Influential Mid-Atlantic Cookbooks (Part 5)

Watergate Hotel

Watergate Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cooking with the Seasons by Jean-Louis Palladin

I have written several of these posts concerning historical Mid-Atlantic cuisine, but today I am writing a post on one of the most influential modern cookbooks from the region. The chef who wrote this book was not from this region; instead he hailed to us from France where he ran a two Michelin star restaurant before coming here and setting up shop at the Watergate Hotel. This blog is about Jean-Louis Palladin and his book, “Cooking with the Seasons.”

This book is rather large, a coffee table size cookbook filled with breath taking photos by the renowned local artist Fred J. Maroon. The vision of this book has more to do with a French approach to cooking, but with regional and local ingredients in mind. It is an interesting look into modern fusion cooking that has stood the test of time and influenced every major chef in the country today.

Palladin was one of the great mentor chefs to many of the famous and even the not so famous chefs of today which were the up and coming chefs of his time. Palladin died in November 2001 at age 55 from lung cancer, but from 19709 until then, he was the chef in Washington DC and put the region on the culinary map globally as well as nationally with his well earned celebrity status.

There is an old joke in DC about the eating habits of the region: Republicans eat beef and Democrats eat chicken. This joke held true for a long time as most of what the city offered were steakhouses and crab shacks, but now DC has emerged as one of the culinary Mecca’s of the world and it was due in no small part to Palladin.

He was what, we in the industry; refer to as a chef’s chef. That is a celebrity chef who actually works in his kitchen every day. of course this was before the era of the Food Network and all the endorsement deals and product lines and opportunities which exist today for the chef willing to sell his name, but being in the kitchen every day, his influence was more profound on the people who worked for him, and as they graduated to the next stage in their careers, they carried that with them.

The book is an amazing source of inspiration to a chef and holds up even today. The cuisine he perfected in his restaurant was well ahead of its time and would fit in any avant-garde restaurant today. The book is a little pricey today and can be hard to find, but it is a treasure to have in your cookbook collection. The recipes are not easy, they will challenge even a professional chef, but the rewards are worth it.

There has long been a debate about cooking being a craft or an art, this book blurs that line, but does not cross it into the high tech cuisine which looks like someone’s science experiment.

There is a term we use in the kitchen called “Florescent light syndrome,” this is where the dish is an amazing accomplishment from a technical cooking point of view, but you put it before the diner and they can’t identify or relate to what is on the plate. This is the point where the chef has lost touch with the reality of what he is doing, which is feeding people.

Jean-Louis’ never crossed that line, his food was brilliant due to the quality of the ingredients and the execution and skill of the chef preparing it.  It is beautiful and Fred J. Maroon’s photos are amazing, but it is food, not a science project. Check out this book and no matter what region of the world you hail from, this book will inspire you.

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Influential Mid-Atlantic Cookbooks (Part 4)

my piano

A photo of a Stieff piano makers mark.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland

By Frederick Philip Stieff

This is an amazing book and an inspiring idea that led to its creation. The author, Stieff found himself with a great deal of free time on his hands during the height of the depression, so he went all around the state of Maryland collecting recipes of the food he loved.

This was a man who was passionate about food in an era when people often did not have enough to eat. What we got was one of the greatest cookbooks ever to be written on Mid-Atlantic cuisine.

The books title is taken from the eighth chapter of Ecclesiastes, the fifteenth verse: Then I commanded mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, drink and be merry.”

Frederick Stieff left his families piano company in his quest to find out how to make the great food of the Mid-Atlantic region, the book is just a collection of recipes from all walks of life, from the rich, manor houses to the crab shacks and bars, they are all here. This book is just that a collection of recipes, there are many duplicate recipes for dishes showing the variety of styles which were in practice at the time.

There is also a historical note here, not only does the book capture the essence of the cuisine of its day, but it also contains a great deal of local folklore involving food in the region. There are also some illustrations which would never pass today’s PC environment. The depiction of blacks in the cartoons is less than flattering.

The recipes are collected from all over the state and therefore include more than just the usual coastal cuisine that most people think of when they think of Maryland. I would like to call a comprehensive book on Mid-Atlantic cuisine “Beyond Crab Cakes,” as that is all anyone thinks about when they think of Maryland.

There is a wealth of information contained within this book and it is inexpensive to buy, I would highly recommend this book as an addition to any cookbook library, and a must have for someone wanting to learn Mid-Atlantic cuisine.


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Influential Mid-Atlantic Cookbooks (Part 3)

English: Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1...

English: Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731 – 1802), wife of George Washington and first First Lady of the United States of America. Image housed in the Hulton Archive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Virginia Housewife

By Mary Randolph

This is one of the first cookbooks made in the New World, but was not published until 1824. The book has been published several times under different names associated with the Randolph family. It has been called The Martha Washington Cookbook, The Robert E. Lee Cookbook and even The George Washington Cookbook. It was in fact all of these, as it was their family cookbook passed down the line.

This book has also been plagiarized by just about every cookbook published in that era as well as any historical cookbook on early American cooking. It is however an excellent source book for colonial cooking. It includes some Mid-Atlantic specialties, but it is largely British and French in design. It is kind of like Escoffier’s book, but for American cooks, the recipes are brief and only used as an aid to memory, so this is not for a novice cook to use.

The edition I have is a historical reproduction you can get on it contains some historical and biographical information, but this cookbook is more for the researcher as well as the collector rather than the home cook. The recipes are wildly out of date and the methods to prepare them are obsolete in today’s kitchen.

It is a must have if you are building a collection of American cookbooks, but otherwise, you could invest in a more modern book and get much more out of it. This cookbook today is more of a historical document than a relevant book, but if you are an experienced chef (like me) you can look through it and find all sorts of ideas and interesting flavor profiles which haven’t been used in a hundred years.

Overall, it is a great book in understanding American cuisine and Mid-Atlantic cuisine in particular, but it is for serious chefs and historians only. the influence of this book is undeniable, but its usability has long since passed unless you are trying to make a historically accurate reenactment of the past.

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Influential Mid-Atlantic Cookbooks (Part 2)

Cover of "Maryland's Way: The Hammond-Har...

Cover via Amazon

Hammond-Harwood House (Md. Ave. Facade)

Hammond-Harwood House (Md. Ave. Facade) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maryland’s Way: The Hammond-Harwood House Cookbook

The Hammond-Harwood House Association

     This is one of the greatest resources you can get on Mid-Atlantic Cooking and Maryland cooking in particular. It was published in conjunction with the Maryland bicentennial Commission to promote Maryland history.

The book is actually a collection of recipes from all over the region. Many of the recipes are from historical collections but there are some modern ones collected as well, (modern meaning 1963.)

You will find a recipe for just about every regional dish in this book, although some will have to be updated, but the overall collection is taken from every part of the state, so you get the mountain cooking as well as the classics from the Chesapeake Bay region.

The book also contains some great historical notes as well, including menus from George Washington’s dinners as well as essays on Tobacco in the region as well as oyster roasts, horse racing and even cock-fighting. it also contains a postscript on “The Act of Toleration passed in 1649.”

The book is broken up by ingredients, each chapter deals with various preparations of a classic ingredient, such as seafood or beef etc. It is an essential book to add to your collection. If you have to limit yourself to one book on Mid-Atlantic cooking, this one is the most comprehensive, but it does limit itself to the Maryland region.

This book deals with all of the great classic dishes of the region, but these dishes are definitely classic interpretations, since it was written in the early sixties.

     The book has great illustrations, but they are of the state of Maryland and many of the historical houses in the region. It is without question a must have for reference in this region of cooking.

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Another convert to the Mid-Atlantic style of cooking 🙂

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Great Mid-Atlantic Cookbooks (Part 1)

Smith Island Crab Salad The most amazing crab ...

Smith Island Crab Salad The most amazing crab salad in the world! At Skipjack Seafoo and crab cakes d (Photo credit: T o n y)

Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook

By Frances Kitching & Susan Stiles Dowell

This local book published in 1981 highlights the renowned cooking and hospitality of a Maryland icon. Frances Kitching started cooking professionally in the 1950’s for workers installing power lines on Smith Island and soon after opened an inn on the island serving the tourist trade on this Chesapeake Landmark.

Her cookbook contains a sort of microcosm of Mid-Atlantic cuisine. It differs slightly from the more traditional cookbooks of the region in that she is more reliant on processed foods since bringing food to an island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay with no bridge is an expensive proposition.

Produce is grown on the island and even cows and other animals once grazed the shores, but steady erosion and commercial development have now reduced the availability of land and most products are brought in by boat.

Of course, the one thing Smith Island is known for is its greatest natural resource, seafood. This book highlights the Chesapeake Bay coastal cooking and is a fantastic local resource for preparing the region’s most famous seafood dishes. The book also chronicles the life of not just Mrs. Kitching, but of life on Smith Island in general. It is one of the first great biographical sketches of a way of life which is disappearing in the region. Many books since have been written on the perils of the waterman’s way of life such as “An Island Out of Time” by Tom Horton and for an all inclusive history of the region, I would suggest “Tidewater Maryland” by Paul Wilstach.

This cookbook is more than just a collection of recipes; it is also a chronicle of a simpler way of life, a life which is connected to the seasons as well as to the land and water around it. It is a good read, even beyond the recipes which flow from its pages. This is also the first cookbook to highlight the famous Smith Island Cake, which is now the official dessert of the state of Maryland.

Locally, this book is a bestselling classic, but nationally it is not very well known. I strongly suggest you check it out and see for yourself what Maryland coastal cooking is all about.


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Favorite Mid – Atlantic Dish

English: A shot of Baltimore from the southeas...

From the site stats the most viewed recipe biography on this site so far is Cream of Crab Soup. I am in the process of researching about 20 new entries for the blog and would like to know what recipes from the Mid – Atlantic region that people would like to know more about. The dish does not necessarily have to  been created in this region, there are entries like Sally Lunn Bread which came originally from England and your selections can include requests from sub sections of Mid-Atlantic cuisine such as Amish and Mennonite cooking. Just leave a suggestion below and I will add it to the growing pile of research and include it in an upcoming blog. The traditions of our region and the recipes that have made Mid-Atlantic cooking one of the most exciting in the world should be studied and analyzed to continue the evolution of the local cuisine. Some of you may have read past posts on the current trends in food and their impact on the region for better and for worse as well as the detrimental effects of environmental trends and the impact of politics on the health and safety of the food ways of the region. These issues will also be continued and explored further. as part of the evolutionary process, all cuisines must change over time, but our connection to them and the pleasure and memories which are associated with them should not have to fade away as well. look forward to hearing from you.

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