I didn't do much exploring on my recent work trip to State College, but I did visit my favorite ( and the only) used bookshop in town. I had located the place on a previous visit and remembered that it is open at night..so I headed right over. It's called Webster's, and I have had good luck there in the past. I got me some nice stuff, including, but not limited to four used cookbooks. One is Craig Claibourne's Kitchen Primer, a simply written introduction to outfitting a kitchen and basic, building-block type recipes, with seriously charming black and white illustrations. It was, in fact, the illustrations which caught my eye in the first place. I thought they might be block prints, but it seems they were "handsomely rendered, in the rarely used scratchboard technique, by Tom Funk."
Remember making these sorts of pictures as a child? You painted a matte black surface over a plain or painted ground, and scratched through the surface to make an image? This is what this looks like if you are really good at it. It's hard to see the photos at this size-if you click on them, you'll get a better view.
In addition to being charming, these detailed black and white illustrations are really helpful. Like the drawings in Charcuterie, which I have recently enjoyed, they show the steps to procedures clearly, possibly in a way that photos, however helpful, cannot.
I'm very fond of photos in cookbooks, particularly for showing you what the finished product should look like. But I'd like to see more explanatory drawn illustrations. All the Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson had decorative line drawings, and I liked them too. It doesn't hurt if the drawings are attractive. You can see the endpapers on this book below.
It was originally published in 1969, a time when I was just beginning to learn to cook, at least in part from the recipes of Craig Claibourne in the New York Times Cookbook my parents gave me when I left home, along with my copy of The Joy, both of which got so worn out that they had to be replaced. I think this would still be a good primer for someone who has a beginner's interest in learning to cook in a way that goes a little beyond throwing a few things together for a 30 minute meal. It does have a flavor of its time though, which I find endearing, but which might be meaningless to someone who wasn't around then. I decided to make something from the book that reminded me of the sort of thing I would have found impressive/fancy at the time. It's still good.
This is what you need to make Shrimp or Crab Mornay:
4 Tbsps butter
2 Tbsps flour
1 cp milk
1/2 cup grated swiss, gruyere, or sharp cheddar
1/4 cup cream
freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp worchestershire sauce
1 lb shrimp or crab, cooked and shelled
4 tbsps grated parm
Preheat broiler with rack 5" from flame.
Melt 2 tbsp butter, whisk in flour. Add milk, continue to whisk. When thick and smooth, take off heat, stir in cheese, add everything through Worcestershire sauce. Melt the reat of the butter in a skillet, and thoroughly heat the shellfish. Spoon into a gratin pan, or individual oven proof dishes or ramekins. Pour sauce over. Sprinkle with cheese and paprika, and run under the broiler on a baking sheet until bubbly and browned.
Consume. So it's simple and ordinary. Yup. But it is really, really good, and festive. None will be left behind. I admit, I added the paprika. But that's all. And it is, of course, not necessary.
The other books I got are: An old penguin of Jane Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, Jean Anderson's The Green Thumb Preserving Guide (hardback with cover), and a cardboard backed pamphlet, in English, from a French publisher, called The Gastronomy of Alsace, a collection of "family country recipes", with a bunch of illustrations, that looks very promising to me. More to follow on these.