“It’s as much fun to scare as be scared.” — Vincent Price

A Treasury of Great Recipes: Famous Specialties of the World’s Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen by Mary and Vincent Price. Ampersand Press, 1965. 452pp plus some space for your notes and recipes.

Gene: Sarah just talked about looking up a recipe mentioned in Nancy Pearl’s novel George & Lizzie. Such a librarian moment.
Sarah: Nancy Pearl, a librarian, put in the citations so I could find the recipe, so I looked it up because I’m also a librarian.
G: It’s a non-recipe for pork chops and scalloped potatoes in The I Hate to Cook Book.
S: …by Peg Bracken. Also the author of The I Hate to Housekeep Book.
G: I have the opposite of that book to talk about. This is my Wow!: A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price.
S: You’ve been telling me about this book for years!
G: I finally found a copy of it. It was in a used book store’s display case for a price I was willing to pay. It is somewhat written in: “To Bonnie from Mom.” Smell it. It smells like the reference books from your parents’ collection.
S: Yeah!
G: So now I have a stinky book and I’m worried it’s going to make me sneeze here.
I saw this originally years ago when my friend Liz showed me a copy her university library has, and I just fell in love with the crazy-ass photos. The whole book is peach colored for no good reason.
S: It’s classy.
G: I remember Liz’s copy was velvety on the cover, so maybe this is the non-deluxe version.
(flipping pages) This is the room where the Prices welcomed their guests. It’s got a 17th century painting with their baby’s christening cup full of celery beneath it, along with cheeses. It’s a terrible photo: gothic, dark, the color isn’t quite right. All that money that is spent on cookbook photos these days, it turns out that’s well spent.
S: Some lighting would be good!
G: Maybe it’s the printing technology, because this was published back in 1965. Nothing looks that good. And it’s hilarious to me the way it’s off. There are great spot illustrations. But it’s the photos.
S: There’s Vincent Price tasting some sauce, or something in a spoon.
G: What’s weird is this is supposed to be a picture of crepes: “After a fine dinner at Chicago’s Whitehall Club, the last and best course of all was the one I took with Tony, who taught me the secret of his great crepes suzette.” Maybe he’s sipping some cognac out of that spoon. (Tony is making a crepe.)
S: Hard to say.
G: But he’s always dressed up. He looks great, especially with his lips pursed. This is them at home.
S: And his hair is always severely pomaded.
G: He looks like my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Evans, who pomaded his hair so heavily his dandruff just nested in it. Giant chunks of skin! But I digress. I thought you would love the Price’s kitchen. You love this 60s / 70s style.
S: Yeah.
G: But look at how crappy the lighting is. It’s terrible but somehow wonderful. Everything is tiled.
S: They have gorgeous copper pots.
G: This book is organized by region and then by restaurant. It’s a chance for them to talk about and show off all of these amazing places they’ve eaten.
S: That’s a pile of lobster!
G: And then they have menus from a lot of the places, with recipes based on them. Here’s fish covered with what looks like eyes. Trout “stuffed and sauced according to Fernand Point’s great recipe. Beautiful to look at, beautiful to eat.”
S: It looks right back at you.
G: Creepy.
S: There’s a great book by James Lileks, The Gallery of Regrettable Food. It’s all like this — the lighting is terrible, the food looks nauseating.
G: The first time I looked at this book all I could look at were the sweetmeat recipes. I didn’t go looking for those again this time. What fascinated me this time through were the menus from eras gone by. These reproductions of French menus list prices in francs.
(flipping the page, laughing) Here’s VP serving dinner in the most posed photo.
S: Is he in a private train car?
G: It’s in his mobile home, which he refers to as his “gypsy caravan.”
S: And he’s looking out the window at the beautiful scenery that we can’t see.
G: There’s a giant poodle looking on as he’s crouching in the middle of pouring something from a bottle. But it looks like he’s about to throw his back out.
I think I can comfortably scan a few photos from this for the blog post.
S: They’re for educational and critical use.
G: “Fried Cucumbers” — apparently they can be served as a hot dish, too.
S: Battered.
G: That would be a little close to eating hot dirt.
I think the dessert and pastry recipes might still be useful. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would make any meal out of this book, though.
S: My dad has this theory about cocktails of the 50s and 60s, that the only reason they made them so strong was was that everyone was smoking and couldn’t taste anything. So I feel like that’s true for some of these dishes too.
G: This is the Lordly Loin of Beef. It is a giant piece of meat. It looks like it’s 6 – 8 inches thick, cooked.
S: And at least 20% fat.
G: What is that around it?
S: Potato segments? Or fried dough?
G: It does look like pie dough.
S: And a really badly cooked Yorkshire pudding. Oh, it is Yorkshire pudding.
G: What’s that?
S: An eggy dough you put in a pan and cook it and it puffs up like a Dutch baby.
G: “This is a dish to set before a king. James I knighted just such a roast which, whacking off a slice with a sword, he said, “I dub thee Sir Loin….” Is that true?
S: Wah, wah. Seems unlikely.
G: I want you to check in your Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. There’s your homework.
Here’s the Price’s library, where they like to serve some food.
S: A pile of bagels!
G: Which is a mistake in a library. “The library is my favorite room in anybody’s house — a wonder world of books to suit each person’s taste. We like to take an informal breakfast in ours, with popovers and coffee for early morning guests.”
S: Were the Prices having lots of sleepovers?
G: I love these people. If we can ever go back in time, let’s go back to their place for a meal and a photo shoot.


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