Culinarily Challenged: New York in 1948

Eighteen years in my mother’ s house in Milwaukee, and four years in a dormitory in Smith College, left me ill-prepared to cook for my husband and myself in our tiny studio apartment with a pullman kitchen. Dick and I married in 1947; he was eight years my senior. This is how we met: Dick was restless after the War and had taken a job traveling the country selling bonds for the newly-formed state of Israel. When his car broke down in Milwaukee, he called the only person he knew in the city, an army buddy who was attending my Smith graduation party that night. Dick tagged along and, one bolt of lightning later, we were married within eleven weeks. We moved to New York together in 1948 and Dick, the native New Yorker, found through a cousin a place we could afford to rent in London Terrace on West 23rd St. I had been an International Relations major at Smith and studied with Dr. Hans Kohn, whose personal story corresponded so spectacularly with the drama of Europe. My original intention was to work for the United Nations, but traveling with Dick through his territory made us both realize how much fun it was to work together. We decided if we were ever going to make it big we had to do something entrepreneurial and we should do it together. What that “something” should be, we had absolutely no idea.

But first, I found myself in the role of homemaker with the responsibility of making the meals. I realized that, in fact, my mother had been an excellent cook, but I had only spent a little time with her in her kitchen. When my mother visited with us in New York she was puzzled that I would check with her while I was making a meal to see if she agreed with how I was proceeding. She asked me, “How do you manage when I’m not here?” My response was, “An amateur (ME) always wants the approval of a pro (YOU).” It saddened me that in her advanced years whatever she cooked would result in rare burnt, medium burnt, or well-done burnt.

My cooking improved over those first few months and I was enjoying this “chore” far more than anything else I had to do. My husband’s encouragement, whether out of genuine enthusiasm or through the innate manager’s strategy of motivating the struggling, became the stimulus to learn more about the art of food preparation.

Happily I discovered Dione Lucas who was giving cooking classes in New York City at that time. Dione Lucas (1909-1971) was an English chef and the first female graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She came to New York during the war and opened a Cordon Bleu restaurant, The Gingerman, as well as a school. She was a pioneer who proceeded both me and my more famous fellow Smithie, Julia Child, in providing a new generation of American women with much greater culinary horizons than those that they had learned from their mothers. (One little footnote about Dione that made a big impression on me when I learned of it years later: while a chef at a hotel restaurant in Hamburg before the War, she had the dubious distinction of preparing a stuffed squab for the reputed vegetarian, Adolf Hitler. The dish was said to be a great favorite of his.)

Instantly Delicious

Throughout the fifties, Dick and I enjoyed having impromptu dinner parties in our little apartment—with one couple sitting on the edge of our Castro convertible and Dick and I on the only two chairs we owned. Dick and I were both working so I needed to devise recipes that I could efficiently prepare but that were both beautifully presented and were delicious. This became ever more my modus operandi as I, through observation and study, developed a regular regime of trial and error to broaden my view of what was possible within the restrictions of budget and time, and what I regarded as healthy eating. In 1964, I collected several such experiences—only the smash successes of course—and produced Instantly Delicious. The busy homemaker with little time to whip up something fabulous, now found that she or he could do so from everyday staples, in no time flat. Give Turkey and Ham Mornay a try, double up in ingredients to match your guest number, and please let me know what you think.

—Chiers


The Cookbook: Instantly Delicious: Gourmet Recipes Using Canned, Frozen, and Ready Mixed Foods

SHARED RECIPE: Turkey & Ham Mornay

page 53 of Instantly Delicious

Click this card for the Shared Recipe post

Comments

  1. Really interesting post! My grandmother grew up on a farm in central Texas without running water and when she married my grandfather in 1941 and moved to the “big city” (Fort Worth), she too remembers fondly learning to cook in the city for her husband as being a totally different animal. I look forward to reading future thoughts of the week and learning more about your evolution as a home cook.

    Also, the recipe sounds great—I’m a pushover for anything involving a cheese sauce!

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