vp cookbook

My mother got a copy of Mary and Vincent Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes when it was published in 1965, and that book changed our lives. Seriously. My mother had a lot of cookbooks back then, but this was the one we cuddled up with in the afternoons after school. When I think of cozy, comforting moments from my childhood, that’s what comes to mind, Mom and me side by side on the couch, the book spread over our laps.

We studied every page carefully, and went back to our favorites over and over. We examined the menus of the restaurants, many famous, some not, that Mary and Vincent visited, and the recipes the restaurants shared with them. Indeed the book’s subtitle is Famous Specialties of the World’s Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen. Wonderful head-notes describe their visits to a given restaurant and their enjoyment of the food and company, as well as their later experiences making the recipes at home. Can’t you just picture Vincent Price clanging around with his copper pots, with that twinkle in his eyes and devilish grin, offering Mary a taste of New England Clam Chowder from Locke-Ober’s recipe?

This book was designed to be savored. It is such a beautiful book. The first printings featured a padded bronze-colored cover and matching ribbon bookmark. At the rear of the book there was a section for wine lists and personal recipes. I have seen this done in recent years, but the idea was new in 1965-era cookbooks. There may be equally artfully done cookbooks from that period or before, but I don’t recall any.  Mom and I especially loved the magnificent photos of Vincent and Mary Price’s home filled with art. I can close my eyes are bring up every detail of the copper pots and tiles in their kitchen, which appear opposite the introduction, “An Invitation and a Promise.”

This is not the page from the book, but it is a photo of the kitchen that is pictured on that page. I do not have permission to publish text pages from the book.

Before Mom got the book, my knowledge of Vincent Price consisted of House on Haunted Hill, the horror film that my brother loved and I pretended to be brave enough to watch with my eyes open. Little did I know that Price made those films to feed his passions for art collecting, world travel and good food. When my mother and step-father went to restaurants in the book and brought home the menus to save in the pages of the book, they were channeling the lifestyle example set by Mary and Vincent in their travels.

House on Haunted Hill movie poster

Mom bought copies of the book for every birthday and wedding shower in the family in those years. Later, when it was out-of-print and I worked in the book business in New York, I grabbed every copy I ever found in bookstores all over, just to have extras on hand for us to share with future converts. We each try to have a “good” copy and a “working” copy, but sometimes the “good” copy gets given away. Then the chase is on to replace it.

My mother was an equally big fan of Vincent Price’s autobiography, I Like What I Know, which describes his experiences as an art collector as well as his adventures as an actor.

Whenever Mom would take children in the family to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, she would first take them to visit her favorite painting, Vermeer’s A Girl Resting. When Vincent Price curated a selection of art reproductions for Sears, he included that painting, to her delight. Of course Mom bought it, and it held pride of place over the piano.

Mom had the pleasure of meeting Vincent Price on a mystery cruise to Bermuda in 1985.He was pleased that she brought several of his books, including  I Like What I Know—required reading in our art and food-loving family—for his autograph. Their meeting happened to occur on her birthday.

Sally Murphy and Vincent Price, October 2, 1985.

Sally Murphy and Vincent Price, October 2, 1985.

They discussed the well-known Native American art collection at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, where my mother volunteered for many years. That was a birthday Mom will never forget.

My mother usually had the book open on the kitchen table, and taught me to cook from it. It includes Sardi’s Meat Sauce (page 285), a natural for my New Yorker mother. I know no other, and it is my go-to sauce from scratch. When we were expecting a tornado to make land one time when I was in Florida, after we filled the tub with water and taped up the windows, I baked a cake and made a big batch of Sardi’s sauce and spaghetti to get us through the storm. We stayed up all night and feasted. One year when I didn’t return home from college for Thanksgiving, I made the French Chocolate Ice Cream (page 441) for a large group as we dined on old doors held up with cement blocks in a drafty loft. It wasn’t traditional apple pie for dessert, and we fancied ourselves rebels (it was the 70s), so we liked it more.

When I met my husband of course I showed him the book. He noticed that the Lasserre Restaurant was included, and through his eyes I was charmed anew by the menu which featured bare-bottomed cherubs in chef’s hats attending the Rotisseur and tripping and falling as one ran in carrying a duck twice his size, knocking over another cherubic chef carrying a platter of vegetables. My husband had lived in Paris as a child, and his parents had enjoyed dining at Lasserre. Soon after our honeymoon, as new brides are wont to do, I made Soupe À L’Oignon (page 46) for him, because I knew it to be a favorite. It was my only failed recipe from the book.

I could go on. But then there’s the banana nut bread. Mom and I tried it one wintry day after school and never looked back. I have been baking it for forever. One year I made a loaf as a Christmas gift for each person in my company’s editorial department. Many of us have our go-to recipes to bring places, and this is one of my favorites.

banana breasdMy son prefers it without the walnuts, and that’s okay. No matter how busy I am, if we have bananas in the house, I cannot refuse a request from him. As long as he smothers it with cream cheese as the head-note to the recipe prescribes, it is as Vincent says, “ambrosia”—and who can turn down that prospect.

Cinnamon Girl_Front Cover Crop_Lo-Res_Facebook-Twitter_72dpiWhen I decided to write a mystery novel, there was no question that I would set it in a cookbook shop. Inspired by the fact that Vincent and Mary collected recipes from beloved restaurants in the book, I included “Recipes from Treasured Cookbooks” in Cinnamon Girl: A Village Cooks Mystery as openers to many of the chapters. The characters discuss the book at dinner one night:

“The great part about it,” Sally joined in, excitedly, “is that Vincent and Mary went home and prepared the recipes themselves. It is not just a collection of recipes from landmark restaurants all over the world. Anyone could have done that. This is a collection of those recipes gathered on wonderful occasions and then later cooked at home, with Vincent’s anecdotes and stories included with each one. On the title page it says ‘Famous specialties of the world’s foremost restaurants adapted for the home kitchen.’”

Ian laughed. “How did you remember that?”
“Because I’ve looked at that page hundreds of times!”

Cinnamon Girl, pages 114-115

And two of them go on to make the banana nut bread.

When we held the book launch for Cinnamon Girl last October, I gave away a gift basket containing the book and the tools needed to make the banana nut bread,

vincent cookbookwhich we also served at the party.

banana bread sign

I was very happy when Victoria Price gave me permission to include the banana nut bread recipe in Cinnamon Girl. When I conceived the book I selected recipes from cookbooks I loved that connected with the activity in each chapter. It took months to get the permissions from all of the sources, but Victoria was wonderfully gracious in her response (so was Dorie Greenspan).

In March, when Victoria was passing through on a cross-country road trip, she invited me to lunch at the Orange Squirrel, a restaurant that features annual Vincent Price dinners on Halloween. When I walked in and saw a stack of cookbooks and other books piled on the end of the table, I knew I was with kindred spirits, folks like me who dined with books on the table and an interest in sharing them with each other. Victoria brought a copy of the book with her on her road trip for everyone to sign.

Elaine and Francesco Palimieri signing Victoria Price's copy of the book during our lunch.

Elaine and Francesco Palmieri signing Victoria Price’s copy of the book during our lunch.

We had one of those lunches where the conversation went to a level of intensity immediately, and stayed there. Those who know me would be surprised to know that for much of it I was at a loss for words.

Francesco, Victoria and me at the Orange Squirrel, his restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ.

Francesco, Victoria and me at the Orange Squirrel, his restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ.

Victoria wrote a blog about our get-together, “A Perfect Lunch.”

http://www.cookingvincent.com/blog/2014/3/11/a-perfect-lunch

She invited Francesco, his wife Elaine and me to a “Vincent Price Inspired Evening” which began with cocktails and a slide presentation of Vincent’s life by Victoria at the Viacom building, followed by a dinner party she was hosting at Sardi’s the next night.

Elaine, Francesco and me in front of Sardi's.

Elaine, Francesco and me in front of Sardi’s.

Victoria described the evening with great warmth and love, as a hostess her Dad would have been proud of:

http://www.cookingvincent.com/blog/2014/3/13/new-york-dinner-at-sardis

I have never made the dessert Sardi’s is famous for, Boccone Doce (Sweet Mouthful) (page 254). But that night I took one bite and thought it was the best dessert I’ve ever tasted.  The 1965 menu in the book lists it for 85 cents! I am trying to get up the nerve to make it, and will let you know when I do. Maybe for my birthday.

sardis vp dessert

 

Vincent Price Sardi's3For me, cookbooks represent an invitation to much more than good food and healthy eating. They are a promise of happy times, a challenge to create traditions. As a cookbook that does all that and much more, A Treasury of Great Recipes will always lead the pack. BookFinder.com lists it as the fifth most-sought-after hardest-to-find out-of-print book. If you find one somewhere, grab it. I eagerly await the 50th anniversary edition, and encourage you to reserve one here:

http://www.cookingvincent.com/

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