On the Grill in Autumn: Julia Child’s Soup in a Pumpkin

Rumor has it that one time when Julia Child made this recipe for dinner guests, she overcooked the pumpkin and the whole entire bottom of it fell out onto the floor on its way to the table. I mention this right off the bat, not to illicit alarm as to the perils that might befall cooks who attempt this recipe, but to demonstrate the joy of Julia in all her humanness. Isn’t that what was so endearing about her to begin with? As experienced as she became, as attentive a cook as she was, as precise she always endeavored to be, Julie was still fallible just like the rest of us.

Julia in her kitchen in Cambridge, MA circa 1980s. Photo credit: Jim Scherer

Cooking mishaps and all, Julia’s golden rule in the kitchen was to have fun and enjoy the pleasures of preparing food and feeding people. Pour a glass of wine, engage in a little chit-chat, chop some vegetables, create a convivial environment. That was Julia’s way. Cooking is fun. Whatever situations happen along the path to culinary creation is part of the adventure.

That being said, this vintage recipe is one of the most interesting we have made on the blog to date. In part, because it is very fitting with the season which makes it very fun for fall, but also in part because we added a little twist, a bit of experimentation, based on our current kitchen renovation constraints. The recipe that we are making today, the one that hopefully will not end up on your kitchen floor, is Julia’s Soup in A Pumpkin from her 1989 The Way to Cook book…

Julia published this cookbook twenty-eight years after Mastering the Art of French Cooking debuted – the book which set her on the path to international acclaim. By the time The Way to Cook came out, Julia was in her late 70s and was most interested in producing a cookbook that showcased creativity in the kitchen for a younger generation. One that might not have experienced some of her older work. Based on her signature time-honored techniques, Julia featured a looser, more casual style of cooking instead of precise by-the-book formalities. More aware of health-conscious choices, she slimmed down butter usage and altered heavier recipes turning them into lighter, leaner, but still equally delicious offerings. She encouraged independent variety by suggesting alternative ways to serve dishes and was cognisant of budget and time-saving methods that would appeal to busy cooks who didn’t want to sacrifice quality meals for lack of adequate funds or hectic schedules. At the turn of every chapter, she championed experimentation and creativity.

In true spirit of the cookbook and Julia’s encouragement to amend, invent, and explore new ways of approaching meal preparation, we took her lead and added our own twist to her recipe by grilling the pumpkin outdoors instead of baking it in the oven indoors as Julia did.

While we have the ceiling in, the pantry framed out, and the exterior walls sealed up for the winter ahead, we are still hard at work on our kitchen renovations in the 1750 House. Photos of our work will be coming soon! In the meantime, currently, our fridge is in the living room, our sink is in the basement and we are without a stove, so the choice to grill the pumpkin came out of necessity but also curiosity. Can you even grill a pumpkin? We weren’t sure but we had Julia’s confidence and joie de vivre on our side, so we were ready to experiment with our trusty grill that has yet to disappoint us.

Rest assured, despite our change in cooking method and Julia’s tipple, this is not a difficult recipe to make and you don’t need to be nervous about executing it. It actually is quite a fun cooking adventure.

Soup in a Pumpkin made on the grill.

Full of autumn color and flavor from start to finish, the seasonal joy of this vintage meal starts with picking out your pumpkin. We are very lucky here in Connecticut to have this really gorgeous nursery just a few minutes from the house that has a dazzling display of just about every plant and homegrown pumpkin you could ever want in a New England garden. Right now there are mums for miles…

And rows of squash and gourds and pumpkins in all different shapes and shades…

So many beautiful pumpkins to choose from!

Since Julia didn’t specify what type of pumpkin to use, we had our choice of over a dozen varieties to pick from at the nursery. While all pumpkins are edible, even the little minis, for this recipe, we chose the sugar variety which is the preferred pumpkin for baking.

Sugar pumpkins!

Also known as pie pumpkins, they come in smaller sizes – an ideal factor for this recipe since we had to make sure it would fit on the grill. When you are selecting your pumpkins, look for ones that are of equal size and shape and that sit flat and balanced on the counter.

It is important to note that sugar pumpkins have thicker skin, and less stringy fibers, making them a good choice for roasting whole. A part of the American diet since the 1800s, they are ideally suited for baking and pie-making thanks to their slightly sweeter flesh. Larger carving pumpkins, on the other hand, have thinner skin, which makes them best for Halloween carvings but less stable in the oven or on the grill due to their more fragile composition. Instead of one 7-pound pumpkin that would serve 8-10 people as Julia recommended, we picked two 2 lb. sugar pumpkins that would serve two to four people and then cut Julia’s recipe in half.

When Julia was preparing The Way To Cook, she was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She noted that this recipe was a delightful start to any fall dinner but also that it held its weight as a main course. “A real rib sticker,” she called it. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a meal just calling out for cold, blustery days and hearty appetites. Filling and full of flavor, while it is cooked in a pumpkin, this is not a typical pumpkin soup that has been pureed in a pot and accented with aromatic seasonal spices. This soup is chunky and layered. More like onion meets squash, it’s a veritable hot pot that contains all the delicate, deconstructed elements of French Onion soup with bites of pumpkin that you scrape from the inner walls while you eat. Swiss cheese and heavy cream add a bit of rich flavor. Toasted bread crumbs, garden herbs, and chicken broth add depth, and the pumpkin itself adds color and dimension when presented at table.

I love the fact that the pumpkin is an individual-sized serving bowl and that it really keeps the soup hot and insulated for quite a length of time. Since it cooks on the grill in a simmering bath of butter, broth, and the onion, cheese and herb mixture, the pumpkin soaks up all the savory flavor components making it taste bright and vibrant, instead of what sometimes can be a bland vegetable when eaten on its own. Grilling the soup outdoors made for a real sensory experience between the cool weather, the falling leaves, and the excitement of trying something new.

The recipe below is adapted for the grill but continue reading all the way to the end and you’ll also learn how to easily return the recipe to Julia’s original design.

Soup In A Pumpkin On A Grill

Serves 2-4

1 1/4 cups fresh country-style white bread, cubed for crouton-style bread crumbs

1 cup sweet Vidalia onion, minced

2 oz. butter (1/2 stick) plus 1 tbsp soft butter

2 two-pound sugar pumpkins

3/4 cup coarsely grated Swiss Cheese

2 cups chicken stock

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

8-10 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup fresh parsley for garnish

Heat the grill to 400 degrees. Preheat a medium cast iron pan. Cut the bread into crouton-style cubes, about 1/2 inch in size. Spread crumbs in one single layer in the pan and toast for two minutes with the grill lid open. Remove from heat and set crumbs to cool in a single layer on a plate. Cover the grill to keep warm and maintain the 400-degree internal temperature.

Toasted bread crumbs.

In a pan on the stovetop (or in our case an electric hot plate!), melt the 1/2 stick of butter. Add the minced onion and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent and tender (about 15 minutes). Add the toasted bread crumbs to the onion mixture, toss them completely, and cook for an additional three minutes. Remove from heat.

Rinse the outside of your pumpkins with warm water to remove dirt and dust and towel dry. Cut a lid out of the top of each pumpkin in the same way you would carve a hat for a jack-o-lantern. Remove all the seeds from the interior of each pumpkin and scrape the inner walls to remove the pumpkin strings. Rub the interior of each pumpkin with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Place the prepared pumpkins on a large flat cast iron pan or tray.

Add the onion/breadcrumb mixture to the inside of each pumpkin, making sure the mixture is evenly distributed between the pumpkins. Repeat with the grated cheese.

In a separate pan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Once it is hot remove from heat and fill each pumpkin cavity with the broth. Make sure to leave at least two inches of space from the broth line to the top rim of the pumpkin so that the soup does not boil over onto the grill while cooking. Season each pumpkin with salt, pepper, and sage. I used about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground sea salt and about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper per pumpkin. Depending on your taste and the saltiness of your broth you may want to add more or less according to your preference. Place the pumpkin top lids back on the pumpkins.

Making sure the grill is still holding an even 400-degree internal temperature, elevate the cooking pan or tray holding the pumpkins so that it is not sitting directly on the grill rack. We did this using a brick wrapped in tin foil and then placing the pumpkin pan on top of that, but whatever system you can manage to achieve indirect heat for the pumpkin pan is fine just as long as the pumpkin pan is not sitting directly on the grill rack.

Cover the grill and cook the pumpkins for 30 minutes. It is important not to overcook the pumpkins or you will wind up with weak bottoms and your soup might fall out like Julia’s did all over the floor. At the 30-minute mark, check the pumpkins to see if the outer skin has softened to the touch. Instinct will definitely guide you here. When you press the outer skin you want it to give but not collapse. You are looking for a similar firmness to a semi-deflated basketball or a just-about-ripe avocado. If the pumpkins are not quite soft enough, lower the grill lid and keep checking them every five minutes. As a reference guide, one of our pumpkins wound up taking 35 minutes to cook and the other 40 minutes.

When they are ready, remove the pumpkins from the heat to small plates (bread and butter size) and serve immediately. If one of your pumpkins is ready before the other, you can remove it from the grill to a plate and cover it in tin foil until the other pumpkin is ready. But do not let the pumpkins sit on their own for an extended amount of time before serving. As they cool, the pumpkins will eventually start to sink into the plate. Rest assured though, there is plenty of time to enjoy your soup before the pumpkin begins slumping so if you are worried about table presentation, don’t fret, you should be able to get through all of your meal before the pumpkins start to droop.

Cheesy, warm, and brothy, all you need is a soup spoon in the flatware department for this meal. The inner walls of the pumpkins will be soft enough to scrape with just the edge of the spoon. No forks or knives required for this dish!

Since presentation is a big part of the fun of this recipe, it is best enjoyed on the day of, hot off the grill. If you have leftovers, the soup is still delicious the next day but the breadcrumbs will continue to soak up the broth, so you will need to add more broth and a dash of cream if you choose to reheat it. Also, the pumpkin bowl will not keep its shape well overnight, so it is recommended to scoop out any leftovers, discard the pumpkins and store the soup in a separate container in the fridge.

If you choose to make this recipe using Julia Child’s oven method. Follow the instructions exactly but set your oven to 350 degrees to toast the bread crumbs and then to 400 degrees to roast the pumpkins. And if you choose to use one big pumpkin like Julia’s below, then double the number of ingredients for a 6-7 lb pumpkin which will serve 8-10 people.

Julia Child’s Soup in a Pumpkin utilizing one 8lb pumpkin circa 1989. Photo courtesy of her book,The Way to Cook.

Either way you cook it… oven vs grill… big pumpkin vs. small pumpkins… I hope you love this recipe just as much as we did. As we enjoy the autumn weather, this pumpkin soup is lovely outdoor party food and also tailgate fare for all you sports enthusiasts who like to gather around a grill while cheering on your team. Celebrate beforehand with an autumn-themed cocktail or serve a glass of wine with your soup and you’ll be warm and full of autumn joy by meal’s end. This soup pairs especially well with red or white wine. I recommend Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay depending on your preference. Add some fall leaves to your table for decoration and you’ll have an easily put-together autumnal feast accented by Mother Nature. Come winter, this soup will fuel you through the holidays and snow shoveling season with aplomb. It might even inspire you to plant a few pumpkin seeds next spring, so that you can continue this creative cooking endeavor year-round and grow your own serving bowls for next fall.

Cheers to a happy Autumn and to loveable Julia who always paves the way to wonderfully delicious dining experiences.

Autumn has officially arrived in our neighborhood! Keep up with us on Instagram to see how the sugar maples are changing day by day in the yard of 1750 House.

Grilling with Friends: A 1955 Recipe for Savoy Potatoes

I wish there was a way to tally friendship in the kitchen. How many recipes were inspired throughout history by friends or for friends? How many meals were shared in convivial collaboration between one cook and another? How many dishes were dissected? Techniques taught? Secrets traded? How many hours were spent by friends, with friends, for friends tasting, touching, and talking about food?

I bet the number is in the billions. A billion hours. A billion recipes. A billion friends. I bet it is a safe assumption to say that friendship in the kitchen has been a major influence on the culinary world since the caveman days when everybody cooked, and then subsequently ate, together, around an open fire. Aside from health, friendship must surely be the foundation of food. The building block of life.

This weekend we are featuring a recipe that is friend friendly. It was created by two best pals – James Beard and Helen Evans Brown in 1955 and highlights the diverse possibilities of the outdoor grill. On the menu today, it’s Savoy Potatoes, a tipple topple stack of thinly sliced potatoes tucked between layers of cheese and dotted with herbs and butter. The recipe was part of the Frills for the Grill chapter from Helen and James’ Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery.

Frills for the grill indeed. The fun of this recipe, aside from its delectable composition and fancy presentation, is that it can be made entirely out of doors from start to finish. All you need is a prep table, a cutting board, a cast iron pan, a cheese grater, a bowl and a sharp knife. Grab a friend or two to help prepare everything, and the joy begins.

Of all the vegetables to be cooked on the grill, the noble potato oftentimes gets left behind. Understandably so. They are dense and big and take a long time to cook if left whole. If they do make it to the wire racks, most recipes are not that imaginative. There’s the baked potato wrapped in tin foil, the quartered potato steamed in paper, and the mini oval-shaped potatoes par-boiled and skewered for kebabs. But this recipe presents a whole new way to look at serving potatoes hot off the grill with an elegant twist.

Presentation-wise Savoy Potatoes is lovely, with thin layers of stacked slices browned by butter and melted cheese. Caramelization leaves the potatoes on the bottom layer crispy and golden while the top layer is tender like a casserole. Most similar to Scalloped Potatoes (a.k.a. Potatoes Gratin) minus the cream, it has a hearty consistency and flavorful yet subtle depth thanks to the two cheeses and the herbs. This recipe can be made in one large round cast iron pan or many mini cast irons, depending on your preference and your available pan options. Either way, it will be delicious.

When James and Helen finally got together to create a cookbook, it was a long-time dream come true. Both were busy, well-respected cooks and authors in their own right. Helen on the West Coast, and James on the East Coast.

A sampling of Helen’s cookbooks published between the 1950s and 1960s.

Supportive and encouraging of each other’s work, they each had their own unique way with food and writing, which meant there was no room for competition between them, just a sense of mutual respect, camaraderie and curiosity regarding the culinary industry they both loved.

A sampling of James Beard’s cookbooks

Enamored with each other as most best friends are, their relationship was strictly platonic (Helen was married and James was gay) but they showered each other with affection and attention every chance they got. For years, they maintained an epistolary relationship where letters flew between coasts at a rapid-fire pace. In these letters, Helen and James exchanged recipes, cooking questions, industry gossip, travel adventures, menus, food samples, diets, and stories surrounding what they ate and with whom. A consistent topic of the letters were ideas bounced around about projects they could collaborate on together… a restaurant in the Hamptons, a snack shop in New York City, a kitchen store filled with books and antiques, a magazine for gourmands, a cooking school, a newspaper column. Time, distance, and scheduling made many of these ideas difficult to undertake when it came to reality, but of all the possibilities they dreamed up, a cookbook turned out to be the one idea that took shape. To their mutual excitement, in May of 1955, The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery was published by Doubleday & Company.

Helen and James’ mission for the book was to cover recipes that included all methods of outdoor cooking equipment in one place. Grills, campfires, hibachis, spit-roasts, cooking on a boat, cooking from a trailer, cooking at the beach, along with defined roles for men and women in the art of creating a jovial outdoor dining experience. Helen and James suggested that women be in charge of menu planning, market shopping, and presentation, while the guys were in charge of the actual cooking. Helen called it a night off for the ladies (grab a cocktail and a lounge chair, she suggested) while James referred to the actual task of grilling as a man’s sport and the ultimate culinary proving ground. Both viewpoints may seem a bit boxed in today, but in the 1950s when almost every homecooked family meal in households across the country was made indoors by women, this idea of getting guys involved in the meal-making process was both novel and exciting. Cookbooks began springing up on shelves across the country about this adventurous way to prepare a meal.

1950s Barbeque books like this one – Better Homes and Gardens Barbeque Book – illustrated the sheer joy of outdoor cooking especially when it came to domestic family life.

Gender roles aside, Savoy Potatoes is best prepared by two people, if not more. There are herbs to gather from the garden, potatoes to chop, cheese to grate, and the grill to tend to, so multiple hands are encouraged not only for practicality but for fun too.

Note: We used a charcoal grill for this recipe. Cooking times and temps may vary if you are using a gas grill.

Savoy Potatoes

Serves 8

1/4 cup butter

6 medium potatoes

1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 handful of fresh thyme, chopped (optional)

Butter cast iron skillet(s) generously to prevent the potatoes from sticking during the cooking process. Combine the two cheeses together into a medium-sized bowl. Leaving the skins on, thinly slice the potatoes into rounds. Arrange a layer of potatoes inside the bottom of the buttered pan, then add a layer of cheese. Season with salt and pepper and a dab of butter. Repeat the layers of potatoes, cheese, butter, and salt and pepper again. Top with a sprinkle of fresh thyme.

Cover skillet with foil and cook on the grill over medium heat (between 280-300 degrees) until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and the cheese is thoroughly melted (about 25-30 minutes).

Remove from the grill, let cool for a few minutes and then flip the potatoes over onto a plate and serve.

At this point, the potatoes should come out of the pan in one solid piece. You don’t have to flip the potatoes over before serving them. They look appetizing on both ends, but the bottom has such a nice golden brown color and a crispy texture, it makes for a delicious first-bite introduction to this vintage recipe. The slightly smoky flavor from the grill mingles with the nuttiness of the cheese and the soft potatoes in the most tasty and aromatic of ways.

Helen and James recommended that Savoy Potatoes be served with roast beef, grilled fish, or poultry. During the hot days of summer, we liked it best as a vegetarian dinner served alongside a simple garden salad and a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc. In the cooler months when you crave something heartier, in addition to James and Helen’s suggestions we would recommend adding a fried egg on top and a sprinkle of chopped bacon, ham, or pancetta. A drizzle of maple syrup would add another level of interesting flavor.

Like good friends, this is a relaxed recipe. Not hard to make, it’s very accommodating when it comes to your own cooking creativity. Play around with different cheeses, and different toppings, or make it the foundation of a build-your-own-food bar and invite your friends to add their own custom toppings. Sour cream, chives, dill, smoked salmon, a variety of spices, sauteed spinach and onions, diced peppers and tomatoes, hot sauce… there are so many options that would pair equally as well with this dish.

When I asked my sister, who is one of James Beard’s biggest fans and one of my favorite people to exchange recipes with, what she liked most about his style of cooking, she shared that it was all about his universal love of food and friendship. “He felt that people could be unified through the experience of a meal no matter their country or culture.” In other words, he recognized food as the foundation of friendship. Cheers to that! Hope this recipe instigates an impromptu dinner party with your friends and family and that you love the whole experience of making it just as much as we did.

Cheers to James and Helen for this gorgeous recipe and the friendship that made it. I hope it inspires many more. If you’d like to learn more about these two culinary icons and their impact on American cooking, stop by the shop and peruse the cookbook shelf.

The Lost Art of Paula Peck: Egg & Mashed Potato Pizza circa 1966

In 1966, these words described her cooking… creative, imaginative, inventive, eclectic, beautifully presented, and internationally inspired. Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food editor and a beloved favorite here in the Vintage Kitchen, said “anyone who truly cares about cooking is fortunate indeed that such a talent as hers can be shared on the printed page.” James Beard called her “the finest cook I know.” Newspaper columnist Elizabeth de Sylva deemed her the “free spirit of cooking,” and food writer Gaynor Maddox labeled her “one of the most exciting, competent, and delightful guides to better dining.”

Today, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are featuring a thoroughly modern-minded yet vintage recipe from the culinary repertoire of Paula Peck (1927-1972), who was a phenomenal but now forgotten cook popular during the mid-20th century. I use the word forgotten carefully. Since professional chefs today consider her cookbooks classics and since she still has a quiet army of devoted fans, she’s not lost to a select group, but Paula is definitely, surprisingly not part of mainstream cooking conversations like other famous names that traveled in her circle. Why is that? Was she overshadowed by bigger personalities like Julia Child or James Beard? Did her culinary prowess get dismissed over time? Her recipes simply forgotten?

In order to try to figure out why Paula Peck is not a household name today, we need to start at the beginning and explore the details of how she came to be the topic of conversation in mid-20th century kitchens.

It all started with her spouse.

Among the many causes he supported, James Peck participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961, which protested the segregation of African Americans on public transportation. He was attacked and badly beaten for his involvement, but continued to defend the civil rights of African Americans. He is pictured here, fourth from left. Learn more about this experience in a 1979 interview here.

Paula’s husband, James Peck, known as Jim, was a newsworthy civil rights activist who worked his entire life trying to bring people together for noble and decent causes. Involved with the War Resistance League, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Congress of Racial Equality among others, it was Jim who first inspired Paula to dive into the world of cooking after they were married in 1950. Up until that point, Paula knew little about how to create a meal. This was a bit of a tricky situation since she married a foodie. Unless she wanted to lose her husband to the local eateries of New York City night after night, she knew she was going to need to learn to cook. So as a young bride of 23, she set out on a mission to tempt her husband and his adventurous gourmet palate away from the restaurant scene, which he adored, and into the kitchen of his own home.

Paula Peck in her kitchen in December 1966. Photo: Newsday

As Paula started experimenting with food, she fell more and more and more in love with cooking. In trying to appeal to her husband’s enjoyment of international cuisine, in particular, she studied foods from all around the globe. She began collecting cookbooks, keeping track of recipes in a file box and gathering ideas about food preparation with friends. With every passing bite, Jim encouraged her explorations. Eventually, she gathered enough courage to take a cooking class with one of the country’s most celebrated gourmands, James Beard. From there, her culinary star rose bright and shiny, as the two struck up a friendship. One opportunity led to another. Paula became James’ apprentice and then his teaching partner. And then she went on to teach her own cooking classes.

Eleven years into her culinary journey, she published her first cookbook The Art of Fine Baking in 1961. After that, she was hired to work on the baking portion of the mega Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series along with a host of respected chefs, food writers, and culinary experts. In 1966, she published a second cookbook, The Art of Good Cooking, in which she espoused the physical beauty of the kitchen, of quality ingredients, of simple equipment, of the breath-of-fresh-air joy that became her signature cooking style.

Her recipes began to appear with frequency in newspaper columns nationwide. She did live in-person cooking demonstrations for various events. She conducted interviews. The industry was achatter with news about Paula, about her recipes, about her unique approach to food. By 1970, Paula, the twenty-something girl who was not so skilled in cooking two decades earlier, arrived in the form of an accomplished, confident culinary teacher. Swathed in accolades, with nothing but a field of potential and possibility in front of her, surrounded by skilled peers and influential connections, Paula’s trajectory was on course for iconic status. And then something terrible happened. Paula died. Sadly, she was just 45.

In the 1960s, Paula circulated in the culinary world a bit differently than her comrades. Unlike most well-known cooks of her day, she wasn’t necessarily focused on age-old techniques. She questioned things. She wondered about established facts of cooking, curious if there were other ways or reasons to approach techniques beyond the traditional. She wasn’t concerned as much with how things were done, had been done, or should be done. Instead, she gave herself, and then her students, permission to experiment with food intuitively and to play around with taste, texture, and time.

Taking little bits and pieces from other cuisines, from other places and adapting them in ways that were unique and interesting, Paula worked with food from the foundation up, building a recipe like an artist builds up a scene in a painting. Taking into account, color, subject matter, texture, time, origin, flavor, and the relationship between one ingredient to another, her food was dotted with elements of surprise and flourish. It was those bits of unexpected detail that wound up setting her apart from all the gastronomes of her day. And I think it was those bits of detail that make her food still very relevant today.

Take pizza for example. Everybody knows the age-old basic pie with its flour crust, tomato sauce, a sprinkling of cheese, and perhaps a topping or two. But in Paula’s midcentury mind, the word pizza could mean something else entirely too. It could look something like this…

Paula Peck’s Egg & Potato Pizza

As a prime example of Paula’s creativity in the kitchen, it is her recipe for Egg & Potato Pizza from her 1966 book, The Art of Good Cooking, that is being featured here today. Using mashed potatoes as a base, sauteed onions, peppers, garlic, and mushrooms in place of a tomato sauce, and sausage and two kinds of cheese as toppers, this entire dish is polka-dotted with raw eggs and then popped into the oven for a brief bake. Surprise, whimsy, and a delicious combination of flavors are the result.

In a decade when casseroles were king of the dining table, the presentation alone of this recipe most definitely must have felt like a delightful break from the ordinary in 1960s America. More like a popular modern-day sheet pan meal than a traditional pizza, this fun-to-make any-time-of-day appropriate dish has contemporary comfort food written all over it. Made with simple ingredients and easily prepared, it feeds six people, is satisfyingly filling, and is fun to present table-side. In other words, it contains all the hallmarks of a perfect Paula dining experience.

I made this recipe as-is except I substituted chicken sausage for Italian sausage. And one thing to note before you begin… this recipe is best served immediately when it comes out of the oven. If you leave it to sit for a minute or two the eggs will continue to cook to a hard-boiled consistency and will eventually turn rubbery, if you wait to serve it much longer after that. If you like your eggs runny, cook the potatoes and toppings minus the eggs just until the cheese begins to melt (about 17 minutes) and then crack your eggs in their allotted divots and stick the whole tray back in the oven for about 3 minutes.

Paula Peck’s Egg & Potato Pizza

Serves 6

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cups well seasoned mashed potatoes

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups mushrooms

1 green pepper, seeded and sliced

4 cooked sweet or hot Italian sausages (I used maple-glazed chicken sausage)

6 eggs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup diced mozzarella cheese

Freshly chopped spinach for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large flat baking tray generously with olive oil. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly covering the entire pan. With the back of a spoon, make six indentions in the potatoes for the eggs which will be added later.

Bake the potato-lined pan in an oven for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes seem slightly crisp on the bottom. Remove from oven.

While the potatoes are baking, slice sausages 1/4 inch thick and brown them in a pan on the stovetop. Set aside. Next, saute onion, garlic, mushrooms, and green pepper in remaining olive oil until soft.

After the potatoes have been removed from the oven, spread top of it with the sauteed mixture and sliced sausage, leaving indentations clear.

Break eggs into each of the indentations. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dot with pieces of mozzarella cheese.

Return to oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until eggs are set and the cheese is bubbly.

Cut the pizza up into squares or wedges and serve immediately. Paula recommended a green salad as a side dish which is a great choice if you are making this for brunch or dinner especially.

Ideal for upcoming spring holiday breakfasts like St. Patrick’s Day, Easter or Mother’s Day, when onions and spinach are in season, this egg and potato pizza is a blank slate for your creative interpretations too. Add purple onions in place of yellow onions for additional color. Garnish with fresh herbs or scallions on top in place of spinach. Replace Italian sausage with prosciutto or smoked salmon. Serve it for breakfast, for brunch, for lunch, for dinner. Call it a pizza or a sheet pan meal or a one-dish wonder. Paula would be the first one to tell you to take this recipe and run with it till your heart is content. Interpret it as you like. That’s what cooking was all about in the Peck family kitchen.

“My belief is that tradition should not hamper us if we find a better way of doing things,” Paula wrote in 1966. Perhaps that very attitude is what has kept Paula’s recipes out of the widely circulated limelight of modern-day kitchen conversations. Instead of being stubborn, restrictive, and definitive about only one be-all-end-all way to approach food preparation, Paula encouraged exploration. She encouraged hands-on learning. And she encouraged continual education.

That type of exploration and freedom tends to breed a sense of confidence that builds over time through experience. A new cook might start out making one of Paula’s recipes exactly as she described, but then over time, feeling secure at the eventual mastery would adopt Paula’s methods of questioning and discovering. The recipe would get tweaked, augmented, adapted, enhanced. As it evolved, it would take on new forms, new ingredients, new flavors, a new identity. Attribution back to its original source, over time, would get muddied, fuzzy, forgotten, and then lost to history completely. I think that’s what happened to Paula and her creative approach.

In modern-day multi-cultural fusion cooking, in outside-of-the-box presentation, and in the pairing of unusual yet complementary flavors, I think today signs of Paula’s style of cooking are all over our culinary landscape. We just don’t realize that she was the source from which it all began. Paula Peck by name might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days, but her inspiring style of cooking still is.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did. If you decide to add your own flourish to this dish please send us a message or a photo of your finished affair. We’d love to learn how Paula inspired you!

Cheers to creativity in the kitchen! And to Paula for showing us what fun cooking can be when you add a little splash of imagination.

Comfort Cooking from the Family Archives: A Midcentury Recipe for Baked Macaroni & Cheese

The San Francisco Bay area may be most well known for its sourdough bread, Ghiradelli chocolate, and all things aquatic found at Fisherman’s Wharf, but in my family, we have another favorite to add to the list too. It’s an heirloom recipe that comes from the kitchen of my adventurous epicurean aunt, Patti, who lived thirty miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge in a foggy seaside utopia called Half Moon Bay.

Always known as an agricultural town, Half Moon Bay, was first settled by the Ohlone Indians and then by Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish transplants in the mid-1800s. Since its early days, this hamlet has been home to commercial tree farms, flower fields, nurseries, and vegetable farms that serve the local, regional and national communities.

There, in her light-filled kitchen decorated with antique blue and white dishware, Aunt Patti experimented with all sorts of wonderful recipes over the course of the latter half of the 20th century. Many meals were inspired by her backyard garden and all the things that she could grow in this cool California climate, but she was also interested in just making good food that prompted smiles and a fun dining experience. Hand-tossed pizza, homemade layer cakes, marshmallow frosting, from-scratch waffles, grilled hamburgers stuffed with all sorts of pizazz – those are just a few highlights of mealtimes at Aunt Patti’s table.

Happy New Year vintage kitcheners! Since the world is still struggling through the pandemic and a multitude of other crises, I thought it would be fun to start 2022 off with a fun food from the family archives that has universal comfort appeal. Today, we are making Aunt Patti’s baked macaroni and cheese recipe that was passed down from her mom, Dorothy sometime during the 1960s.

Aunt Patti was the best kind of gourmet cook – curious, generous and always willing to try new things. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you might remember her handwritten recipe for Citrus Chicken that was featured here in 2018.

Just like the popular comfort foods of bread and chocolate that are embedded in San Francisco’s culinary landscape, this recipe that has danced around Aunt Patti’s kitchen for more than six decades is a reliable crowd-pleaser that’s been known to bring enjoyment even on the lousiest of days. And it’s no wonder – this classic food has been a salve for bad days and good appetites for centuries.

The idea of macaroni and cheese – a pasta baked in a saucy bath of melted dairy proteins – has been recorded in cookbooks since the 1700s. Elizabeth Raffald was the first to print it in book format in 1769. She made hers on the stovetop using macaroni, cream, flour, and parmesan cheese.

Elizabeth Raffald, an 18th-century English domestic worker, cooking instructor and author was the first to bring macaroni and cheese to the printed page in 1769.

Even though the recipe’s origins lay in the cuisines of England, Italy and France, macaroni and cheese nowadays, surprisingly, is most often associated with American cooking. We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for that. In the early 1800s, he was so fascinated by this dish after first trying it abroad, that he recreated it at Monticello and proudly served it at dinner parties. That helped to propel its popularity and expand its reach to other areas of the country. He even went so far as to work out the mechanical properties required to make, cut and dry the pasta just like he had seen it done in Italy.

Fun facts of culinary history aside, once baked macaroni and cheese tantalized the American palate it became a mainstay on the menu of popularity forevermore.

From Aunt Patti with love – Macaroni and Cheese – an heirloom family favorite.

Aunt Patti passed away in the late 1990s, so we don’t have her as a hands-on cooking consultant anymore but thankfully, my family still has all of her handwritten recipes, which makes it feel like she hasn’t altogether left us. When her recipe for macaroni and cheese resurfaced via my cousin this past Christmas season, it was a wonderful reacquaintance with her cooking style, her spirit and her son. And it sparked many discussions. More on that below, but first I wanted to point out the beauty of the actual recipe itself.

I love several things about its physical appearance in particular. 1) That the recipe is written in my Aunt’s hand. 2) That it is splattered and stained with over sixty years of use. 3) That it has the no-frills title of Macaroni Cheese and contains a few humbling spelling errors. 4) That it references my grandmother, Dorothy, in the top-right corner.

Grandma Dorothy, who lived between the years 1914-2012, was a great cook in her own right, but she was shyer than my aunt when it came to talking about food and how she prepared it. Luckily, Aunt Patti was a great recorder and when she fell in love with a recipe she liked, she wrote it down and filed it away in her recipe box. Did Grandma Dorothy invent this recipe, using her thrifty Depression-era cooking skills and staples she had on hand? Did Aunt Patti tweak it a little bit in the 1960s to make it her own? We’ll never know. But the fact that it has been made again and again in the same California kitchen for the past 60 years is proof enough that’s it’s a good one to keep hold of.

There are a bevy of different ways to approach baked macaroni and cheese … from the basic (cheese, milk, butter, flour, pasta) to the fancy (gourmet cheeses, spicy aromatics, infused butter, thick cream, specialty pasta). Aunt Patti’s recipe falls somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t contain any pricey ingredients or hard-to-find flavors but it does combine two more unusual components not often associated with a cheesy casserole.

The inclusion of sour cream and cottage cheese gives this recipe a rich, tangy flavor and fluffy consistency. It’s cheesy without being greasy and filling without being dense. It reheats beautifully and freezes even better, so if you wanted to make a big batch, double the ingredients and you’ll have a comforting casserole (or two!) for many winter meals to come. And since this recipe is connected to both my aunt and my grandmother, I’m taking the liberty to retitle it to include my grandmother’s last name and my aunt’s maiden name so that they will both be credited. This way, from here on out, the recipe will act as a tribute to two 20th century women who inspired each other in the kitchen. In turn, I hope their recipe inspires you too.

Macaroni Cheese of the Ladies’ Race

Serves 6-8

7 oz (1 3/4 cup) elbow macaroni or ditalini pasta

2 cups small curd cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

8 oz (two cups) sharp cheddar cheese, grated

paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cook macaroni on the stovetop in boiling salted water for 12 minutes. While the macaroni is cooking, mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl.

Fold in cooked pasta. Spread mixture evenly in a casserole dish. Top with paprika or cracked black pepper or neither – whichever you prefer.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the top of the casserole begins to turn golden brown. Let it rest on a cooling rack for just a few minutes before serving.

Aunt Patti would have suggested pairing this casserole with a simple side salad of home-grown lettuces, but it’s really delightful just enjoyed on its own too. The sharpness of the sour cream in combination with the creaminess of the two cheeses offers a silky flavor profile that is a dynamic, satisfying meal unto itself.

Since this recipe festively made the rounds in the kitchens of almost every single one of my family members and then their friends and their family this Christmas, it has sparked quite a few discussions.

I’ve learned that macaroni and cheese means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ve learned that there are two camps – those who prefer a homemade recipe like this one and those who prefer a boxed stove-top kind. I’ve learned that some people like extra cheesy, extra creamy macaroni swimming in sauce, and I’ve learned that some people prefer a lighter more souffle-like texture. I’ve learned that some people like to add a bunch of flavor enticing extras like bacon, chives, jalapenos, buttermilk, herbs and even apples to the mix. And I’ve learned that some people are purists and prefer nothing more than the likes of the original four ingredients first prescribed by Elizabeth Raffald’s 18th-century recipe. Like, pizza and all the zillion different ways you can top it, I’ve learned that strong opinions swirl around the kitchen when it comes to this type of comfort food.

I’ve also learned things about my own preferences and how I like to approach food these days. I love that this recipe is connected to a particular place and a particular set of women. I love that an old piece of paper with its compilation of interesting ingredients still continues to connect family and now you, here on the blog, sixty years after it was written. And I love that this recipe acts as an impetus to storytelling for the cooks who came before us. That to me is the real comfort of this comfort food.

If you try this recipe, I encourage you to comment below with your thoughts on this whole matter of macaroni and the cheese it swims with. Both Aunt Patti and Grandma Dorothy would have been pleased as punch to hear your thoughts, just as I am now. Passions and opinions are most welcome here!

Cheers to favorite family recipes, to the kitchens that keep them, and to the conversations that continue to float around them. And cheers to 2022. I hope your kitchen greets you with joy every day of this brand new year.

Homemade Citrus Cider: The Simmering Scent of the Holiday Season

For the past three nights it has been flurrying. It hasn’t been cold enough during the day at the cottage yet for the snowflakes to stick around or to pile up, but three miles up the road it is a different story. There, the slight rise in elevation provides the slightest advantage – a few extra degrees of cold temperatures yields a fairytale frosting on all the trees.

A week into adapting to our new northern climate, it is starting to feel somewhat strange and far away when we say that we used to live in the South. There, as soon as the weather dipped to 50 degrees we were ready to celebrate cold weather season with abandon… sweaters, scarves, soups, stew and all the hot chocolate one could drink in a semi-tropical city. Tonight it’s going to be 28 degrees in Pennsylvania. This is the frigid and fitting pre-Thanksgiving weather we’ve been waiting for for over a decade. So what’s on the menu? A hearty New England-style soup? A big bowl of chowder? Boston baked beans? No way. Tonight we are making something Southern.

Irony aside, two components that make this a distinctly Southern recipe as opposed to a more traditional New England apple cider are the inclusion of a few additional citrus fruits and fact that the recipe came from a vintage cookbook called Wild About Texas.

Published in 1989, Wild About Texas was put together as a fundraising endeavor by the ladies of the Cypress Woodlands Junior Forum, a philanthropic group that was (and still is) dedicated to improving the lives of children, senior citizens, and the disabled in the Houston area. Representative of the varied cuisine that makes up the Lone Star state’s food landscape, this cookbook combined a range of recipes that included Tex-Mex, creole, cowboy cooking, southern fare, southwestern flavors, and south of the border spices, along with highlighting local fruits and vegetables that grow naturally well within the Texas landscape.

What was especially fun about this cookbook, apart from the beautiful watercolor illustrations of wildflowers peppered throughout, was the Forum’s focus on selecting local recipes that were ideal for sharing and entertaining. Many of the dishes featured serving sizes suitable for a crowd and also smidge of storytelling. A favorite recipe of Lady Bird Johnson’s made an appearance (spoon bread!), easy to throw together party pleasers were included, curious concoctions like Hillbilly Bean Soup were shared, and a discussion on local wines encouraged further exploration.

Watercolor wildflower illustrations painted by Austin artist Rosario Baxter.

It was in the beverage section that I ran across the apple cider recipe. Beautifully described as a holiday simmer, it’s an especially lovely drink for this time of year when friends and family are visiting for the holidays or neighbors are dropping by to say hello and you’d like to have something hospitable on hand. Similar to a party punch, it was recommended to make this recipe in a large batch (serving for 25), but if your get-togethers aren’t quite as elaborate, you could half this recipe and keep it in the fridge for quite a few days. Either way, it’s a warm welcome on a cool day, a versatile indoor/outdoor treat, and a cup of cheer that can be served hot or cold depending on which type (or temperature!) of climate you live in.

Considered a national beverage, the founding flavor of this recipe is apple cider which has been a part of the American culinary landscape since the early settlement days when water was feared to be contaminated and cider and beer were the most common drink available. In those days, the first apple trees of North America were saplings carefully transported from England by the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. As a result of their careful treatment and adaptability, apple trees became one of the first revered crops in early America, a must-have staple of homestead gardens around New England. Whether you lived on a sprawling farm or a tiny in-town city lot, an apple tree was a common sight no matter the neighborhood. By the 1900s, apple trees were grown around the country, a source of continued curiosity and study on ways to improve growing conditions and create new varietals.

From the Cornell University Library archives this apple tree was photographed in 1911. Certain varieties can reach up to 30 feet tall!

The oldest, still-operating, still-family run cider mill in the country dates to the early 1880s and is located in Mystic, Connecticut, a stalwart symbol, that America’s love affair with this autumnal beverage has never left our hearts nor dissatisfied our palates.

Photo courtesy of B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill. Read more about them here.

Traditional apple cider is made just from the juice of pressed apples, but spiced cider contains the addition of aromatic spices, most commonly cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg. This vintage holiday simmer recipe contains other fruit juices too. Ones that feature trees commonly grown in the south – oranges, pineapples and lemons, so it’s a delicious mix between two distinct regions in the U.S., each celebrating the combined flavors and scents of the season.

So simple to make, it takes only about 5 minutes to put together and about 30 minutes to simmer on the stove. Guaranteed to warm the spirit and the belly, what is especially great about this recipe is that there is no added sugar. The sweet-tart balance between the oranges, pineapple, lemons, and apples is all that’s needed. It also acts like a natural stovetop potpourri, lightly scenting the air with the fragrance of cinnamon and clove.

Holiday Simmer

Makes 25 cups

2 quarts apple cider

2 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

2 (46 oz) cans of pineapple juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon whole cloves

In a large pot over high heat, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove spices and serve hot.

Kid-friendly in its as-written state, you could also turn this into an adult beverage by adding a splash of brandy to each glass if you prefer an extra dose of cheer to brighten your holiday spirit. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, and reheated as needed. If you live in warm climate, this is also lovely served cold but make sure you initially simmer all the ingredients as directed, as the natural sugars carmelize in the cooking process and dissolve the spices for a more rich, well-rounded flavor.

Add an extra bit of holiday flourish on your mugs or glasses with an orange slice and pine spring garnish. Or if serving this for a crowd punch bowl-style, float some apple and orange slices in the bowl along with a sprinkle of star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and allspice berries for a hint of seasonal color. Whether you are bundled up and huddled around an outdoor fire pit or sitting under a swaying palm tree at the beach, I hope this adds just the right bit of sweetness to your holiday season.

Cheers to the South and the North and all the foods that bring the two together!

Corn Pudding and A Virtual Visit – Colonial Williamsburg Style!

The groaning board. It sounds like a little bit of a fairy tale word, doesn’t it? Like some sort of subject the Brothers Grimm would have written about? Or maybe something along the lines of an object come to life – Disney style – just like Lumiere, the candelabra, and Sultan, the footstool in Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps at one point in time, tucked inside a book of Mother Goose rhymes there was a sing-song story about a grumpy kid and a clever drawing to match titled simply The Groaning Board.

Illustration by Blanche Fisher Wright from The Real Mother Goose circa 1916

Fanciful speculation aside, the groaning board is no flight of fancy. It’s a real term dating back to the medieval ages that describes a table (or in some cases a board balanced between sawhorses) that was filled to capacity with foods about to be consumed. The groaning part is in reference to the table itself and the noise it might make under the weight of all that hefty pewter and ironstone dishware that was popular in the 1600s and 1700s. Today, we’d think of this type of food presentation more like a buffet, where diners are given an array of delectable options all at once and encouraged to help themselves.

The timeless appeal of a table full of food;) Photo by Luisa Brimble.

Even though centuries have passed, and the way we describe such a style of eating has changed, both situations would be accurate in defining overall sentiment. Whether it is modern-day, colonial times, or medieval traditions, a table full of a bevy of dishes has always represented abundance, decadence, and a carefree spirit of unbridled eating. Cheers to that!

Throughout colonial times, special groaning board dinners were a tradition enjoyed every year during the holiday season. After all the hard work of harvesting had been completed, a groaning board dinner satisfied hearty appetites and celebrated a much-needed break in the yearly schedule.

Acting as a blank slate and a muse, the essential component of preparing any groaning board dinner is a big, empty table.

One of the few remaining places in America where groaning board dinners are still a part of the regular vernacular is in the historic Virginian city of Williamsburg. Each year a traditional groaning board dinner is still hosted in one of the hospitality venues within the historic district known as Colonial Williamsburg.

Giving visitors from all over the world a chance to experience a colonial feast of plentiful proportions just as their ancestors may have enjoyed centuries ago, is just one way the living history museum helps connect people to the past through food.

The start of a feast – groaning board style. Photo by Taylor Biggs Lewis Jr.

Fried chicken, prime rib, filet of fish, oyster soup, cherry trifle, Sally Lunn cake and an assortment of vegetables, puddings and casseroles were typical feasting fare when it came to groaning board menus. And Williamsburg never disappointed in that department. 

Shields Taven. Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

A foodie town from the start in 1699, hospitality has always been a big part of this small town’s spirit. Some would even say it is the birthplace. In 1705, an Act Concerning the Entertainment of Strangers was in effect throughout the colony that extended courtesy, kindness, and hospitality to all visitors and travelers. This act was created in order to discourage greed and malicious intent from growing within the colony and to protect the colonists themselves from being taken advantage of by outside entities.

Back then, there was no kinder way to offer a warm welcome than to spoil a stranger with a hot meal, a comfortable place to rest, or a restorative beverage. This obliging, open-door concept and willingness to trust the goodness of people before suspecting the worst created a playground for food enthusiasts determined to offer others a gracious dining experience.

As Williamsburg grew and became an elegant epi-center for politics and progressive ideas, the colonists were very proud of the city they created and were anxious to show it off. It was reported by the mid-1700s that visitors were fought over and fawned over by Virginians from all corners of the city. Pleasantries and invitations were extended around every bend, a continual sense of hospitality floated in the air, and a convivial atmosphere especially surrounding food and the act of eating was present at each and every meal. “And this is the constant life they lead and to this fare every comer is welcome,” wrote a visitor to Virginia in 1746.

The St. George Tucker House circa 1718.

With an eye always focused on the spirit of those founding years, restaurant owners, tavern managers, and innkeepers throughout the past three centuries have strived to present and recreate a collection of authentic meals that represent America’s culinary roots.  The first cookbook surrounding the cuisine of Colonial Williamsburg was Helen Bullock’s The Art of Williamsburg Cookery, published in 1938.

Helen Bullock’s Williamsburg Art of Cookery, first published in 1938. It was reprinted many times over the course of the 20th century with a variety of covers from plain brown to colorful patterns like this one. The contents have always remained the same including Helen’s choice to write the entire book in Colonial vernacular.

Since then, the staff of Colonial Williamsburg has continued to encourage home cooks to try their hand at making conventional colonial fare with a variety of publications, tutorials and a growing online recipe archive.

The Williamsburg Cookbook – 1981 edition

Because many of the foods featured in the Williamsburg cookbooks are traditional staples, especially in the southern United States (recipes include pot roasts, pies, stews, gumbos, stuffings, puddings, bread, casseroles, and more) they have traveled time flawlessly. Appealing to generation after generation of cooks and eaters, these long-lived regional dishes have become beloved mainstays in the hearts and homes of food aficionados around the country.

Dishes like this roast duck with fruit stuffing still grace holiday menus today. This photo is from the 1981 edition of The Williamsburg Cookbook.

Such is the case with one of our blog readers, Roberta, who recently mentioned a favorite recipe from a 1970s era Williamsburg cookbook that her family has made (and loved!) for decades. ”The Williamsburg Cookbook belonged to my mother and then was passed on to my sister, who frequently makes the corn pudding recipe during the holidays and for parties. It was a hit, the first time my mom made it in the 1970s and continues to be a party-pleaser to this day,” Roberta shared. This is exactly the kind of heirloom recipe that we love to feature here in the Vintage Kitchen – one that is trusted, adored, and anticipated year after year after year. So it is my pleasure in this post to present Roberta’s family’s treasured corn pudding recipe from The Williamsburg Cookbook, first published in 1971. It is definitely groaning board approved not necessarily in weight but because you’ll want to make a big dish of it and then share it with all your friends and family.

There are many different ways to make corn pudding. Some recipes call for more sugar, less eggs, more milk, less cream, or the inclusion of flour or cornstarch as a thickening agent. Some recipes call for creamed corn instead of fresh, sour cream instead of milk, creamed cheese to make it extra velvety or baking soda to make it extra fluffy. But all recipes contain the same basic ingredients of corn, eggs, milk, butter and sugar. And all produce a similar custard-style pudding in the end.

Helen’s 1937-1938 recipe!

This late 20th-century recipe is a slight modification from the original Virginia family recipe that was first printed in Helen’s cookbook circa 1938. The difference between the two is just an exchange of flour to bread crumbs but all the other ingredients remain the same.

So simple to make, it requires just a handful of pantry ingredients and is a little on the lighter side in comparison to other corn pudding recipes thanks to the use of light cream instead of heavy cream and just a smidge of sugar instead of several. Bake it in a casserole dish and easily tote it along to your next party, potluck, or buffet-style dinner, as Roberta’s family is apt to do, and we guarantee your dinner mates will love it too.

Corn Pudding (serves 6)

3 eggs

2 cups whole kernel corn (If using frozen corn, allow to thaw before incorporating with other ingredients)

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup dry bread crumbs ( I used panko-style bread crumbs.)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups milk

1/2 cup light cream * (see note below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish. Beat the eggs until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the corn, sugar, salt, bread crumbs and butter.

Add the milk and cream (*Note: If you can’t find light cream at your grocery store, you can make it yourself using whole milk and heavy cream in a 1/3 milk to 2/3 heavy cream ratio. Always use milk to substitute. Do not mix heavy cream with water, as it will break down the fats and make your pudding runny).

Pour corn mixture into the prepared casserole and place dish in a pan of boiling water.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until custard is set. Serve hot.

With a flavor like sweet cornbread and a consistency like fluffy scrambled eggs, it is no wonder this pudding/custard/casserole is one of Roberta’s favorites. Savory and delicate, it is comforting like macaroni and cheese, light and airy in texture like a souffle, and thanks to the whole corn kernels satisfyingly substantial without being heavy.

(Special note: For all those efficient holiday cooks out there , it is not recommended that you make this dish hours or even a day ahead of time with the intention of popping it into the oven just an hour before serving. The bread crumbs will soak up most of the liquid in that case and the finished effect will be much more firm than pudding consistency. The beauty of this recipe is its soft, pillowy composition so we recommend that you make it fresh right before you bake it).

Intended as a side dish, it is a perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving turkey, roast chicken, or baked ham making it a dependable holiday favorite. Or serve it alongside roasted vegetables, carrot fritters, or stuffed squash for a meatless meal that is full of fall color. Adventurous cooks might also try adding chopped jalapeno for a little spice, bacon for a bit of smokey flavor, or a sprinkle of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or sage for a bit of color. But really, this historic dish needs no special enhancements to make it any more delicious than it already is. There is a reason why this pudding has been a Williamsburg favorite for almost a century. We bet it will be a favorite for centuries more to come too.

Cheers to Roberta for recommending this wonderful new favorite and cheers to Williamsburg for not only paving the road of hospitality but also continuing to cultivate the good and gracious and delicious traditions of our ancestors!

For further fun, and an engaging historical experience, visit Colonial Williamsburg without ever leaving your kitchen by taking one of their beautiful virtual house tours and discover an array of unique sights and stories that made the first colony in America a place called home.

The Governor’s Palace is one of the historic houses available to tour virtually. One of the unique aspects of this tour imparticular is that visitors arrive by nightfall to the sounds of clip-cloppy horses hooves and torches illuminating the walkway. Don’t miss it – it’s quite spectacular!

Read more about the Williamsburg Cookbook in the shop here. Explore similar American historical villages and their recipes here. And bake the day away with two other 18th century recipes featured on the blog… election cake and Sally Lunn cake.

If you have any favorite family recipes that you’d like to share please send us a message for a possible feature on the blog. We can’t wait to hear all about the dishes that make your holiday table groan with delight!

Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

Homemade Indonesian Pickles and the Importance of Personal Possessions

A couple of years before the words covid, coronavirus, and pandemic were ever a part of our regular vernacular,  there was a school of thought that was running wild around the internet regarding personal belongings. It was a trend, at that point, to say that possessions no longer mattered. That experiences enjoyed out and about in the world were all that was important for an engaging existence. Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. Do you remember this? These statements could be seen emblazoned on t-shirts and mugs, travel bags and inspirational posters, wall decals and photographs that ran all over Etsy and Pinterest. Collect moments not things.

It was an interesting, carefree idea. One that adopted a bohemian-type spirit and encouraged a minimal, slightly nomadic lifestyle cut down to the barest essence of tangible materials. Experiences not things was (and still is!) a popular catchphrase that could be hashtagged on social media (#experiencesnotthings) alongside photos of exhilerating experiences like friends gathered at a crowded restaurant laughing their way through a meal…

Photo by Kraken Images.

and snapshots taken of exotic travel to places like Iceland to see the stars or to the Maldives to snorkel or to Bali to find some inner peace. It was a mantra that valued people and places, conversations and connections, over the seemingly trivial day-to-day objects that shared the space of life in our living spaces.

Pekhri, India. Photo by Rahul Dey.

At first, it sounded like a liberating idea. Unburden yourself from the unnecessary stuff that was weighing down your life. It went beyond Marie Kondo and her idea of tidying up, of keeping only the things that brought us joy. This experiences-only viewpoint of life was a bit more enthusiastic. Devotees of this philosophy liked the idea of owning one bowl, one spoon, one plate, one cup. That’s all that was needed in the kitchen cupboard. They liked the idea of one lamp, one book, one plant, one couch. That’s all that was needed in the living room.  Two pants, three shirts, two shoes, one suitcase. Life wasn’t meant to be lived at home after all, so how many things did we actually need anyway?

Photo by Annie Spratt

 It an ambitious viewpoint. It meant a bland environment at home, but an exuberant, colorful experience out in the world. It placed meaning on an ever-changing horizon and made joy dependent on other people and other places beyond one’s own control. If you valued experiences over things it meant that you weren’t materialistic or a hoarder. It meant that you were adventurous, a thrill-seeker, a bon vivant and on the go-getter. It was exciting. The point of this school of thought was meant to propel you out into the world to live an exuberant adventure-filled life, somewhere between Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and a dogged travel journalist hunting down the next best place to visit, thing to eat, event to participate in. It meant a life that was awe-inspiring, sensational, and worthy of a beautiful Instagram feed.

Then Covid happened followed by lockdowns and a second-guessing of the safety of the outside world. Suddenly experiences weren’t happening.  Home was happening. And suddenly the things in our homes mattered, more than ever. Possessions mattered.

Overnight, our interior spaces took on a sentimental glow and objects soothed and comforted our spirits. The wildly adventurous experiences out in the world from the “before days” dimmed and seemed like far-away fantasies tempting, taunting, reminding us of what we were missing out on. Memories of those past experiences enjoyed out in the exhuberant and colorful world were not propelling us forward during Covid with joy in our hearts, they were reminding us of what had been lost. During lockdown, I wondered about the devotees of the experiences not things philosophy. How were they coping in spaces that consisted of one spoon, one bowl, one plate? How was it going with one book, one, plant, one lamp?

Life in the pandemic kitchen!

 

During the last eighteen months of pandemic life, the things that have comforted me most, apart from my friends and my family and my pets, were the things that the experience philosophy easily dismissed. It was my pots and pans and my deceased dad’s apron. It was a seasoned tomato-red dutch oven and a pair of vintage green plates that look like lily pads. It was Edith Piaf singing on Alexa from far-away France.  It was a cutting board put to work every day, a 100-year-old mixing bowl speckled with age, and my grandmother’s gold and green teacups, survivors from the Great Depression. It was fridge magnets that my neice made in the early 2000s – ones that now hold little love notes and words of encouragement sent between my husband and I. It was recipes bound in books from other cooks of decades long ago.  It was this blog, and the hunting down of stories for it. It was heirloom items collected for the shop. It was finding connections to things from the past that signaled we weren’t alone in the present.

Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. My one curiousity with this philosphy was in the riddle ran around my mind. Isn’t it the stories of our stuff that we want to share? Don’t our things lead to experiences and our experiences lead to things? My grandmother’s tea cups were part of her wedding china when she married in 1933. My tomato red dutch oven saw more action on the stovetop in 2020 then it had in its entire life.  My dad’s apron was over 35 years old and contained more memories woven into its fabric than a photo album could ever hold. Each time I opened a cookbook last year, it ignited a new culinary adventure. One that led me down paths to other people and other places. Wasn’t that an experience in and of itself?

Take the pickles for example.

This pickle recipe is not the traditional refrigerated pickle recipe full of vinegar and dill and salt and sugar that gets passed around each summer when cucumbers are growing out of the garden at gangbuster speeds. This vintage pickle recipe dating to the 1970s is a touch more exotic. First off it comes from Indonesia –  the next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Secondly, the pickles were not only a food to be eaten but also a travel ticket to explore a country, a cuisine and a culture that I knew little about. That exploration led to not only discovering a unique cultural Indonesian tradition but also shed light on a powerful understanding of the importance of posessions. How they add context, inspiration and value to our daily lives and our living spaces.

The Tour has been on hiatus for much of the spring and summer due to a special surprise that has been brewing for many months. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to share more on that front, but in the meantime, when I passed the cucumber baskets at the farmers market each Saturday this summer, and saw them overflowing with pride, I knew it was time to dive back into the Tour with a recipe that featured a mighty grower from a country that understands the value and the power of preserving an abundant life.

Indonesia is home to many interesting things including the komodo dragon, the corpse lily, over 17,000 islands and the second-longest coastline in the world. But one of the most fascinating things about it has to do not so much with its beautiful natural landscape but with its artistic attributes.

In religious sculptures and icons, in the details of interior and exterior architecture, in giftware and decor items, in functional products and even in jewelry and fashion accessories, stylish craftsmanship abounds in Indonesia. Most eye-catchingly in the form of intricately carved art ranging in a variety of mediums from stone to bamboo.

Incredibly artistic in all formats, there is one special type of Indonesian wood carving that carries signifigant meaning in the form of a posession.  In the hills of South Sulawesi, artisans make carved icons in the unique likeness of their ancestors.

A tau-tau ancestral portrait figure from the design book Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

 

These icons, known as ancestral portrait figures, are part of a deeply-rooted funeral tradition that has been occurring in certain areas of Indonesia since the 1800s. Believed to protect the living, they usually stand guard at the entrance to  gravesites or tombs signifying the spirit of a deceased person and the presence of a life that once was. Carved from jackfruit, sandalwood or bamboo, depending on the financial status of the person they represent, they are called tau-taus, each one completely unique.  Many tau-taus from the past century can be seen in crowd-like fashion tucked into the nooks of cliffs in the South Sulawesi area, near where their human counterparts are buried. Tourists to this area of Indonesia have remarked that seeing all these faces poking out from the cliffs is both a strangely sobering but also comforting scene. Serving as everpresent reminders that past ancestors are always part of present day life, the tau-taus with their companding physical presence and life-like faces watch over, protect and bestow good wishes on the living.

Photo courtesy of Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

In the late 20th century, looting of gravesites resulted in many tau-tau statues being illegally removed and sold on the open market where they have since become collectors items, sought after around the world for both private collections and public museums. It is a haunting notion to think that some of these spirits are now roaming the globe instead of protecting their families back home in Indonesia, but much like a treasured heirloom or an old recipe that gets passed down through generations or traded between countries and cultures, these relics of history have become valued possesions and stories in other people’s lives now. They offer a unique view on an old way of life. One that we may never have known about had they not been jockeyed about in the world. Like present day cultural ambassadors, they humbly illustrate of a way of life that is unique and specific to a particular place and person in time. These are posessions that propel us. They help us understand where we’ve been and where we come from, so that we know where to go in the future.

If we abandoned all of our posessions, all of our stuff, all the things that we identify with in the space we call home in exchange for experiences out in the world, how would we understand ourselves each time we finished an adventure and came back home? In the quiet times, when thrilling experiences are not coming at us from every angle, how would we keep true to what we valued and keep inspired to live a life that holds our interest? That’s the power of a good posession. That is the sentiment we would miss if we didn’t surround ourselves with objects, with things, with stuff that holds meaning to us. Experiences are fantastic, stories are important to share, but its the posessions that we select and care for and hold onto that glue these those two nouns together. If we didn’t have  experiences we would not have things. If we didn’t have meaningful things in our life, we wouldn’t have meaningful stories to share. If we didn’t have meaningful stories to share we wouldn’t have meaningful experiences to seek. 

This seems like a long road to get to one pickle recipe, but history emits light in unusual ways around here sometimes! And sometimes an abundance of things (whether it be cucumbers, or philosophical conversations, or ancestral artifacts) are exactly what you need to navigate the world during these pandemic times. If you agree or disagree, please send us a comment below so that we can continue the conversation. In the meantime, pickling awaits!

This recipe known as Atjar is a traditional staple in Indonesian cooking, but it is actually a popular componant of Dutch cusine as well. Dutch colonists had control and influence over Indonesia for three and a half centuries, which finally ended in the mid 1940s when Indonesia declared its independence. Up until then, Dutch influence seeped into all aspects of Indonesian life, including cooking. If you ate Atjar in the Netherlands, it would be made with cool season vegetables like carrots, cabbage and cauliflower, but those crops didn’t grow well in Indonesia’s heat and humidity, so the Indonesian version of Atjar evolved to include warm weather ingredients like cucumbers and peppers. Either way, essentially it is a pickled dish of vegetables. The Indonesian version has a simpler, more relish-like consistency while the Dutch version is more salad or chutney-like due to the inclusion of chunkier vegetables and additional spices.

A breeze to make (less than 10 minutes prep time), this recipe is best enjoyed cold from the fridge and can be modified as far as spice level based on your personal preferences. I used a purple onion to add a little additional color, but really any type of onion will do wonderfully well here. 

Atjar – Indonesian Pickles

Serves 6

1 cucumber

1 small onion ( I used a purple onion for color)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

salt to taste

1/4 cup white vinegar

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 small hot red pepper ( I used a serrano pepper)

Peel the cucumber and split it in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut the cucumber into thin matchlike sticks.

Peel the onion and slice it as thin as possible. Add it to the cucumber then add the garlic and remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.

These pickles last in the fridge for a week or longer. If you use purple onions too, please note that they will eventually turn all the ingredients in this recipe a pretty shade of pink after a few days. The longer they marinate, the more dramatic the color change.

Just a little sweet, a little spicy and a little tangy, we loved these pickles best served on fish tacos and turkey sandwiches. Hope this recipe provides new inspiration as you celebrate the abundance of end-of-summer cucumber season!

Cheers to ancestors that protects us, posessions that inspire us, and pickles that add a little zest to life! Join us next time for Week 24 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Israel for dinner and dessert – a special two recipe meal to make up for our long absence this summer. If you are new to the blog, catch up on our previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here, beginning with Week 1: Armenia.

A Mother’s Day Story: The Maven of Minnesota & the Gifts She Passed Down

One of the biggest travesties in discovering a vintage embroidered linen at an antique shop or an estate sale or an auction house is not knowing anything about the sewer who made it. The sewer who so beautifully executed a specific stitch or a scene. The sewer who skillfully transformed a plain piece of fabric into a stunning work of art. Who spent hours or days working towards a piece of self-expression in the same way a painter paints a canvas or a sculptor builds a statue. With the exception of antique samplers and quilts, which often carry the names of the artist who made them, embroidered linens of the past are history’s most uncredited works of art. 

“These small bits of embroidered cloth are often all that remains to testify to the otherwise unrecorded lives of their makers,” wrote Amelia Peck in a 2003 article highlighting the embroidery collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It could be easy to dismiss some old pieces of fabric until you read a statement like that.

Needless to say, Amelia’s remark has stuck with me for a long time. Whenever a new batch of vintage or antique linens comes into the shop, I always think about the woman behind the fabric, the sewer behind the stitchwork, and the circumstances in history that might have surrounded them both. In collecting and curating these items for the shop, I’m not often afforded any real-life stories that can be attached and retold about a specific linen or the life that made it. But today I’m very pleased to introduce you to a woman in Minnesota who has some stories to share about sewing. 

At this point, you might be nonchalant and think how much can I learn from an 8” inch x 8” inch piece of fabric? A napkin is a napkin afterall. But here in the land of the Vintage Kitchen a napkin, as you’ll discover in this post is much more. It’s a gateway… to stories of the past.  

When I first met DeDe, who is in her 70’s, it was over email in the beginning of February. She was looking to rehome her vintage linen collection, and in her initial inquiry as to whether or not I might be interested in it for the shop, she mentioned the fact that her mom had sewn some of the pieces. The slice of vintage life that poured out over the next several months and many emails was so interesting I knew hers was a story destined for the blog. Touching on Italian immigration, women’s history, cooking, Minnesota, entrepreneurism, family heirlooms and her mother’s zesty love of life, this interview turned out to be the perfect heartwarming story for Mother’s Day weekend. So yes, a napkin is a napkin. But it’s also a life, and a family, and a passion. 

Let’s meet DeDe, her mom Teresa, and their family…

Teresa as a baby with her parents Carmina and Salvatore.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your mom’s parents. What brought them to America? Where were they from in Italy and how did they wind up living in Minnesota? Did they assimilate well?

 Dede: My grandparents, Carmina and Salvatore, were both from Boiano, Campobasso, Molise, Italy.

Located in central Italy, the town of Boiano in the province of Campobasso in Molise, Italy was first founded in the 7th century. It is home to the oldest chestnut trees in Italy and most well known for its mozzerella cheese produced using milk from cows that have grazed the surrounding mountainsides.

My grandparents were married in 1906 and in 1909 they came to Minnesota. Grandpa worked in the mines in Chisholm, Calumet, Stevenson and St. Paul. He was employed by the Pickands Mater Co. for over 40 years. There were many different nationalities on the Iron Range and I imagine like all immigrants today they left Italy and were looking for a better life. I never heard of anyone in the family having difficulty assimilating into the community as they were fortunate to have siblings and many Italians in their community. A sister of my Grandmother’s and a cousin and brother of my Grandfather also immigrated to Keewatin.

My mother Mary Teresa Rico was born on February 25, 1911 and was the oldest of six children. She was born in Hibbing, Minnesota and the town they lived in was Keewatin. A population of less than 2,000.

Main Street in Keewatin circa 1921. To learn more history about this midwestern mining town visit here. Photo courtesy of lakesnwoods.com

EDITORIAL NOTE: During her childhood throughout the 1920s, starting at the age of 10, Teresa was involved in 4-H, a youth development program whose mission was (and still is!) “to encourage kids to reach their fullest potential while also creating positive change within their community.” This experience turned out to be a gateway for Teresa – one in which she could showcase her natural talents and abilities. While naturally gifted in a range of extra-curricular activities including basketball, tennis and dramatics, two of Teresa’s most prized talents were baking and sewing. A consistent winner at state and county fairs, between the years 1921 and 1931, Teresa baked more than 1,000 cakes and 2,000 loaves of bread which she sold to local residents in an effort to raise money for her college tuition. Triumphantly, through those entrepreneurial endeavors, Teresa managed to raise $3000.00, which provided enough for her to enroll in the University of Minnesota.

Teresa (age 17) in 1929 – the State Champion at her baking table.

In 1931, at the age of 20, the last year she was eligible to participate in 4-H due to age caps, Teresa won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, competing against 490,000 other girls. This was an honor awarded by Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea fame) that signified overall achievement and was given to the top boy and top girl in 4-H. In addition to a trophy and significant media attention, the award also came with a scholarship, ensuring that Teresa would financially be able to put herself through college, assistance free, all on her own accord.

This local Minnesota newspaper article proudly called Teresa the “Queen of Accomplishment” and reiterated her goal of putting herself through college without any finanncial assistence.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Your mom must have felt really proud of that moment, especially winning out over so many other 4-H’ers (490,000 female candidates!). Also, this happened in 1931, during the Great Depression. The fact that she was able to pay her way through college with her baking is fantastic. That must have been a really big deal. Were her parents really proud of her too? 

Teresa and her fellow prize winner, Charles L. Brown posed for photos with their Lipton trophies in 1931. The Associated Press

DeDe: I am sure that my Grandparents were very proud of her winning the Sir Lipton Cup and also all the other accomplishments in her life, of which I refer to in the following questions. One of the newspaper clippings mentioned winning over 850,000 young women, quite a discrepancy. 

 

My mother did not really talk about her accomplishments and honestly, I really did not learn about how much she really did until my parents downsized into an apartment. My mother had kept newspaper clippings, pictures, ribbons from the State Fair, etc. But my father did not keep much so he was tossing much of this into the trash barrel. I was able to rescue some of it and put it into a scrapbook for her. After that, we really did start to talk about her accomplishments in detail. 

 

Teresa with her girls explaining all about her State Fair ribbons.

Sadly, as children we are absorbed in our own lives. This is not to say that I was not aware of the bolts of fabric and the sewing she was doing when I was a young child as well as the entertaining and fabulous cooking and baking that she was always doing. When I was in junior high school my mother was no longer sewing for others and instead went to work in retail. She had an incredible style knowledge for clothing and furnishings and an eye for fashion. The perk for me were the wonderful fashionable outfits I owned. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: The Lipton Trophy newspaper article mentions that she was “boss of her household” both in the kitchen and otherwise. Can you tell us a little bit more about her family life growing up?

DeDe: My mother and her siblings all enjoyed sports and her brothers all played football in high school and the girls played whatever sports were offered for them but it sounded like choir and drama were offered to women. At home, my grandparents listened to records which were mostly opera. They all enjoyed dancing and playing cards with friends and family. Neighbors would get together and socialize. Food was always involved. The siblings all enjoyed one another which continued on for them as adults. My uncles loved to play jokes and there was always a lot of laughter and singing. Perhaps they all thought they were Enrico Caruso. 

As far as my mother’s role at home, she shared that she would often make meals for her family and certainly she made all the bread. She was also sewing her own clothes as well as making dresses for her sisters and mother. Often her family pictures indicated that she had sewn the clothing her mother or siblings were wearing. Again, my mother was the oldest and she was a very strong determined woman who knew exactly what she wanted. Not a bad trait to have.

Teresa in the center with her sisters all sporting dresses that Teresa made for a special family celebration.

 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did her parents speak English?

DeDe: Yes, my Grandparents spoke English very well but when my aunts and uncles would come over to our house on weekends to see Grandma and Grandpa, they all spoke Italian. We had many family Sunday dinners at home as everyone wanted to see Grandma and Grandpa.  It was frustrating to not know what they were saying because I nor my siblings and cousins did not speak any Italian other than a few words.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Were her brothers and sisters equally as industrious?

DeDe: My uncle Pat was a chef and the others all made a decent living but no one was as driven or creative as my mother.  

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your dad. What was he studying at the University of Minnesota? 

DeDe: My father’s heritage was English and Irish not Italian. His grandfather Ward immigrated to America from Ireland as a young boy with his widowed mother and siblings. His mother’s family originated from Colonial New England.  He was a very patient and darling man with a very big heart and a great sense of humor. I always thought he was very handsome and debonair. He grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. As far as my father’s culinary talents he loved to make chili and simple meals. However, he loved his desserts and there were always homemade cookies, pies, and cakes in our home.  He studied engineering at the University of Minnesota. 

Teresa and George

 

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did your mom study?

DeDe: She studied Home Economics. My motherwas not only an accomplished baker and chef, she was also an accomplished seamstress and had her own cottage industry, Teresina. Neighborhood women sewed for my Mother and at that time she was paying them $5.00 an hour. She sewed beautiful women’s clothing, draperies, anything else you could imagine.

As a child we always went to Amluxson’s where I was able to pick out fabric for my first day of school. She made many of my clothes as well for my brother and sister. She reupholstered furniture as well and made men’s clothing too. Her industrial Singer was in our basement and I have beautiful memories of her singing while she sewed. A favorite was the Maurice Chevalier song Louise.

She also  wrote articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune called Sewing is Simple. Over the years my mother was someone who often was featured for her sewing or entertaining. 

Teresa was featured in a magazine ad for Folgers – – It was no surprise to the neighbors of Mrs. George D. Ward of Minneapolis, Minnesota when her Orange Delight Cupcakes won First Prize at the State Fair. She’s famous for’em! Have them for dinner along with another “Famous Flavor” — Mountain Grown Folgers Coffee. Copies of this ad now hang in DeDe’s home as well as the homes of her kids.

 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your dad encourage and support your mom as she started her Teresina sewing business? 

DeDe: Definitely. My father was very supportive of whatever my mother wanted to do. And honestly if my mother wanted to do something nothing would stop her. She was a force to be reckoned with but as generous as could be.

Teresa’s Teresina ribbon labels.

My mother was color blind. Thread as you know used to be on wooden spools. My dad would write the colors of the thread on the spools for her.

In The Vintage Kitchen: We hear so much about gender discrimination regarding women in the 20th century, but it seems like your mom really defied a lot of those stereotypes (working, going to college, having her own business, etc.). Can you tell us a little bit about her motivations and about how her ideas were received within her family and her community? 

DeDe: My mother had a strong desire and a dream to make things happen. She never spoke of any obstacles being in her way that I recall.  She did mention that as a child in school they were not allowed to speak Italian, only English. There were so many nationalities on the range, that it would have been difficult for a teacher to deal with so many languages in a classroom.

Her family appreciated her and at any given time we had a relative living with us. Multigenerational homes were very common. My mother was very generous and shared whatever she had with others. She was also very involved with the Italian Community in Minneapolis. When she had her Teresina company in our home, she employed neighborhood women who she paid quite generously for that time. 

Community-wise, looking at old newspaper clippings my mother was involved with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and one year put on an Italian Feast as a Fund Raiser. There were three children in my family and my mother was involved in all our school activities from PTA and being a Scout Leader or a Den Mother to sewing costumes and lending her living room furniture for high school drama productions. 

DeDe with her brother and sister and her parents, Teresa and George.

One of the greatest tributes to my mother and the impression she made on others became evident at her funeral. When she passed away and her obituary was in the newspaper, I received a call from a young woman who said she would like to come to my home and meet me.  When my mother lived in her Minneapolis apartment building, she befriended this young woman whose parents were divorced. With this young women’s birthday coming up she made her a German Chocolate Birthday Cake and gave her pearl earrings from her days at the U of M. She was truly touched by my mother’s friendship and she wanted to speak at her upcoming funeral. I took a leap of faith and said okay to this request. She did speak that day and it turns out that she was a speaker for Billy Graham and she was incredible. What a gift she gave us. I regret that I did not stay in contact with her and what a treasure that tribute would be too own today. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did she like about sewing?

I am sure it was the creativity of it all and the fact that she could make something beautiful and functional. 

Vintage 1940s/1950s era applique sailboat kitchen linens made by Teresa.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did she gather inspiration from in regards to her sewing projects?

DeDe: My mother had an ability to see how to improve things. It did not matter if it was a food item, a piece of furniture or a piece of fabric. She would have a vision and would make it happen. She loved to repurpose as evident in her Sewing is Simple articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I had mentioned to you in earlier emails that she made clothing, drapes, upholstered furniture and wrote for the newspaper but there is more. My mother also came up with an idea for an adjustable elastic waistband for women’s skirts that she made from fabrics such as drapery material and chintz. She created a patent for it but unfortunately, someone else managed to maneuver it away from her. I have one of the skirts left that I use for a Christmas Tree Skirt.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I was thrilled to welcome Teresa’s vintage linen collection into the shop. These next few questions and accompanying photographs highlight some specific pieces from her carefully curated linen collection amassed throughout her life.

 In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she sew all the linens that you sent? 

DeDe: I do not believe that she sewed all of them. I know the applique ones with boats on them and definitely the items that have lace. Honestly, they have been in a cupboard for years either with my mother or myself and my mother passed away many years ago.

In The Vintage Kitchen: In the package that you sent, there are 4 tablecloths which I think you referred to as bridge cloths. Did your mom sew those? 

DeDe: I always referred to them as bridge table cloths but others might call them a luncheon cloth. No, I believe those were purchased.

In The Vintage Kitchen: One of them, along with several other linens you sent, looks like they are made with antique fabric. Could they have belonged to your grandmother?

DeDe: Probably not. My mother also loved house sales and again had an eye for finding wonderful things to furnish a home. 

A set of colorful vintage tea towels joyfully collected by Teresa. This is just one example of her carefully curated linen collection amassed during the 20th century.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your grandmother, Carmina, a sewer too?

DeDe: Not that I am aware of.  I recall my grandmother having cataracts and her sight was compromised. My mother told me she had taught herself to sew as a young girl. She started off with making clothes for her dolls and as she grew older, she started to sew for herself and her sisters. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: How long did your mother maintain Teresina? 

DeDe: I believe she kept it going through the 1950s. She sewed her entire life. She would make outfits and Halloween costumes for the grandchildren. In the 1970s, she was still sewing some beautiful outfits for me

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did you grow up? 

DeDe: I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota on one of the city lakes. It was an ideal time to live there. 

A view of Minneapolis taken during the 1950s. Photo via pinterest.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your mom expect you to be as industrious as she was during her childhood?

DeDe: My mother accepted us for who we were. Keewatin is a small community and Minneapolis is not, so opportunities for me were vastly different than what was available for her.  I honestly did not feel pressured to be anyone other than myself. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she teach you how to cook and sew?

DeDe: Yes, my mother taught me to bake and cook. It was wonderful to be in her kitchen with all of the wonderful smells and tastes. I love to cook and entertain in our home much as my mother always did. Baking and cooking for others brings me great joy. Sewing is another story. I can sew out of desperation, but I only enjoy small projects and the older I get the less I attempt. I am not a seamstress and sewing stresses me out although I always kept trying. I expected it to be as easy for me as it was for her. Fortunately, I did inherit her love of cooking.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Thank you so much for including your mom’s sauce recipe. Was this a recipe that was handed down to her or did she make it up on her own? 

DeDe: It was probably a recipe that was given to her by Grandma Rico. It is a pretty traditional sauce. I have shared that recipe with so many friends along with my mother’s wisdom of you can always add more herbs so start off with less. Of course, when you add a meat to the sauce it definitely helps to flavor it. I adore my mother’s red sauce and often tried to make it just like hers. The last Christmas she was alive she stayed with us for a few days and we had a blast. We looked at her old slides of her travels to Italy with my dad, baked traditional foods, and just laughed a lot. I had started a red sauce and ran to the store for a few items that I needed. Later when I was stirring the sauce and tasting it, I was overjoyed at how wonderful it was. I exclaimed to my mother that I was thrilled that I could make it like hers. She just smiled and later admitted that while I was gone, she had doctored it

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your mom’s love of sewing and cooking passed down to any of your kids? 

DeDe: Actually, all the kids are very good cooks and will try out new recipes. My oldest niece does fun sewing projects and is very creative and like my mother is great at repurposing. She also enjoys baking and shares recipes with me. My daughter will try new recipes and make lighter fare than I do. I tend to cook more old school than my kids do. My boys love to make pizza with a homemade crust. Sometimes my oldest and his wife will make pasta when time allows. Everything comes down to when time allows. The grandkids are all interested in cooking and baking which I just adore. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where do you draw inspiration from for your own cooking? 

DeDe: A favorite for me is to eat something out and then try to duplicate it at home. I have come up with some interesting dinners that way. I see something that looks tempting in a magazine or the newspaper and I will try it although I will often massage the recipe. My husband loves to tell me that I use them like a road map and then veer off course. I enjoy making Italian dishes for friends and family but I adored Splendid Table when Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosted it. She had a segment of what to make with a few ingredients in your refrigerator. I am a great one to try that method.

If you are unfamiliar with the engaging Lynne or The Splendid Table radio program that she co-created and hosted for 20 years here’s a quick recap. DeDe and I are both BIG fans of Lynne and the show!

Lynne came to our home for a fund-raising dinner and I along with a friend were the ones that were cooking. Cooking for a professional cook and author was very intimidating. It turned out to be a fabulous evening. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Wow, DeDe! That’s amazing that you got to not only meet but also cook for Lynne! I’m a BIG fan of hers! What was that experience like?

DeDe: The dinner was very simple with a simple antipasto tray, roasted chicken, and delicious roasted root vegetables along with a tossed salad. I do not recall if I made homemade bread for this or purchased store-bought. My dessert was a fried Italian pastry that we called curly cues. They are fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey. My mother always made these at Christmas and often I will too. I probably served the lemon sherbet with crème de menthe. There were six guests and Lynne that night. One was a surgeon who was kind enough to slice the chicken and arrange it on the platter and another was a woman who owns a cooking school and I believe leads trips to Italy or did back then. I consider myself a decent cook but felt a little out of my league that evening. Unfortunately, we did not take pictures of that fabulous evening but my Lynne Rossetto Kasper cookbook is signed by Lynne. This was years ago.

In 2017, Lynne retired, but thankfully, that was not the end of the program. The Splendid Table continues each week with fresh and dynamic culinary content thanks a new, equally charming host, Francis Lam. If you haven’t listened to the show before I highly recommend it. Visit the link here to learn more.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Do you have any particular favorite chefs or cookbooks that you love?

DeDe: I have many of my mother’s old cookbooks and my comfort food choice of my childhood go-to is the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from the 1950s. Chicken A La King, Meatloaf, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Jelly Roll Cake, and all the basics are there. 

The Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book – First Edition, 1950

With my mom’s recipes, many are from worn cookbooks, notes scribbled inside a cookbook, note cards or from what I recall her making. Many of my recipes are handed down from mom, relatives and friends and have been doctored to suit my tastes. Italian favorites are The Talisman Italian Cookbook by Ada Boni, The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto and Milo Miloradovich and Leone’s Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone. I love Gourmet magazine and cooking shows on PBS but I really do not have a favorite chef.

DeDe’s favorite vintage Italian recipe resources!

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your trip to Italy? Did you feel a natural connection to the country?

DeDe: Our oldest son was studying in Florence, Italy for a semester at the same time as his friend so we traveled to see him with his parents in March.  My parents had been to Italy twice to see the sights and my mother’s family. My mother was so excited that our son was traveling there and that we were going to as well. It was our first trip to Europe and it was magical. It was so fun to see people that looked like my mother’s family and to hear all that Italian. So much history and beautiful architecture, museums and people. I soon learned why I appreciate gold, glitz, and all the pizzazz. 

Two trips to Trevi Fountain: Teresa and George (above) in Italy many decades ago and Dede and her husband Tom (below) on a more recent excursion.

Travel is all about the experiences. One such experience for me was to see two over the road drivers enjoying their lunch at a rest stop. They had a beautifully set table complete with linens and glassware. Their food looked scrumptious and I asked if I might take a picture of them. They agreed only if I would be in the picture and share their vino. I treasure that moment and the picture. The one Italian reminded me of my grandfather. 

DeDe with her “over the road drivers” in Italy!

Another story that related to my mother is the time we had to wait for a very long time for a table for our dinner. The uncle who was seating us was very friendly and attentive to our dinner choices. When we finished, he said that he had a treat for us because we had been so patient. When he brought us our dessert it was lemon sherbet drizzled with creme de menthe. Oh, how I laughed as that was a favorite of my mother’s to serve after a heavy dinner along with the traditional Carnevale Italian bow tie cookies. 

My mother passed away that May. She was so excited that we were going on this trip and I believe she stayed alive until we could share our stories with her. 

Filled with light and love and so fitting for this post, this street art was spotted on a Florentine wall. Photo: Nick Fewings

In The Vintage Kitchen: And what was it like visiting some of the places where your grandparents lived?

DeDe: My Grandparents lived in a town outside of Naples and we did not get to Naples but we did see Milan, Rome, Venice, and Florence. I hope to one day get to Naples. 

 

The sights that inspire DeDe in and around Minneapolis. Clockwise from top left: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes; The Basilica of St. Mary (switchroyale); The Gutherie Theater (Mark Vandeve); The Minneapolis Institute of Art (McGhiever); The Stone Bridge Arch (Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board).

In The Vintage Kitchen: Name five places that inspire you in your city…

DeDe: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and our incredible parks system. The Guthrie Theater that offers classical and contemporary productions. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is an art museum that is home to more than 90,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. The Basilica of St. Mary as It was the first basilica established in the United States. The Stone Arch Bridge is a former railroad bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River.

In The Vintage Kitchen: If there is one thing that you wish could never be forgotten about your heritage, what would it be?

DeDe: The belief in the importance of family and nurturing with food and compassion. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: If you could invite six people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite and why?

Clockwise from top left: DeDe’s Parents Teresa & George; Pope Francis; Geraldine Ferraro, Margaret Meade, Eleanor Roosevelt

DeDe: My parents. Since I have been working on Ancestry there are so many unanswered questions that I have. Geraldine A. Ferraro, so I could ask her this question…. Would you have changed how you ran your campaign for Vice President with Walter Mondale? Margaret Meade because I have been fascinated with her since I took my first anthropology class in college. Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the woman behind the man and she is the longest-serving First Lady. Pope Francis, so that I could ask him about what changes he wants to see within the Catholic Church.

In The Vintage Kitchen: And because it’s Mother’s Day, we’ll end with a question about Teresa. What is the greatest lesson your mother taught you?

DeDe: Definitely the love of entertaining, the comfort of food and the sharing of her talents. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I love you!!

In addition to sharing these lovely stories about Teresa, DeDe also graciously shared her mom’s “red sauce,” the recipe, she referred to her in her interview that was most likely passed down by Teresa’s mother, Carmina. I made two batches of this sauce (one using pork chops, the other using chicken legs). Both were incredible.

Teresa’s Basic Spaghetti Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 small can tomato paste

3-28oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes ( or 5.25lbs of fresh tomatoes, skins on, roughly chopped)

16 oz can tomato sauce

2 cups water

Salt & Freshly ground pepper

 

1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 ta6 Fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (or dried herbs*)
  • 1 3 fresh oregano sprigs, torn into pieces (or dried herbs*)

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 veal chops or pork chops

*If using dried herbs, start off with 1 teaspoon each and amend from there to suit your taste.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Pat the pork/veal dry and put in the pot. Cook turning occasionally for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Transfer the chops to a plate.

Drain off most of the fat from the pot.  Add the garlic and onion, cook until golden brown. Add the green pepper and cook for two minutes until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Chop up the tomatoes and add to the pot, including the liquid. Add tomato sauce, water, sugar, parsley, basil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chops and bring sauce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water. 

Remove the meat from the sauce and set aside. The chops are great reheated with a bit of the sauce. If you used fresh tomatoes, puree the sauce at this stage with a hand blender for a smooth consistency. Makes about 8 cups. 

I keep salt pork and chicken fat in the freezer to use for flavoring if I do not have pork chops on hand. My Mother would also add chicken legs or wings to the sauce if she had that on hand.

Teresa’s Spaghetti Sauce

I couldnt think of a better way to wrap up a Mother’s Day post than with this delicious heritage recipe passed down through the family kitchen of three generations of Italian women. A foundation for all sorts of culinary inspiration from spaghetti to pizza, eggplant parmigiana to stuffed peppers, meatballs to casseroles, this is the recipe you’ll want to keep on hand year after year for merry memory-making in your own kitchen. Just like Teresa would have encouraged!

When we were exchanging emails back and forth, DeDe shared one of her favorite quotes by memoirist Molly Wizenberg… “When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.” Well said, Molly!

Meeting DeDe and learning about her family and their lovely linen collection was such a pleasure. Had I encountered one of Teresa’s exquisite embroidered cloths in an antique shop, I would have admired its beauty but I would have never known about the full and magnanimous life that had been woven into it. I would have never known that behind those linens was a star baker with a go-getter attitude, a color-blind seamstress who clothed her community, a second-generation Italian woman from a family newly immigrated to the US. I would have never known about the husband who loyally and affectionately encouraged his wife, nor about the independent dreamer who raised money for her own education, nor about the delicious tomato sauce passed down by generations of her family. DeDe gave a voice and a spirit and a context to her mom’s linens, and in doing so, made them all the more special, all the more valuable for the love and for the life they represent. So yes, a vintage napkin is a napkin, but it is also so much more.

Cheers and a big thank you to DeDe for sharing this wonderful glimpse of your vivacious mom and all her talents with us. Cheers to vintage linens who light the halls of history one story at a time. And cheers to all the mom’s out there who inspire us each and every day. Happy Mother’s Day!

Find more of Teresa’s linens in the shop here with new additions being added each week..

Market Bags, Mother’s Day & Some Newsy Bits

Happy May! Hope everyone’s new month is off to a lovely start. Around here, all the trees are proudly sporting their leafy greens and the city flowers are unfurling so many colorful shades each day brings a new sight of delight in the neighborhood. These long waited pops of color remind me of Janice in her book, A Paris Year, when she walked around the City of Light scouting out items of a specific color to photograph. Starting out at the onset of each journey, Janice would pick a particular color, say red or yellow or turquoise, and then look for things to photograph that were made up primarily of that hue during her walk. This past weekend, I did the same thing when I walked to the farmers market. Before I started out I decided on the color peach. This is what I saw along the way…

It’s too early for peaches at the market so there were no color-themed fruits to photograph in that department quite yet, but while we wait for summer crops and our next blog post coming out this week (a special Mother’s Day themed story and interview!) I wanted to share, in the meantime, some new changes that are occuring in the Vintage Kitchen, so that you can be kept abreast of all the latest news.

New Products

Most excitedly, the Vintage Kitchen is growing! Over the next few months, we’ll be expanding our vintage product range in the shop to include some newly made yet very classic kitchen essentials all based on historic designs or nostalgic stories that have been personally tried and tested for years. This is in an effort to introduce fun and unique finds to your space that will not only augment your love of the vintage aesthetic, but will also be of very helpful assistence in the kitchen. The first of these new products arrived in the shop this past week…

Introducing the French market bag! Imported from Europe, this is the best way I have found to tote vegetables home from the farmers market.

The bags, made of handwoven palm leaves, are light-weight yet very durable. The long leather straps rest comfortably on your shoulder and the funnel shaped design (wider at the top than it is at the base) allows for longer and more fragile items to be stowed away securely without being crushed or tossed about. No more broken baguettes or decapitated flowers with this beauty!

There are two different styles of the market bag available in the shop. One has long leather shoulder straps (pictured above) and the other has hand-held rolled leather handles (pictured below). Both are convenient for grabbing and going and they are both the same size as far as bag capacity. The preference, of course, is totally up to you, but I recommend the shoulder strap version if you generally tend to walk to your market or live in a more urban environment where you gather your groceries primarily on foot. It’s such a comfortable way to tote your items around town. The hand-held bag…

… I would recommend for shoppers who drive to their market since the bag sits up right on its own and stows away really well in the car. Tucked into the back seat or the trunk it does not topple over easily, and will keep all your market finds secure while you drive home.

In addition to being helpful, these market bags also bring a bit of Parisian style and joie de vivre to your shopping experience. Each bag holds quite a bit of items, so if you get carried away at the market, your bag will be able to handle all your whims. For example all this fits in one bag with plenty of room to spare…

I have used my market bag (the very same one with the long straps) for over 4 years now. It has become so indispensable, it adventures with me on a daily basis. At this point, it feels not only like a bag but also like a true and cherished companion! I can’t say enough wonderful things about it. I hope you will love the bags just as much too. There are limited supplies of each style and they are selling quickly, so if they strike your fancy don’t hesitate. You can find them in the shop here and here.

Email Newsletters

If you would like to be made aware of new items listed in the shop each week, along with special promotions and added seasonal content, then please sign up for our new email newsletter which will be going out once a week (starting next Friday). Unlike many of these blog posts, this newsletter is designed to be a quick read, featuring mainly photographs and a few links to some fun content. In response to many shoppers asking how they can be kept aware of new items coming to the Vintage Kitchen, and after testing out many avenues over the past few weeks, I’m excited to finally have a good solution that will help collectors find what they love quickly. Sign up for the email newsletter by clicking the subscribe now button on the left-hand side of the shop’s home page here. It looks like this…

Sold Items in the Shop

Another improvement for the shop this past week came in the form of relocating sold items to a new category all their own. This transfer, which removed all listings that were sold out from the general inventory of available items, came at the request of a few shoppers who were frustrated in not being able to easily navigate around the site to see what was actually available to purchase. But with many historians and researchers accessing the shop for informational purposes (due to all the history we include with each item’s listing) I didn’t want these sold items to be completely removed from the shop all together. In an effort to make it a pleasant experience for everyone spending time in the shop, I hope this new solution will help. From here on out, see all the sold items in this category (found in the header section) here…

Mother’s Day

I hope you’ll come back to the blog this week to read our upcoming Mother’s day inspired post about a talented seamstress in Minnesota who led a really an interesting and dynamic life. Through an interview with her daughter, who generously shared family photographs, their family linen collection, and many stories about her mom (including a recipe!) we’ll learn how one spirited woman lived a passion fueled life and defied many stereotypes that tend to be attached to women of the mid-20th century.

Until then, of you are looking for any last-minute Mother’s Day gifts, there’s still time left to find something just as unique and treasured as Mom is. From the shop, I recommend these items…

From top left: Vintage 1950s Maurice Urtillo Art Print, Antique 19th Century Steamship Chairs, Embroidered 1950s Pillowcases, Vintage Peacock Wall Pocket Planter, French Market Basket

What makes these particular items so wonderful for mom? All of the mothers in our lives deserve to spoiled on their special day. These carefully selected items will add a little dose of symbolic beauty to her every day, while also presenting her with a unique bit of history. French artist Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) learned to appreciate the beauty of flowers from his mother, Suzanne Valadon who was also a painter. The his & hers set of antique steamship chairs signifed luxury and comfort aboard cruise liners of the late 1800s. Breakfast in bed never looked prettier in the 1950s than with a pair of embroidered pillowcases, which were often gifted as wedding presents. Peacocks throughout history have been considered the most beautiful bird in the avian kingdom and signifies power, protection and elegance. And finally, the market bag will add chic Parisian style and a little extra joie de vivre to each and every one of her days.

Find each one in the shop here print, chairs, embroidery, peacock, market bag. Hope they offer a little extra inspiration should you need it.

Until the next post… cheers to celebrating May, new growth and vintage-inspired joy! Hope you have a great rest of the weekend!

Passed Down Recipes: Audrey Hepburn & Her Favorite Pasta

The difference between a lady and flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. That’s a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s book Pygmalion which was published in 1912. Fifty three years later that book would become the blockbuster movie, My Fair Lady, starring one of America’s most favorite actresses – Audrey Hepburn. This role as Eliza Doolittle, along with her portrayal of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s are definitely two of Audrey’s most indelible performances, ones that made her a household name around the world.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, 1964

For a woman who lived in the public eye, for most of her life, I think there was a real irony in George’s “not how she behaves, but how she’s treated” statement that was fitting for his character but also fitting for the actress who played her. As a woman adored around the world, often referred to as beautiful, fragile, and delicate, there was much more to Audrey Hepburn than people gave her credit for. Thankfully, a new documentary just recently released on Netflix offers intimate insight into Audrey’s life that dispels myths not often discussed in the stratosphere surrounding her celebrity persona.  

In the fashion world Audrey was idealized for her waif-like figure, slim and youthful. She championed the pixie haircut and wearing pants and preferred a simplicity in dress that bordered art house cool. But her thinness was a result of childhood malnutrition, not a diet-riddled aesthetic that she curated throughout her life. Her personal style was a result of simplicity, comfort, and a humble nature not an innate desire to be the fashion maven she became. Her features was determined desireable by the beauty industry yet she never felt very beautiful herself – often remarking that she had insecurities over the size of her nose, her flat chest, her boyish hips, her dark hair all which felt especially apparent to her in the time of Hollywood when the ideal feminine physiques equaled hour-glass curves and blond bombshell hair. 

The documentary depicts,  through interviews with her family and friends, the other sides of Audrey that reveal tenderness balanced with tenacity, love entwined with loyalty, and a steadfast determination to make a difference using the skills she worked hard for and the favorability she gained as a result of her acting career. It shows that she deserves to be remembered for much more than her famous character’s association with a luxury jewelry brand, or for creating the iconic little black dress terminology or for being the innocent, fresh-faced ideal of romantic fantasies.

As a serious humanitarian, a creative artist and a woman trying to humbly navigate the world, Audrey was smart, sincere and authentic above all else. Like a postscript to the stunning 2003 memoir, Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit that her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer wrote almost 20 years ago, the documentary offers insight into Audrey’s personality and how she unsuspectingly became the icon that she did.  Sean’s book, all those years before, was my first glimpse into Audrey’s personal life. His story began just days after Audrey passed away at the age of 63, and is told from his own sesnsitive perspective of life with a woman who was both loved by him and by the world at the same time. 

To peek inside and read some snippets from the book, click here.

Like the documentary, Sean shares close details about his mom’s life… her thoughts, philosophies, perspectives… and tries to make sense, as an adult, of the two very different lives she lived between her public persona and her private one. If you get a chance to read the book or watch the documentary you’ll learn all the details of Audrey’s life… her hunger years, the fractured relationship with her father,  her desire to be a ballet dancer, the start of her acting career, her marriages, her emotional ups and downs, her personal triumphs and her public trials. My favorite part of Audrey’s story though does not include her movies, or her designer clothes or her glamorous Hollywood connections. My favorite part of Audrey’s life was her favorite part too –  her 18th century Swiss house…

Deemed by Audrey as the happiest place on Earth, she retreated to the small village of Tolochenaz to raise her two children and to rest in the quiet privacy that Switzerland offered. A sanctuary of a centuries old shuttered stone house with a big garden and lots of room for family and friends, the house was named La Paisible (meaning The Peaceful in French). True to its name, it is where Audrey felt most comfortable. Dogs (Jack Russels), flowers, and bright light tumbled out of every room. A highly cultivated and cared for garden dotted the landscape. Rooms stood ready to entertain and to inspire. And even though some photo journalists were invited in occasionally for publicity purposes, for the most part it was a private place where Audrey could revel in the thing that she cared for and craved most… love and affection.  

A photoshoot with her son Luca for Vogue UK in 1971, let fans peek inside Audrey’s bright and airy world at La Paisible. I love the painting of her house above the desk, which was painted by her second husband Andrea Dotti.

It was at La Paisible in Switzerland, that she indulged her love of food and flowers and the joyful simplicity that came with growing both. Sean was quick to point out in his memoir that Audrey was an eater despite what everybody thought about her figure and the ways in which she went about maintaining it. She had cravings too just like everyone else but her philosophy on food always returned to balance and appreciating where it came from and how it was made. A craving for something sweet yielded a square of chocolate not a whole box. Meals were made with things she could cut and clip from the garden just outside her door. Grocery shopping was never a chore, always a joy. Her table was surrounded with laughter and fun and comfortingly familiar faces. 

Her son Luca in an interview in 2013, shared that his mom was a very practical person seeking above all a normal, grateful and gracious life. Acting was her job, but living was up to her to define. In making that distinction, she knew in her core the things she valued most in her life – family, nature, love, education, kindness, and respect for one’s own insticts and motivations. Growing a garden within a fingertip’s reach was Audrey’s way of creating beauty but also securing a viable food supply for her family, so that no one at La Paisible would ever have to know the hunger she felt as a child.

Picking cherries from the garden at La Paisible. Vogue UK, 1971

One of Audrey’s most favorite foods, which she ate on a weekly basis, was a simple garden-centric dish that can be thrown together in minutes with barely any technical instruction. In today’s post, we are making Audrey’s favorite pasta recipe, Spaghetti al Pomadoro…

It’s not a recipe that she invented herself, but it is one that she made every week for decades while living at La Paisible. Like Audrey’s loyalty to it, I’ve been toting this version of classic tomato sauce around in my own makeshift recipe book for the past 18 years.

Uncomplicated cooking at its best, this recipe calls for lots of basil, Audrey’s most favorite herb, and just a few other garden vegetable staples. Interestingly, the recipe also utilizes canned tomatoes, (or tinned as they are referred to in Europe!), which is an ideal choice when tomatoes are not in season. I like to make this recipe most in spring (with canned tomatoes) in anticipation of the vibrant season about to come and then again in high summer when homegrown tomatoes, just plucked from the vine come into the kitchen, fat and heavy and still warm from the sun. I like to imagine that this is how Audrey would go about preparing this sauce too – jockeying back and forth between using cans and her own homegrowns depending on the season. In either circumstance, the best way to experience the true beauty of this simple recipe is by acquiring ingredients that have been picked at peek flavor. If you can find them fresh at your local farmers market, or even better, pull them all from your own garden, then you’ll have a true Audrey Hepburn dining experience, just like the lady herself would have enjoyed. 

Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

2 large cans of diced tomatoes

1 large bunch of fresh basil, separated in two equal bundles

3 – 5 tablespoons olive oil (also known a a long drizzle!)

1 box of spaghetti

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel and dice onion, carrots, garlic and celery. Put in a large pot. Add two large tins of Italian roma tomatoes and the basil. Add a long drizzle of olive oil and simmer on low for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and let sauce rest for 15 minutes. Serve over 1 box of pasta cooked al dente, with fresh parmesean and the other half of the basil cut in pieces with scissors.

I love this recipe for the way it was written. In casual, loosey goosey direction, like all good Italian food, it relies on cooking with your own instincts and offering just light suggesstions as outline for the finished end result. Sometimes I let the onion, carrot and celery mixture carmelize for few minutes in the olive oil before adding the tomatoes. Sometimes I bring the whole sauce to a boil before turning it down to simmer. Sometimes I add more garlic or a sprinkle of sugar or a dash of white wine or some oregano if the herbs are overflowing in the garden. Or sometimes I make it just as Audrey directed. Regardless, whenever I pull out this stained and spattered recipe from my makeshift book, I like to think of Audrey Hepburn, the glamorous interantional icon now turned regular, every day home cook, standing at the stove in her beloved kitchen in Switzerland, making this very same sauce in the very same way that we are making it now.

During her life, Audrey was never sensationalized as a good cook. Oftentimes, people assumed that she never ate or that she had little interest in food given her thin figure. As George Bernard Shaw wrote of his character… she was treated differently then she behaved. But her boys have set the record straight in their books and in their interviews and in the documentary just released. Audrey loved to cook and loved to eat. Most notebaly for and with her friends and family. And now, in the beautiful way of passed down recipes, she can cook for her fans too.

Cheers to Audrey for staying true to her spirit and for privately being so much more than the public ever knew. Cheers to her boys, Sean and Luca, who bravely confronted all the misconceptions that surrounded her. And to this humble pasta recipe for always reminding us that life doesn’t have to be extravagant in order to be delicious.