At Home on the Range – Elizabeth Gilbert

by Doc-G on July 11, 2012

At Home on the Range

One of the striking differences between some of the older cookbooks and those of today is the stark difference in writing styles. Writers such as Elizabeth David in some ways hid their recipes throughout their prose, drawing the reader in to visualise the making of a dish and allowing them to imagine the smells and textures, the feel of slicing through ingredients with a sharp blade and the sharp brisk sounds and the immediate wafts associated with the sizzle one encounters when throwing food into a hot frying pan. The majority of todays books on the other hand are written in a formulaic style, designed to give the reader the most efficient transfer of information in order to make the dish. This is where the writer lists how many the recipe feeds, followed by a list of ingredients and finally, the method. Of course, I have and greatly enjoy many such books but I find that the vast majority of my enjoyment of their reading comes from the ‘external information’ listed in the paragraphs at the top of the page. This is where you learn about why the author decided to include it in their book and with regards to the perspective of the prose, it is what gives context to the existence of the book.

Whilst from a practical perspective, this is probably the best way to learn to cook a recipe, this somewhat older style is what makes reading about cooking more enjoyable. It allows you to take the fun of the kitchen into the cosy confines of the sofa or bed and most importantly, it allows the author to take the reader on a gastronomic journey, in the same way as a novel.

At Home on the Range, is such a book, written and published originally by Margaret Yardley Potter in 1947 but brought back by her great grand daughter, Elizabeth Gilbert who is the author of Eat, Pray Love. Potter’s book consists of a number of simple but wonderful recipes from such as ‘Baked Ham Slice’ and ‘Roast Lamb’ but also includes a slight lean towards the ethnic with a Curry recipe as well as one of my own childhood favourites, ‘Chicken Cacciatore’. The book also includes a number of dishes that tie it in with the dishes of the time such as ‘Mock Terrapin’ and ‘Calf’s Head Cheese’ which were indicative of the need for glamorous dishes within the confines of austerity that were prevalent at the time. Finally, at the back of the book are Gilbert’s top ten of her great grand-mothers recipes written out in a more modern style, in order to get the reader on their way with cooking rather than merely savouring Margaret Yardley Potter’s mouth watering prose.


According to the publishers:

‘Recently, Elizabeth Gilbert unpacked some boxes of family books that had been sitting in her mother’s attic for decades. Among the old, dusty hardbacks was a book called At Home on the Range, written by her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter.

The cookbook was far ahead of its time. In it, Potter espouses the importance of farmer’s markets and ethnic food (Italian, Jewish and German), derides preservatives and culinary shortcuts and generally celebrates a devotion to epicurean adventures. Potter takes car trips out to Pennsylvania Dutch country to eat pickled pork products, and to the eastern shore of Maryland, where she learns to catch and prepare eels so delicious, she says, they must be ‘devoured in a silence almost devout’.

Part scholar and part crusader for a more open food conversation than what currently existed, it’s not hard to see where Eliazbeth Gilbert inherited both her love of food and her warm, infectious prose. At Home on the Range is a fascinating, humorous and useful cookbook from the past that is essential for the present day.’

About the Authors:

Elizabeth Gilbert is perhaps most well known as the author of the multi-million-copy-selling Eat, Pray, Love (now a major motion picture) and its bestselling follow-up, Committed, as well as The Last American Man (nominated for the National Book Award and a New York Times Notable Book). In 2008, Time magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Elizabeth Gilbert lives in New Jersey.

Margaret Yardley Potter‘s book is culled from a lifetime of cooking and entertaining in her home, from the 1920′s and through the Second World War. It was first published in 1947. In addition to being a cooking columnist for the Wilmington Star, she also painted, sold dresses, assisted in the birth of four grandchildren, and took up swing piano.

The book is available in all good Australian bookstores and is available from Bloomsbury, and has a RRP of AUD$35.

*Disclaimer: The book was provided to ‘The Foodologist’ by Bloomsbury for review. There was however no financial incentive or encouragement by either the publisher or the author to review, publicise or highlight the book in any way or with any views other than my own.

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