

Note: Shire Books was kind enough to send this book to me for free (as well as several other titles that I’ll be reviewing in the future) – but as always the opinions expressed are totally my own.


Go casual one minute. Go glamorous the next. Oh, OK. But…which one of these is supposed to be casual? And…err…which one is supposed to be glamorous? I see a lot of hundred-pound curl skyscrapers. And reinforced-with-steel mini flips. And something that you might wear if you’re playing the title role in the suburban-dinner-theater version of I Dream Of Jeannie.

I suppose this was the height (so to speak) of fashion in 1966. I was four years old, what do I know about it? I had pigtails and bangs.

Pick the look you’d like to have and a David & David hairpiece will create it for you. Really? I had no idea a hairpiece could do all that. Maybe it could run out and get me a few things at the store, too.

[From Life, May 20, 1966.]

Wiglomeration is a word made up by Charles Dickens in Bleak House. It means legal fussing and complications that end up in a huge intricate mess – which made me think of these wigs. “How mankind ever came to be afflicted with Wiglomeration, or for whose sins these young people ever fell in a pit of it, I don’t know…”

Bartleby Prefers Not To

Today is the birthday of American writer Herman Melville (1819-81), who is most famous for the novel Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick (1851) is one of those classics that hardly anyone reads, as you know. I haven’t read it, though I’m not sure how I weaseled out of that, because I took a great many English classes from high school through grad school. And I did have to read Tristram Shandy (1759, by Laurence Sterne), which was such a terrible experience that – well, let’s skip lightly over it and get back to Melville. People who knew me back in 1986 got to hear a lot about how much I hated Tristram Shandy and all his boring little friends. Which in itself was doubtless intensely boring.

Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) is really good though. It is a very modern short story, a case study of depression and loneliness in an urban world. Bartleby is a scrivener or clerk, who supposedly once worked for the Dead Letter Office (where undelivered letters ended up at the time). Bartleby is hired by the elderly lawyer who narrates the story.

Bartleby refuses to do any work, merely saying “I prefer not to.” The lawyer is strangely moved and sorry for Bartleby and keeps him on, though Bartleby does nothing. “I prefer not to” is his response to everything. The lawyer moves his office to try and get away from Bartleby, who finally is arrested for refusing to leave the old office. He is taken to prison and eventually dies of starvation.

The phrase “I prefer not to” echoes through the story, which is told without excessive Victorian sentiment.

Here is Bartleby over at Project Gutenberg. If you prefer not to read it, that’s cool, though! I couldn’t resist that.