June 18, 2016
Merle Armitage was the Benjamin Franklin of LA modernism. He was an old-fashioned connoisseur and impresario (he facilitated the work of George Gershwin, Henry Miller, Martha Graham and Edward Weston, among others). He collected art. He loved to cook. (And here he is, as drawn by Henrietta Shore.)
But his true love was typography.
When he first met Henry Miller, Miller said,
“I’ve heard you were an author?”
Armitage confessed: “If the truth were to be known, I write books so that I may design them.”
Looking at this cookbook – and these recipes – one can’t help but believe the guy. It’s a beautiful, lovingly-designed book:
A later edition included the tagline “For those who like sophisticated food.”
He includes these incredible Edward Weston vegetables:
But then we get to the recipes. Candied ginger, mayonnaise, celery – cooked pears? Quite the time capsule.
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I HAVE that Merle Armitage cookbook! I have enjoyed poring over it many times, but somehow I’ve never managed to find a recipe that made me want to cook it. I dearly loved my grandmother, and I have all of her cookbooks, and this was one of them. Another interesting one of hers is The Art of Cuisine by Toulouse-Lautrec and Marcel Joyant, and yes, that’s the painter! He wrote a cookbook. Here’s a scan of the cover: http://www.theophan.net/temp/ArtofCuisine.jpg There is a note in the beginning saying, “This book was written in an age when recipe books were exciting but rather imprecise and when the reading cook was expected to share the author’s love of cuisine as well as his implicit know-how. Instructions were erratic…”
She also had The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, a 1912 version of A New Book of Cookery by Fannie Merritt Farmer, Escoffier’s A Guide to Modern Cookery from 1907 (with a recipe for asparagus ice cream, as I recall), and the 1950 edition of Gourmet’s cookbook, among others. She also had more prosaic books, like What to do with Herbs. 🙂
I love your tweets and posts, and was a happy reader of Gourmet from the early ’70s until its tragic demise. You did a superb job of bringing that venerable publication into the modern age, and I still miss it. Thank you for the many years of Gourmet that you guided so well.