Heirloom Cooking and Baking: Nothing’s Really New Under the Sun

Every year new cookbooks, always welcome, spill like fruit from a Thanksgiving cornucopia. This fall, the newest fruit in the mix is Heirloom Cooking by the Brass sisters, Marilyn and Sheila.

Publishers Weekly says:

The Brass sisters (Heirloom Baking) once again pore through their impressive collection of timeworn note cards, cookbooks and manuscripts to offer up an assemblage of culinary favorites from yesteryear. Those expecting a compilation of curiosities will be largely disappointed, as the duo focus on homemade dishes that have stood the test of time: Clam Chowder, Irish Lamb Stew, Meatloaf, Chicken Soup and Red Velvet Cake outnumber novelties like Candle Salad, a 1950s-era combo of lettuce, pineapple, bananas, green bell pepper, maraschino cherries and sour cream (or mayo). Recipes are straightforward and simple, and ingredients are easily sourced; this is the stuff of potlucks, church dinners and family get-togethers. The sisters’ collection is remarkable, if not exactly showy, with recipes for Split Pea Soup and Blueberry Buckle that are more than a hundred years old. Food historians will appreciate the sisters’ homey anecdotes (up to and including reproductions of original recipe cards). Though not definitive (and with no aspirations to be), this leisurely, nostalgic collection of homemade favorites brings a heaping portion of America’s cooking traditions to the modern table.

And Jessica’s Biscuit says:

Authors of Heirloom Baking and James Beard Award finalists Marilynn and Sheila Brass launched a whole new cookbook category with their “heirloom” baking recipes. Now they turn their culinary skills to the rest of the menu, presenting delicious, savory, and timeless heirloom dishes collected over decades and updated for the modern kitchen.

Marilynn and Sheila Brass have spent a lifetime collecting handwritten “manuscript cookbooks” and “living recipes.” Heirloom Cooking collects and skillfully updates 135 of the very best of these, which together represent nearly 100 years of the best-loved and most delicious dishes from all over North America. The oldest recipes date back to the late 1800s, and every decade and a wide variety of ethnicities are captured here.

The book is divided into sections including Starters; Salads; Vegetables; Breads; Main Dishes including Lamb, Beef, Veal, Pork, Fish, Chicken, and Turkey; Vegetarian; and-of course-Dessert. As they did in Heirloom Baking, the Brass sisters include the wonderful stories behind the recipes, and once again, lush photography is provided by Andy Ryan.

What they’ve done is take recipes from old cookbooks and manuscript cookbooks that you find in any good library’s culinary history collection and rewrite the recipes so today’s inexperienced cooks can turn out a loaf of bread or a stew without burning the house down. The recipes don’t include those that graced the earliest American cookbooks, like Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery, 1796 and Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife (1824). Barbara Wheaton provides the same “back to the future” experience in her opus, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, and Odile Redon and her colleagues Francoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi do the same in their The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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