Comfort Food for Book Groups, Pt. 1
Posted by: Neil Hollands
The staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library decided to try out a theme we had seen mentioned elsewhere, a meeting with books related to food turned into a potluck by bringing some of the dishes mentioned in the books. I’m not sure what was more pleasurable, the food or the variety of the discussion. With this kind of meeting, you really can’t go too wrong.
Morag and Laurie from our Youth Services Division sometimes read adult books, and sometimes bring great kids’ books. At this meeting, Morag introduced us to the beautiful pop-up books of Robert Sabuda, in this case his Cookie Count: a Tasty Pop-up. Then she read us most of Greg Pizzoli’s storybook The Watermelon Seed. Laurie followed suit with Ryan SanAngelo’s Spaghetti Eddie (complete with slurping sounds). Adults like to be read stories too, and you could probably make a whole meeting out of this activity, but for us, it is a lovely bit of variety to break up the pattern of the hour.
Connie’s books included Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies, a cookbook from a bakery and restaurant only a few hours drive from us in Staunton, Virginia. She had made their Key Lime Pie with Gingebread Graham Cracker Crust to try. She also shared Margaret Powell’s newly re-issued Below Stairs: the Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir that Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey”. Powell entered service as a 14-year-old in the 1920s and stayed long enough to see the big changes that occurred in the British class system. Her memories of when “spring cleaning” meant six weeks of 15 hour days spent scrubbing away the mess caused by burning coal, remind modern readers that everything wasn’t simpler in the old days.
Cheryl’s first choice, Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook, worked a similar theme. Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen became fascinated with the effort required to cook the elaborate meals described in this book, and decided to see if he could copy one of them, a twelve-course affair with twenty different recipes, even going so far as to bring an enormous (and dreadfully hot) wood-burning stove into his kitchen. He had to re-learn mostly forgotten techniques like how to boil a calf’s head for mock turtle soup. A fair amount of social history on the Boston of the times is also included.
Another of Cheryl’s selections was Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: a Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. The spread of the automobile and the rising freedoms of women led to the spread of these roadside eateries, which reached their peak popularity in the 1920s. Whitaker traces the history of several of these places around the country and recounts some of the historical changes that they helped engender. Cheryl also contributed some simple and delicious avocado and cream cheese sandwiches mentioned in the book.
I’ll share some of the other books and dishes that came to this happy meeting later this week.