Suspended in Aspic

Last week, I went to a book talk by author Kate Christensen.  She’s written a new book called How to Cook a Moose and she chatted about it at the Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland.  This book, a “culinary memoir,” includes some of her favorite recipes and also those of Maine cooks she’s met in her food travels.

Like a cookbook, Christensen’s work is fun reading and doesn’t demand one’s studious attention.  The author doesn’t take herself too seriously and the chapters can be read in no particular order.  It’s a buffet of stories about Maine food, including but not limited to moose.

With cookbooks on the brain, I found myself in a used book store on Lincoln Street in Brunswick.

Italianate Window

The Italianate-style window caught my eye and I meandered into the cramped and cold barn, looking for a new cookbook to add to my collection.  Jammed into the shelf closest to the floor was a big fat book called The Creative Cooking Course.  Published in 1973, it was filled with instructions for classic recipes like beef stroganoff, bouillabaisse, and baked Alaska.  I was intrigued.  The darned thing must have weighed at least five pounds and I thought, “oh, Handy is going to love this!  And it’s only six dollars!”

The book was heavy in its credentials, too, edited by Charlotte Turgeon.  Turgeon was a Smith College classmate and longtime friend of Julia Child and was a significant chef and author as well.  She translated and edited the first English language version of Larousse Gastronomique, the ultimate compendium of French cooking.

I hauled it around Brunswick while I ran errands.  When I got home, I plopped it on the kitchen island where it would nonchalantly rest until Handy stopped by and sat in his usual spot.

As luck would have it, he stopped by on Saturday night.

“Little surprise for you!” I happily exclaimed.

The book jacket says it’s “a complete course in the art of cooking with 1200 recipes and 2500 photos in full color.”

“Lot of aspic recipes,” Handy said after flipping through only a few of the book’s hundreds of pages.

It’s true, there were quite a few gelatinous creations, like deviled eggs in clear tomato aspic and engraved chicken aspic.  Is that a bad thing?  Why has there been no renaissance of meats and vegetables shimmering in gelatin?

But he really disliked the 2500 photos in full color; these were unpleasant to him.  Something just wasn’t right about the color and the resolution and he turned a few more pages with distaste.

“These pictures must have had an expiration date,” he said and took a healthy haul of his wine.

Handy didn’t love the cookbook and for now, it makes an intriguing coffee table specimen, sitting next to Kate Christensen’s new volume, the latest copy of Downeast magazine, and the newspaper.

Maybe the day I serve a Carrot Carousel Salad (with unflavored gelatin, of course) Handy will change his mind about Charlotte Turgeon’s masterpiece.  I’d better start studying “the basics of working with gelatin.”

Aspic, anyone?

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