Clementine Paddleford

April 19, 2015

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Few names are as memorable as Clementine Paddleford, and yet our collective culinary conscience doesn't seem to have filed hers in the right place. A prolific columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in the forties and fifties– and the writer of the "Food Flashes" column in Gourmet –Paddleford spent the better part of her life traveling the country in search of America's best regional fare. She is variously credited as the first person to ever publish recipes for fried chicken, barbecue sauce, and cioppino. True?  Probably not. Still, she was way ahead of her time. She was, in many ways, introducing us to our own cuisine. It makes me sad to think that she never got to know that her time had come;  she died in 1967,  just a few years before food became an important part of popular culture.

Paddleford had a passionate regard for the everyman – and yet she was a product of her time.  Her ideas about hometown cooking often show their age. Reading her you begin to wonder what was for dinner if you did not happen to belong to an all-white community association. She began a column on Ohio desserts,"Here on South Park street in Cleveland, Ohio, the houses are built far apart with wide lawns and hedge between to give exclusive privacy." 

Still, she had a flair for the rare: she published a recipe for chawan mushi, the delicate Japanese custard, in the 1950s. 

Truth be told, looking through most of her recipes doesn't make me want to run into the kitchen. But just as I was thinking that, I came upon this, which seems remarkably up to date, given the current craze for all things pickled. Prune plums won't be in season for months, but I've been thinking this would work well with apricots – or maybe rhubarb? 

Paddleford got this recipe from the former first lady of Idaho. 

Mrs. Robert E. Smylie's Fresh Plum Chutney

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed chili pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons mustard seed

2 fat cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 small onion, thinly sliced 

1/2 cup preserved ginger, cut in thin slices

1 cup white raisins

3 1/2 cup fresh Italian prunes, halved and seeded (about 20 prunes) 

Mix together the sugars and vinegar and bring to the boiling point. Add remaining ingredients except prunes, and mix well. Then stir in prune halves. Simmer until thickened, about 50 minutes, stirring frequently and gently. Fill sterilized jars.

If you're a reluctant canner like me, just cut the recipe in half and freeze leftovers. I'll be serving mine with a sumptuous piece of pork. 



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  • Gregg says:

    Hi, Ruth:
    What do you think she meant by “preserved ginger”? Not sure what the modern equivalent might be (crystallized?) & I’d love to try this recipe, maybe with rhubarb as you suggest.

  • Ruth Reichl says:

    Hi Gregg,
    I’m pretty sure you’re right; she undoubtedly was referring to crystallized ginger. But back then fresh ginger would have been almost impossible to find; try it with fresh ginger and see how that works.
    (And if you do, please let me know!)

  • Should be great with fresh ginger, and guavas for me rather than plums, just going with what’s available (and free).

  • Anna says:

    This is great! Mrs Robert E Smylie was my grandma, Lucille. I was just talking about her plum chutney with my husband. I’ve been sorting through the old recipe boxes looking for it now that our Italian Plums are almost ready to harvest. My Dad said a jar of it was always in the fridge. The recipe was so popular that at one point, they actually had to assign a secretary to keep up with the requests for an autographed copy.