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OP: The Post-Telegram Cook Book

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by Harriet Morgan Mead

When this first crossed our desk, we thought, “ho-hum—another of those dismal books.” Weary home cooks flogging tired old standards, carloads of canned and packaged products, magazine clippings, dreadful shortcuts, and all the other disappointments of so many “contributed cookbooks.” That turned out to be surprisingly far from the truth. 

What we discovered was a marvelous old-fashioned collection of recipes, many with a New England bent. Some are familiar, and a few have surely timed out, but this is, at bottom, a brimming repository of ideas and approaches that makes one itch to get into the kitchen and indulge in some good, honest cooking.

This 1934 publication—based on recipes submitted for a contest sponsored by a newspaper group in Fairfax County, Connecticut—is pure comfort. Naive, simple, economical (this was, after all, five years into the Great Depression), and easy to follow, this is good cooking shared over the back fence. 

We see pork casserole, corn-stuffed green peppers, chicken fricassee with dumplings, Cape Cod pudding, chicken salad éclairs, Salem fish chowder, Waldorf salad (endearingly spelled Wadorf), and a palate-popping array of pies and cakes. 

We didn’t count the recipes, but the compilers claim 1001. And they are, indeed, virtually all from-scratch, calling for cans mainly to supply such “exotic” items as pineapples. The recipes are short and to the point; no wasting time telling folks that the apples have to be cored or how many minutes to allow for boiling up the spaghetti. 

Although not filled with folksy prose, this is a book for which one can feel real affection. And somehow it looks like that too. Suspect us as you might, the fact is even the well-used appearance of the book increased our pleasure. 

Hardbound (published without dust jacket), it carries some staining on the orange cloth case, and the interior shows occasional venerable cooking splatters. Actually, most of the pages are in fact clean, but here and there are spreads where it is clear that the instructions for baked apples or brown betty have received repeated visits. 

The good news is that the volume was obviously bound like a vehicle of war; the case, with a couple of nicks at the corner is sound, the pages are all firmly in place, and the sweet little silhouette drawings that open each chapter are unmarred. 

Best of all—in our possibly perverse view—the 392-page book, idiosyncratically, contains a 40 page stretch in which the pages are out of order—presumably an error in the binding process. All the pages are there, just somewhat scrambled. It’s a pretty rare thing, and we love it, a sentiment that may perhaps be best understood by those who have an ineradicable attachment to a cherished coffee table that has one short leg. In any case, we have prepared a sheet to go with the book so that the new owner can navigate through the thicket. 

The book is quite uncommon, hardly ever seen for sale.

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