Rabelais Books: A Cookbook Paradise

by Megan Elias, Director of Gastronomy

An hour and a half north of Boston and just south of Portland you will find cookbook paradise at Don Lindgren’s Rabelais Books. Lindgren is a collector and dealer of antique cookbooks and culinary ephemera. His collection is housed in a large, well lit room in a converted mill building in Biddeford, Maine. Rabelais’s guardian/mascot is a very small, wiry and friendly terrier named Lark. In the far reaches of the space, Don’s wife Samantha Hoyt Lindgren works magic as a textile artist.

It is the kind of place I would not mind being locked into for a week. Or two. Don’s knowledge of cookbooks is beyond encyclopedic because it encompasses not just the facts of publication and trends but also the nuances of interest and innovation. He thinks in categories and publishes catalogs that are invaluable for scholars who need to know what is out there.

To spend a few hours at Rabelais in conversation with Don about what he has, what he’s looking for, and what has passed through his hands is really to hear books speak. They tell us about the people who wrote and published them, read, collected, and bequeathed them. All around the tops of shelves, too, there are large copper pots to remind us that food written is also food cooked and eaten.

I wish I had mapped our progress around the giant room as we started at one end and then moved from case to case as one type of book led to another. It felt like we were really travelling far in time and space, looping around continents and eras—a Korean hand-inked cookbook from the 1930s, a treatise on beer from eighteenth century America—to return to the present in the form of cookbooks hot of the presses.

One of the most interesting things for me to see was a table full of cookbooks and ephemera that had been part of one person’s collection. The collector had obvious fascinations—the agricultural side of food and the instructional, but also a clear appreciation for the marginal—food related things on matchbooks. Here were not just things about food but evidence of a personality, a particular genius. It was hard to resist sitting down at the table and trying to put all the pieces together like a puzzle. Who was he? Why did he care about these things and what connections did he find between them?

Image courtesy of rabelaisbooks.com

Some of my other favorite things were menu templates from the early twentieth century. They are simple sheets of paper with illustrated borders–like invitations–that restaurants could buy for printing the menu of the day. The revelation that an industry existed to supply these templates pointed to the proliferation of restaurants at this time and that in turn pointed to changes in public space and public life. The impulse to offer decorative menus was bound up in the new presence of middle class women in public—these customers were assumed to prefer something pretty to something plain, whatever their personal preferences might have been. A little slip of paper in a big room in Maine showed me a whole world of bustling streets and gender roles in transition but also in stasis… Take a trip to Biddeford and see the world!

And when you suddenly remember that you are corporal being, with a growling stomach, you must visit the Palace Diner, a tiny place in Biddeford that does its own time traveling by keeping alive and yet also perfecting the standard style and foods of traditional American diners: it was the best tuna melt I have ever eaten.

The Gastronomy Student Association Cookbook is here!

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 11.10.13 AMThe first ever Gastronomy Student Cookbook is now available! With 49 student, alumni, faculty, and staff contributing nearly 100 recipes, the cookbook is a great representation of our program’s love for all things food.

The cookbook is a fantastic way for students, alumni, and instructors to remember their time in the program and all the wonderful people they have met. Personally, I plan on using it as a sort of yearbook by collecting signatures and pictures of friends to reminisce on. Cheesy, sure, but this program, and the people in it, have had such a huge influence on my life, I don’t want to forget a thing.

Perfect for Easter, Mother’s Day, Graduation, and sharing with family and friends, cookbooks are only $10 (plus $4 s/h, if required). You can purchase them from any current or newly elected executive committee member, at any GSA event or Gastronomy@BU Lecture Series, or by contacting gastronomystudents@gmail.com and arranging for pick-up or shipping.

Select recipes include:
Blue Cheese Savories by Barbara Rotger, Staff and Alumna, class of ’11
Fermented Kimchi by Kimi Ceridon, Current Student
Minestra di Fagioli by Carole Counihan, Instructor
Mediterranean Shrimp by Kari Pierce, Current Student
Chocolate Brownies by Stephanie Hersh, First Program Graduate, class of ’97

I hope everyone takes advantage of this fabulous cookbook and enjoys the amazing recipes submitted by members of our very own Gastronomy Program.

Happy Cooking!

Audrey Reid
GSA President
2014 MLA Candidate

Prof. Merry White’s “Cooking for Crowds” 40th Anniversary Edition

First published in 1974, Prof. Merry White’s Cooking for Crowds combined recipes she acquired in college, ethnic and international dishes, and a few tricks she learned from her neighbor, and fellow BU Gastronomy colleague, Julia Child. To celebrate her cookbook’s 40th anniversary, Princeton University Press has released a special edition complete with original sketches by Edward Koren (now in color) and the same tried and true recipes.

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cover of original mustard yellow version of the cookbook.

Check out what other scholars have to say about the new edition:

“Cooking for Crowds represents a coming-of-age moment in the cultural history of food, cooking, and taste in America. It has been one of my favorite cookbooks for more than thirty years.”–Peter Gourevitch, founding dean, School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego

“Corky White has been persuaded to reissue the cookbook that was so much a part of our youthful gatherings. These diverse (and feasible) recipes for large tables are ideal for any occasion, whatever your group passions. Edward Koren’s illustrations capture the unbuttoned hirsute fellowship of ingredients and diners.”–Charles Maier, Harvard University

For some of us, this anniversary edition is our first experience with White’s cookbook, but for the past few generations, Cooking for Crowds provided a simple step-by-step introduction to cooking and an edible tour of the world’s diverse cuisines and cultures. And here in the field of Food Studies, we appreciate Merry White’s cookbook for more than its delicious recipes and can also recognize her diligent work as an cultural anthropologist.

Below is a sneak preview of the new edition plus a recipe for Toasted Almond Parfait:

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Sneak peak pages provided by Princeton University Press

Congratulations, Professor White and here’s to many more editions of Cooking for Crowds! Find the book here and get to cooking!