In the Vintage Kitchen: Eggplant Pizza

Eggplant Pizza

Pizza has been a favorite in the U.S. since the early 1900’s with the first of its kind debuting in New York City in 1905. Popular right from the start, pizza wars started popping up all over the city, then the region then the country as Italian immigrants spread across America with their claims of making the best pizza in town.

G. Lombardi's the trendsetter on the american (pizza) frontier.
G. Lombardi’s on Spring Street in New York City was the trendsetter on the American (pizza) frontier.

And while bravado and traditional recipes may have fueled the pizza craze initially, creativity, with its variations on a theme, has kept it going ever since.

Strolling through 19th century pizza signs
A walk through 20th century pizza signs…

By the 1960’s American home chefs were experimenting with the complimentary trifecta of tomato sauce, bread and cheese in new and spectacular ways.  By thinking beyond the boundaries of size, shape and similarity, pizza was elevated to a nouveau cuisine that could incorporate a host of  ingredients from the humble to the exotic appealing to palates both simple and sophisticated.

One such experimenter determined to add a new twist to the traditional pizza pie was food editor, critic and chef Craig Claiborne.

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In his 1963 Herb and Spice Cookbook, he capitalized on the subtle yet dynamic flavor pairings of basil, oregano and garlic and came up with a dough-less version of eggplant pizza.

An Herb And Spice Cookbook by Craig Claiborne

Craig was no slouch in the cooking department. He knew his way around a home kitchen just as much as he did a commercial kitchen and he knew what and how people liked to eat. As the The New York Times food and restaurant critic for 29 years from 1957-1986, he pretty much pioneered food journalism in the Unites States at a time in the mid-1950’s when such editorial posts were primarily held by women for the female homemaker audience. But Craig was different, he was interested in casting wider nets, reaching more diverse audiences and bridging a relationship between restaurants, patrons and cultures.

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The author of over twenty cookbooks throughout his career, Craig’s Herb and Spice Cook Book is marvelous in both content and presentation. Organized alphabetically by spice or herb name it is a great reference cookbook when you have ten pounds of basil ready to harvest in your garden or you are craving a specific spice like curry or cinnamon… or marjoram!

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The eggplant pizza recipe fell under the oregano section which included recipes for Eggplant Antipasto, Chicken Napolitana, Herb-Broiled Swordfish and Creole Cabbage among four others. Excited by the possibility of giving her indoor oregano plant a hair-cut, Ms. Jeannie was happy to try this new version of pizza which turned out to be really delicious.

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It is a fun recipe for a few different reasons: 1} you make a quick version of homemade tomato sauce that takes little time and tastes great; 2} the “pizzas” can range in a variety of customizable sizes depending on the girth of your eggplant… if you have a skinnier eggplant you could serve those as appetizers or hors d’ouevres  for a party (maybe this weekend’s Super Bowl?!) or if you have a more rubenesque eggplant that would be a perfect size for dinner entrees; and 3} the breadcrumbs add a fabulous bit of crunch to the whole package just like a traditional pizza dough would.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe…Ms. Jeannie hopes you love this magical version of pizza just as much as the tradtional.

Eggplant Pizza (serves 6)

2 tablespoons cooking oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

4 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon oregano

3/4 teaspoon basil leaves

3/4 teaspoon sugar

2 3/4 teaspoons salt* (Ms. Jeannie thinks this might be a typo as it seems like a lot of salt for this size recipe so please use caution and your own sensibilities with this ingredient. And remember you an always add more salt but never take it away.  Ms.Jeannie used about 1 teaspoon total but you might adjust that according to your taste).

1 medium eggplant

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup bread crumbs (Ms. Jeannie used plain panko-style bread crumbs)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesean cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

flour for dredging

Oil for frying (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

Toppings of your choice: whatever  you normally like on a pizza ie: mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, olives, etc.

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a one quart saucepan. Add the garlic, onion and green pepper. Cook, stirring, three minutes or until the onions and green pepper are limp.

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2. Add the tomato paste and water. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until very thick, about ten minutes Add the oregano, basil, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt* before the end of cooking time. *Salt to taste here. If you think the sauce needs more add a little bit, just keep in mind you’ll be adding salty parmesean cheese and possibly salty toppings later).

3. Remove sauce from heat and set aside while preparing the eggplant.

4. Wash, peel and cut eggplant into cross-wise slices one half inch thick.

5. Beat the egg with the milk and set aside. Mix bread crumbs with the remaining cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

6. Dip the eggplant slices in the flour, then in the beaten egg, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.

7. Saute the eggplant in the hot oil until golden, turning to brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all eggplants are cooked.

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8. Place the cooked eggplant slices on a cookie sheet and spread them with the cooked tomato sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and your desired toppings . Place under a broiler until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

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Ms. Jeannie kept her pizzas simple and just topped them with mozzarella, capers, basil and garlic but other ideas include prosciutto, pineapple, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, figs, etc. So many possibilities!

Happy experimenting dear readers! With love from Ms. Jeannie and Craig Claiborne

You can find Craig Claiborne’s Herb and Spice Cook Book here and a host of other vintage recipes Ms. Jeannie has blogged about previously here.

Want to know what it is like to run a real-life modern day pizza kitchen? Check out the recently published book Delancey by Molly Wizenberg – it is completely entertaining. And if you are not craving pizza by the end of all this, you are extraordinary:)

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In the Vintage Kitchen: How To Make Healthy Refried Beans From Scratch

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Happy New Year dear readers! Ms. Jeannie is sending you bucketfuls (it’s been raining a lot here) of good wishes, good fortune and good health for this new year.

This week we are back in the vintage kitchen with a healthy recipe that features a food staple held high in the luck department for January. Beans! They also made the news this past week as something we Americans should be eating more of (poor unfortunate sugar just got the worst rap) so we are conquering two bright and shiny wish you well tidings with one post here – good health and good luck.

If you are anything like Ms. Jeannie you might never have thought much about refried beans…how they are made, what exactly they are made with and how you might possibly make your own better version at home. In the store they come canned in two varieties, vegetarian and traditional and most contain hydrogenated oils and preservatives which are not the healthiest of options. But refried beans are great on tacos, burritos and nachos and are a great source of protein so Ms. Jeannie was excited to come across a from-scratch recipe in this vintage cookbook recently listed in her shop

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Best Recipes from the Cook Book Guild published in 1972

Published in 1972, The Best Recipes from the Cook Book Guild is actually a compilation book of hundreds of recipes from other note-worthy cookbooks published between the 1940’s and the 1960’s. Each recipe comes with source notes and sometimes a story about where the recipe came from and who made it originally, which of course opens the door to a myriad of culinary adventures to pursue.

 

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The refried bean recipe came from the 1967 edition of The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (1915-2003), who was an award-winning  British food writer and the wife of Mexican diplomat Cesar Ortiz Tenoco.

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Through extensive travels in South America (and perhaps a few helpful lessons from Cesar’s family!) Elisabeth became an expert at preparing and instructing others on the art of Mexican cooking. The author of numerous international cookbooks, she is credited primarily with introducing Latin American cuisine to home cooks in both the U.S. and her native England during the 1960’s singing it’s flavor-packed praises in the forms of books and articles for Gourmet magazine and various food-related periodicals.  So what we have here dear readers is a fresh approach to an ethnic recipe from  a woman who learned her way through the culture. In Ms. Jeannie’s opinion, this is the best kind of cooking – learning through curiosity, love and experience .

Part One: Cooking the Beans
Part One: Cooking the Beans

Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos) serves 6

2 cups dried pinto, black or red kidney beans (Ms. Jeannie used black beans for her recipe)

cold water

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 serrano chiles, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried chilis, crumbled (Ms. Jeannie used one teaspoon red pepper flakes since fresh chiles aren’t in season yet here in the South)

11 tablespoons lard or oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

salt

freshly ground pepper

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped ( if tomatoes aren’t in season yet you can substitute 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained of juice)

  1. Wash the beans and place in a saucepan, without soaking, with enough cold water to cover, 1 of the chopped onions, 1 of the garlic cloves, the bay leaf and the chiles.
  2. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat; and simmer gently , adding more boiling water as it evaporates from the pan. {Note: Using black beans, this process took about one hour and 30 minutes with about a cup of additional boiling water added halfway through.}
  3. When the beans begin to wrinkle (or become sift as in the case of the black beans) add one tablespoon of lard or oil and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes over the same heat. Do not add anymore water.
  4. Heat the remaining lard or oil in a skillet, and saute the remaining onion and garlic until limp. Add the tomato and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and working in small batches add beans to the onion/garlic mixture mashing them together to form a paste. Repeat this step until all beans have mashed with the onion and garlic.
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons of lard or oil in a large skillet, add the beans in small batches and mash over low heat, forming a creamy heavy paste. Add two additional tablespoons of lard or oil intermittently throughout this process.
  7. Repeat step six again with the last 4 tablespoons of oil, once the beans have all been initially pureed. (This is the re-fried part in the name refried beans!) It should look like this when finished…
Homemade Refried Beans
Part Two: Mashing and Frying the Beans

This recipe is a great one because, once you understand the principles of refried beans  you can really change things up and add your own flair if you like. Spice it up, experiment with different herbs or chopped vegetables like leeks or scallions or different types of cheese.  If you like your refried beans a little bit more loose, you can add a little water to the pan after step 7 and mix it into the beans until you get the desired consistency. Likewise you can use the beans as part of lots of different dinner options from hors d’oeuvres to appetizers to main courses.

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Ms. Jeannie made chicken tostados with her refried beans.  Quick and easy, she prepared them with the same whimsical, spur-of-the-moment method she uses for making tacos.  This one featured layers of tostado with chicken breast, green olives, lettuce, onion, avocado, cheddar cheese, tomatoes and the warm refried beans.

There are so many beans left over, Ms. Jeannie’s already hatching new recipes in her head about how else she can use them in her cooking this week ahead.  It looks like luck will continue spilling forth across many days this week in the kitchen department. If you want to save your luck for another day store it in an air-tight container and freeze it for later use:)

To embark on more culinary adventures using The Best Recipes from The Cookbook Guild as your spring board, please visit here. And as always, you can access dozens of other delicious vintage recipes on Ms. Jeannie’s blog using this link.

Happy cooking dear readers!

 

Summer Reading Sale! 15% off all Vintage Book Purchases

Nature's Year: The Season's of Cape Cod by John Hay
Nature’s Year: The Season’s of Cape Cod by John Hay (1961) First Edition

To ring in the summer season, Ms. Jeannie is having a vintage book sale in her shop. Within her vintage library you’ll find all sorts of entertaining reads (over 40 in number!) from rare books to vintage classics, cookbooks to romance novels, fascinating biographies to first class fiction.

Here’s a sampling of what’s available…

Vintage Cookbooks

Spanning the 1930’s to the 1970’s… these make great gifts for summer birthdays, thank you gifts, hostess gifts or just a treat for yourself. If you are a food blogger, you’ll find a plethora of writing and cooking material in any one of these vintage gems.

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Esquire Cookbook for Men (1955) with fabulously colorful retro illustrations by the whimsical illustrator Charmatz

How To Cook and Eat in Chinese (1945) Very rare classic Asian cookbook with an intro by Pearl S. Buck

Glamour Magazine’s New After Five Cookbook (1963) An entire year of menus and recipes designed for the mid-century career woman

The Israeli Cookbook (1964) Inspired by the multi-cultural nation of Israel and the millions of passengers of El-Al Airlines who have flown to and from the Holy Lands with generations of their families recipes. Contains Jewish heritage foods, Mediterranean staples,  Kosher approved foods and Middle Eastern specialties.

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The Art of Regional Italian Cooking (1963): Explore all the regional favorites of the entire country in one cookbook!

Food Preservation (1930) – Just in time for summer harvesters! Learn how, why, when and what to can, jar or preserve. Ideal for first time experimenters as well as seasoned professionals this book offers a bevy of recipes and techniques!

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume II (1970 edition) – Julia Child… your favorite friend in the French kitchen!

Gifts For Guys

Looking for a special Father’s Day gift for the dad in your life? You can never ever go wrong with a book! Each purchase comes gift wrapped and tied up in a handsome bow at no extra charge.

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The Racing Driver by Denis Jenkinson (1969) – For the speedster in your life – this is the ultimate manual of competition racing. Does your guy love Nascar? Indy races? European motor sports? Then this is the gift for him!

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1958) – A mid-century paperback bound in bright green for the bright boy inside:) Vintage classics also make fun gifts for grads too!

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (1944) – A war-time edition of an American classic by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. The gorgeous striped dust jacket makes this little marvel as handsome in presentation as it is in content. Arrowsmith tells the story of the career of Martin Arrowsmith, doctor and scientist from middle America who eventually discovers a virus attributed to the bubonic plague. When an ironic and disastrous event occurs, Martin must rethink his life, his career path and his dreams.

For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1968 edition) – Ernest needs no introduction but the story might i you are unfamiliar…For Whom the Bell Tolls is the story of American Robert Jordan who fought, loved and died in the mountains of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. All man this one – and your guy will look extra cute reading it as well:)

The Rubyiat of A Freshman by H.C.Witwer (1921) – A very rare book of humorous fiction surrounding letters between a son away at college and his dad back home. Full of great Jazz Age references and funny situations, this book would be lovely for dads with college age kids or for recent graduates.

Gifts For Gals

Beach reads, escapist fiction, intriguing biographies and classic romances round out this collection for the ladies. Ms. Jeannie looks for books that not only make for great personal entertainment but also for interesting and thought-provoking conversation afterward. Impress your friends with all you’ve learned!

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Jason by Justus Miles Forman (1909) Escape to early 1900’s Paris with this romance adventure/detective novel. Jason is the story of a disappearance of a rich young man in Paris and the search for him by two young suitors vying for his sister’s hand. It is a love story and a detective novel all in one written by one of the brightest young authors of the early 20th century.  Read the tragic real-life story of the author here:

My Life With Jacqueline Kennedy by Mary Barelli Gallagher (1969) – Dive into the inner world of the couple from Camelot as experienced by Jacqueline Kennedy’s personal secretary. This book is hand-signed by the author which makes it unique and personable. A lovely gift for any fan of the Kennedy’s or for lovers of mid-century history.

The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford (1969) – A beautifully presented first edition volume of short stories by American author Jean Stafford. This book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1970.

Good Luck by Elizabeth Werner (1895) – Another beauty on the bookshelf, this romance novel contains gorgeous marbled markings and a fun title. Know someone that could use a little good luck in their lives? Then this is the book for them!

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton ( 1922) – A vintage first edition about to celebrate its 100th birthday in just a few short years, The Glimpses of the Moon tells the story of Nick Lansing and his gal pal Susy Branch as they embark on a faux marriage determined to live the high life at the expense of their friends hospitality. Set during the Jazz Age of the early 1920s, Nick and Susy traipse around the world looking for love, life and excitement, only to discover that all their adventuring holds a few surprises for them as well. An interesting fun fact: Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence.

Crag and Pine: Desultory Tales of Colorado by Elizabeth Holloway (1893) – A very very rare treasure – this has to be one of the most beautifully written collections of short stories ever! Moody, poetic, romantic, dreamy…for excerpts, see the full listing here.

This is just a sampling of the types of books Ms. Jeannie offers in her shop. You’ll find a complete list of vintage and antique books available here. Find one that you love? Use coupon code READER for 15% off your purchase upon checkout.

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Happy reading!!!

Sunday at the Diner with Luncheonette Vintage

Magic surrounds a diner. Ms. Jeannie has always said this. Any diner. It doesn’t matter where it is located, who runs it, how its decorated, or what they serve. There is something about sliding into a leather booth, ordering breakfast at midnight and not being hurried along that does wonders for a soul.

When Ms. Jeannie lived in New York, Sundays were the designated diner days. First she started going with her parents, her brother, her sisters when she was small to the local diner just up the street from their house. Coloring books in hand, endless stacks of pancakes and hours later, a leisurely family breakfast was had.  And nobody had to fight about whose turn it was to wash dishes at the end! Perfect, said Ms. Jeannie at 5!

As Ms. Jeannie grew, she carried on dinering with her friends, then her roommates, then boyfriends and  then ultimately, the best diner date of all, her handsome husband.

Everything under the moon was discussed at the diner. Friendships were forged over steaming stacks of homestyle potatoes. Politics defended over pancakes. Boys dissected over burgers. Life marked important over pie.

Or not.  Sometimes, nothing was said at the diner. Sometimes you just got lost for sleepy hours in the comfortable company of the New York Times,  and a crossword puzzle or two or three. That’s where the magic comes in.  Conversation, spoken or unspoken was always cathartic, always interesting.

Now that Ms. Jeannie lives far far away from any diners, she has had to be a tad more creative in order to get her diner fix. So when Ms. Jeannie stumbled upon Jana, the shop owner of Luncheonette Vintage, Ms. Jeannie knew she had found her next diner date.

As you’ll read, Jana’s roots are steeped in diner mentality. She’s fascinating and thoughtful and has interesting things to say about a range of topics.  So grab a cup of coffee, take a seat and slip into the world of all things vintage…

Ms. Jeannie:  Your shop personality is so fun and retro quirky, how did you land on the name Luncheonette Vintage?

Luncheonette Vintage: Thanks! There were a bunch of reasons. I wanted to combine all good stuff: food, deliciousness, vintage, and, well, friendly service in one term. Even the word, “luncheonette,” has such a vintage feel and really rolls off the tongue. But the name is also way to honor my grandparents: my grandmother worked at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Manhattan,

A 1940’s era Woolworth’s lunch counter. Photo courtesy of expolounge.blogspot.com

my grandfather was one of the legendary Hungarian waiters in the 1930s and 1940s (I bet you didn’t know there was a such a breed, but they were all smart, sophisticated, handsome, and very graceful with a tray). He worked at the original, famous Lindy’s.

Leo Lindy’s famous deli and restaurant opened in New York City in 1921 and is still in operation today!

My father was a hat check boy there and still remembers checking Rita Hayworth’s hat.

Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) was a well known 1940s era movie actress and dancer and considered one of the 100 most greatest stars of all time.

On the other side, my maternal grandmother was a legendary cook known for heaping plates of her phenomenal cooking in front of her guests, and then coming out with even more. Food is a big deal in my family.

I’ve had so many waitressing and cooking jobs over the years — it’s so common among writers (my other hat). That hustle bustle, serve-it-up with a smile and make people happy stays with me. Sometimes I dream of having a whole empire based on the theme: a men’s vintage shop called Grill Cook, a vintage bookshop called Cook’s Secret Life, but in the end I like the varied, endless menu of my Luncheonette.

MJ: You live in scenic upstate New York, how much do you do think location affects the items represented in your shop?

The stunning Catskill Mountains are located about 100 miles from New York City.

LV: That’s a great question. I live in the Catskills in a very rural area filled with woods and farms and tons of history. It’s a tangible history: old farmhouses, cabins and barns, old stone walls, old middens you’ll find while hiking that are filled with trash from 100 years ago.

People are thrifty here: they do not throw things away until there is absolutely no use for them, or until the house is changing hands after decades. So you can find amazing treasures at yard sales. I love old hunting and fishing gear and old cabin furnishings, old dishes, mason jars (you don’t even want to know how many I’ve got here — I’ve got to get them listed!). And old linens: in the old days women around here prided themselves on handiwork, and I’m always amazed by their embroidery and crocheting. The other day I can across a garbage bag filled with hand embroidered linens, including notes from a mother to her daughter, written in 1876, on how to work certain stitches. “Stay small,” the mother wrote. “It may be a temptation to stitch large but it is always a mistake.” I love that.
MJ:  At what point in life did you realize you were destined to become a collector?

LV: I was born into it. It’s in my DNA. My father is a photographer and a writer who has collected cameras and books since he was a child, my mother (a really, really talented painter) collected art books and loved Danish modern. My first obsession was horses, and I accumulated a mythical horse farm in my room, populated by dozens of Breyer horses. Whenever I see a Breyer horse from those days my childhood comes flooding back.

Breyer horses were made beginning in the 1950’s by Breyer Moulding Company. The horses started out as adornment pieces to mantle clocks, but people loved the figures so much they just wanted to purchase the horses instead of the clocks!

MJ: Why do you think people are lured towards vintage items?

LV: So many reasons. I always say, Go green, eat vintage! But it’s true: buying, wearing and using vintage is a great antidote to our very disposable society, a small way to stop wreaking havoc on the earth. Imagine if instead of running to UO or H&M for yet another cheap T-shirt made by third-world kids with toxic dyes and textiles that will never break down, we all just reused and recycled? 

1970s Cherry Coke Athletic Jersey from luncheonettevintage

And vintage is sometimes so much better made. Way before the concept of planned obsolescence (like, 10 years for a car), things were made to last. It drives me nuts to see cheap new stuff that is designed to look like great old stuff — until it winds up dumped in a landfill.

For style, vintage is so amazing. There’s a decade that will work for any body type, and the clothes just give you that slightly other sensibility.

Women’s Vintage 1950’s Cropped Jacket. So very Mad Men!

You can rock a 1940s suit and take on a whole different persona. That goes for men as well as women. Think of Mad Men.

1960’s nylon BoatJac windbreaker

I also think that vintage items can be a very personal way of reconnecting with your own past. It’s different for everyone, but certain items can cause a rush of nostalgia and memory. My mother kept her paintbrushes in antique Dundee marmalade jars (she probably found them in a barn sale around here), and I’m always reminded of her when I see one.

Vintage Dundee Marmalade Jar. Dundee marmalade was first produced in 1797 in Dundee, Scotland. Photo courtesy of thevintagewall.com

I’ve had buyers tell me how happy they were to find that one old cookbook, for example, that they remember from childhood. This past Christmastime, a member of the Larkin family came to the shop and bought a Larkin family cookbook to give to her daughter. To have a physical, touchable way to connect to memories is lovely.

MJ: What is your most favorite item in your shop right now and why?

LV: I love it all. And I don’t just stock my shop with a chockablock mess of whatever is old. If I don’t like it, I don’t sell it. I’m not super big on chintz and I can’t stand sexist or racist kitsch. It may be kitschy and retro but it’s still and always offensive.

But my total favorite right this second is an 1850s ambrotype — a type of old, Civil Ware era photograph — of a very serious looking young woman, and I am fascinated by it. 

Antique 1850’s Ambrotype from luncheonettevintage

Who was she? Was she a soldier’s wife? A widow? Was she pregnant? She looks it. Was she happy? Where did she live?

Closeup view. What do you think her story is? Send Ms. Jeannie a message with your version of this women’s life and she’ll post it on the blog!

There’s a story there, an enigmatic sense of history. I find irresistible. It makes me kind of thirsty.

MJ: Is there one vintage item that you are striving to attain for your own collection?

LV: Since I collect vintage and antique everything, the easiest answer is everything. But I do gravitate towards very functional things that happen to look amazing. I have this thing for mason jars that I am going to have to get over, because I have about 200 of them, in all sizes, some going so far back they’re warped and warbled.

Vintage 1910’s Ball Ideal Mason Jar from luncheonettevintage

I am always looking for very old black and grey pearls, too. I love 1930s dresses and it’s a lifelong quest for that perfect one. And I have a thing for old stationery, old notebooks.

1930’s Ledger Paper from luncheonettevintage

That might be genetic too, since my grandfather Charlie (the one who wasn’t a Lindy’s waiter) had an office furniture and stationery shop, Acme Paper. The family jokingly called him the Paperclip King.

MJ: What era do you most identify with or seem naturally drawn towards?

LV: That’s a funny question for me, because I am drawn to all of them. One of my college majors was history, and I was fascinated by American from about the industrial revolution to after World War II. You can see the nature of the time in objects.

I love the proportions of the 1950s, both the outsized, tailfin, atomic era craziness and that very clear form and function kind of modernism. When I was writing about World War 2 era industrial design (I cowrote a book called Great Inventions/Good Intentions for Chronicle Books), I realized that there was so much that went into the style of that time, so much hope, so much faith, this idea that design by itself can improve our lives. I am still moved by the sight of a Raymond Loewy pencil sharpener.

Raymond Lowey Pencil Sharpener, circa 1933

MJ:  You also mention in your profile that you are sourced by production companies like Mad Men and Boardwalk empire. How exciting! Have you ever seen one of your items on either show?

A scene from Boardwalk Empire – Season 1
Still shot of two different sets from Mad Men

LV: I wish! They buy tons of stuff and copy so much of it. But there was a gym scene on a Mad Men episode where I think I caught a glimpse of a bag I’d sold them. It was in the background, sitting on a bench. But it looked perfect and I was very proud.
MJ:  If you could be the prop master for any tv or movie set, past or present, which would you choose?

LV: I think it would be super fun to be the prop master for Bonanza, the old TV series. I love those old Western saddles and clothes.

Or a Depression era movie. Those 1930s dresses, wow. Those men’s shoes. I could go on. But if I could just be a prop assistant on Downton Abbey for a season, oh my, that would be marvelous.

The exquisite costumes of Downton Abbey.

MJ: What one type of item is a consistent seller in your shop? What seems to be the slowest to sell?

LV: Anything military, like a WW2 jacket, flies out the store.

1960’s Army Duffle Bag from luncheonettevintage

Cookbooks, especially old and illustrated, often fly off the shelves.

1933 Good Housekeeping Cookbook from luncheonettevintage

Some pieces of dinerware.

1950’s Sundae Glasses from luncheonettevintage

Clothing from the 1950s is gone in a fingersnap.

1950s Mink Fur Stole from luncheonettevintage

I just got in an amazing 50s daydress by a designer who was kind of the queen of the 50s daydress: Caroline Schnurer. It’s got an amazing neckline with a wraparound, attached scarf, that strapless bodice, a huge billowy skirt. I can’t wait to list it.

On the other hand I have this 1970s pantsuit that looks like a skinny dowager on acid that I can’t seem to get rid of. Sometimes things don’t sell because the photos just aren’t that appealing, too. I’ll reshoot something so freshen it up, and 9 times out of 10 it looks much better and someone finds it.

MJ: What are some of the challenges of being a vintage seller?

LV: If you are not an obsessive personality, who can sink into research for hours and drive all over the county and farther looking for vintage, then forget it. You need to be driven. And I am. So the biggest challenge for me is time management, because I can lose myself in a search, a sale, a library or online looking up information.

I recently had someone ask me if I could find her some old, white diner platters for her wedding, and I went at it like it was a search and rescue mission. Then realized I had an article due to a magazine in a week that I hadn’t even started. And last weekend I walked into a storage space filled with vintage clothing and the hours turned to minutes. But that is one of the joys of what I do. I get to immerse myself in days gone by.

Service: it’s a challenge, and an important one, to describe and measure things right, especially clothing and shoes. I’ve been buying and wearing vintage since I was about 10, and sometimes you don’t know how something is going to fit until you try it on. The idea of not being able to return something bought online — I just find that preposterous. I make it a point to not only take returns, but make it easy for the seller. Actually that’s probably one of the challenges of being a vintage buyer too. For shops that don’t take returns, you have to make sure and ask all the right questions.

MJ: On the organizational side, how do you inventory and/or store all of your items? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your supply? Do you have any helpers that work behind the scenes in your shop?

LV: I have an encyclopedic and somewhat photographic memory, which helps. And I’m a Virgo, so I’m an obsessive list maker. I have a warehouse with labeled bins, a Z-rack (professional garment rack) with garment bags, and all sorts of boxes with categories. And I have an annex, which is right next to my studio, where a lot of the delicate stuff goes. Storing things carefully and safely is so important.

That ironstone platter that somehow survived for 100 years without a chip is an accident waiting to happen. And never jam vintage clothes on a rack: sometimes old dyes are unstable and will actually leach into another fabric. So each piece, ideally, needs space to breathe and hang. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but I think of luncheonette’s inventory (and inventory that isn’t part of luncheonette) as a vast and everchanging, growing archive, and that helps. As do excel spreadsheets.

Helpers are great! I’ve had and have some wonderful helpers. I am really particular about how things are folded, packed, photographed, etc. — I’m a very demanding head cook. It has to be done right, but I’ve had a few people who really got it and I love working with them.

And I have some great sources for knowledge and wisdom: My Dad is a font of knowledge about mid century stuff, knows everything about old cameras, and has a great eye. I work with a few people who know antiques a lot better than I do, and I’m always asking questions of wiser folk.

I think I’ve pestered Chris, of the lovely etsy shop MissFarfalla, dozens of times.

Fine Vintage Clothing Shop, Miss Farfalla (also on Etsy!)

She’s a genius when it comes to vintage clothing. She knows so much. Finally, my chickens help by supplying those pretty brown eggs I used in cookbook photos.
MJ: In a previous blog post, Ms. Jeannie mentioned that she would like to sit down to lunch with 20th century novelist, Kathleen Norris and contemporary writing phenom Stephenie Meyer. If you could luncheon with anybody, living or dead, Who would you choose?

LV: I live in an area that is so rich with writers that I have a great time at such lunches, and I’m lucky to be a part of that community already. But I’ve been feeling very nostalgic lately for my grandmothers, and I think if I could have lunch with anyone, it would be them.

Then, of course, my Mom, who I miss every second and is probably my biggest inspiration. We’d go to Serendipity 3 on East 60th street in Manhattan and have iced hot chocolate and Ftatateeta’s Toast.

But I would not turn down an invitation to lunch with Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was an American writer, poet and art collector. Best known for her book of poems, Tender Buttons, written in 1912, and for her friendships with Alice B. Toklas and Pablo Picasso.

We’d talk dog. I love dogs. Dogs and vintage and writing seem to work together quite well.

MJ:  What is the name of your most favorite real-life diner, where is it located and what do you normally order?

LV: You can’t just have one favorite diner, can you? Here are four: Mom’s Open Kitchen in Lorain, Ohio; the luncheonette (I don’t know its name) on 83rd and Lexington in Manhattan; Dietz Stadium Diner here in Kingston; and the old, old Friendly’s in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, home of the best chocolate frappe ever.

MJ:  You mentioned that you have written some short stories and are currently working on a novel. Can you share a little bit about the storyline? What authors inspire your writing? What book are you currently reading?

LV: That story collection, Russian Lover and Other Stories, came out in 2007.

Russian Lover and Other Stories by Jana Martin

I’m now working on a novel that takes place in the northern Catskills. It involves wolves and people who really care about animals, and interestingly there’s a character who works with vintage.

She stumbles into a community that is kind of wild and crazy and on the fringe, half wilderness and half internet, and some of them have really out there ideas about e-commerce that are slightly inspired by people I know.

I’m hoping to be done by September. I’m endlessly inspired by authors. It’s a really, really long list. But Flannery O Connor was an early influence, for sure. TC Boyle. Margaret Atwood. I’m currently reading a book about the photographer Disfarmer, by Julia Scully.

Disfarmer: The Heber Springs Portraits 1939-1946 by Julia Scully

MJ:  If you weren’t a writer or a vintage shop owner/collector, what would you be?

LV: Wow. I think I don’t know the answer to that. I am so much what I am. I might be have loved to work with horses, or if I had the talent, I would have loved to be a photographer. But I am really in a Popeye phase of life now, after doing so many things in my life, including assisting photographers, playing bass in bands, and lots and lots of cooking and waitressing: I yam what I yam.

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series, that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations.  The interview was with Georgia based rustic home decor designer, Frick & Frack Scraps, in March. Read that interview here.

This month, Ms. Jeannie conversed with Jana, writer and shop owner of Luncheonette Vintage, based in New York’s scenic Catskill Mountains. Visit her shop here.