By Louise Mellor
I say to you: ‘Have fun when you cook!’ It is in the spirit of having fun that the imagination works best and imagination is to me the very essential of good cooking. So I say, do use your imagination but don’t overdo it. Remember that most of us still enjoy the downright honest food made without adulteration or affectation. There are some very fancy recipes in this book but none are too difficult for one who wants and loves to cook and who has or hopes to get an imagination about cooking.
~ Grace Grosvenor Clark, author of The Best in Cookery in the Middle West – 1955
Words to live by, words that I can hear myself saying. Having grown up in the “Middle West” myself, I picked up Grace’s cookbook, The Best in Cookery in the Middle West, with great interest. Once I read that she thought cooking should be fun, and I saw that she was wearing a pair of shoes in her cover photo that I actually have in my closet, I knew that Grace and I would have been friends. One of the first things I do when I start reading a new cookbook is to first look at the publishing date to understand the era it was written in, and then to read the acknowledgments and the foreword by the author. The recipes can wait; I find that getting to know the author helps to set the tone for understanding the cooks’ culinary perspective. The history of a recipe can be fascinating, but what I find to be even more interesting is discovering the person behind the recipes. A recipe with a personal story just tastes better to me.
Grace Grosvenor Clark was born in North Dakota and was a descendant of John Hancock (yes, that John Hancock!) and Howard Paine, the composer of “Home, Sweet Home.” Although her age is not noted, it would appear from the photo on the back of the book that she was a woman in her 50’s when the book was published in 1955.
Scattered among the 360 pages of recipes are personal stories about her family, her culinary studies, and her mentors. Through the stories I could piece together the life of a woman, much like many of us, who spent her years cooking, eating, entertaining, and enjoying the company of others. What I personally found to be the most delightful part of the book was her meticulous recognition of the people who inspired her life-long collection of memorable recipes.
I wish to express sincere appreciation to all of my friends and family who have shared their recipes so generously. Further acknowledgment goes to Gourmet Magazine for their French bread recipe; to Virginia Stanton for Peas Bonne Femme and Beets in Butter by House Beautiful Magazine. ~ Grace Grosvenor Clark
There are a generous amount of recipes with the credit noted in the title, recipes like “Gracie’s Fried Chicken” and “Mrs. Katsen’s Chop Suey.” For Grace’s personal recipes, she titles them with “My”– such as “My Tomato Frost” or “My Brownies.” She graciously gave credit where credit was due. The biggest thank you seems to go out to her mother. Although she doesn’t specifically thank her mother in the acknowledgements, she mentions her continuously, leaving me to believe it was her mother who was the biggest culinary influence in her life.
I also believe that Grace was a woman ahead of her time. Today we might find her working in a test kitchen or writing recipes for Cook’s Illustrated. I gathered this while reading the following excerpt from her brownie recipe:
“When I took a course on experimental cookery at the University of Minnesota one summer, I selected brownies as a project. After making them with every possible variation every morning for six weeks, I decided the following recipe had the best qualities for our general use.”
Getting to know Grace through her stories and recipes was delightful. Deciding which recipe to try was difficult, until I read this:
“My idea in writing this book was to share with all of you the recipes for good things I have found and improvised and the countless choice recipes friends have given me through the years. You will love to treat your dinner guests with the delicious tempting Tomato Frost. Try everything and have fun!”
Grace’s Tomato Frost is like a savory granita. It takes just minutes to throw together, then into the freezer it goes. I was a little hesitant to take the first bite, but was pleasantly suprised when the red ice crystals hit my tongue and melted, leaving a flavor similar to V8– rich tomato juice with a salty finish. Grace suggested this as an appetizer, and I agree it would be a delightful surprise for your dinner guests. A little goes a long way, so I would definitely suggest halving the recipe below for 8-10 servings (the original recipe says 8 servings, but it made more like 16-20). I’ve clarified some of the ingredients/process below to simplify it for a modern cook; otherwise the recipe remains unchanged. This Tomato Frost would be great served as a garnish on a seafood cocktail or as part of a cucumber or butter lettuce salad. As Grace would say, “Try everything and have fun!”
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- 5 cups tomato juice (fresh or canned)
- 1 bunch celery leaves (top bouquet of the celery)
- 2 tsp finely chopped onion
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp grated lemon rind
- 2 tsp sugar
- Dash freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise or bottled salad dressing
- Heat 2 1/2 cups of tomato juice with a bouquet of celery tops, the chopped onion, salt, lemon juice and grated rind, sugar, pepper, and the curry powder, which has been mixed with a little of the hot tomato juice.
- Remove from the stove and fold in the mayonnaise or salad dressing. Remove the celery tops, then whip the remaining 2 1/2 cups of tomato juice into the mixture. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Pour into a baking pan or baking dish. Freeze at once.
- Once frozen it will be very icy; instead of serving it in chunks, scrape it out of the container so that you eat pink fluffy tomato frost looking like pink snow. It's really delightful.
- Serve with cheese bits and be sure to top with a sprig or sprinkle of parsley.
Clark, Grace Grosvenor (1955). The Best in Cookery in the Middle West. Doubleday & Company Inc., Garden City, New York.