It came as a big surprise to me yesterday to learn that Emily Post wrote a cookbook. And you too can have a copy of it (original 1951 version, in hardback) for $2.30 from Amazon. (The shipping is probably twice that.) The 1951 version may be the only version as far as I know; unlike The Joy of Cooking, which has several versions and has been updated through the years.
In my opinion, if you never have but one cookbook, it should be The Joy of Cooking. It has every basic recipe you could (and should) know how to cook, and not only that, some fascinating reading about the properties of food (why and how do eggs work in recipes? How exactly do they make flour?) and directions for cleaning a duck from the feathers down, along with many other kinds of game. It really could be the survivalists’ handbook.
I don’t know why I was so surprised that Emily Post wrote a cookbook, because suddenly I remembered my first Home Economics class. At my high school, you could get three different types of diplomas: basic, vocational, or college preparatory. I was in college prep, and we had certain courses that were required–that was probably true of the other categories as well, but we didn’t fraternize much so I don’t know–but we had room for some electives. My freshman year, I chose Home Ec. And then I took it for two more years.
I was interested in cooking. My father had taught me to cook a little bit (my mother was a disaster in that area) and I’ll never forget making my first apple pie under his supervision, which included a crust made from scratch. Mostly I’ll never forget the feeling of amazement and accomplishment when I took it out of the oven. People can actually eat this, and I made it!
Nothing compares to that first apple pie, unless it’s the first time I grew a tomato plant. I planted this! In the dirt! And I can eat it! I was young once, and many things could surprise and delight me. It takes a little more these days.
But I remembered that my Home Ec I teacher, Mrs. Noland, was not just about learning to cook and sew. It was about etiquette at the table, and proper attire. She was the advisor to an all-girls “social club” I belonged to, and every year, we had an afternoon tea, I think to welcome new members. Hats and gloves required. Proper way to balance a saucer on your lap and hold a teacup. She was the height of sophistication in our little mountain town. That said, I don’t know why I was so surprised that Emily Post wrote a cookbook, since so much of etiquette revolves around eating.
Fast forward to when I was 21 as opposed to 14, and I was going to dinner with my then boyfriend at the home of a woman who was known to be an incredible cook. I mean, she had copies of Gourmet magazine lying around the house. Her husband was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and they were obviously experienced at entertaining. I was dying to go, but terrified. Literally trembling, afraid I would do something wrong at the table and expose myself for the rube I really was. My boyfriend said, don’t be afraid, just watch me. Use the fork I use. And that’s what I did, but I needn’t have worried. The hostess was so gracious, so good at making her guests feel comfortable, that I probably could have made a mistake and I never would have known it.
Mrs. Noland taught me some of the rules, but this hostess taught me the true meaning of etiquette. In the end, the rules are designed to make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed, and if you can’t do that, you’ve failed.
It’s been a long time since that Home Ec class and that dinner, but I still know how to hold a teacup.