The VPR Table: Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen
02/04/11 5:55PM  Download MP3
Even before the James Beard Foundation began awarding Vermonters for creative culinary writing - Calais native Louise Andrews Kent was revolutionizing the rural cookbook as "Mrs. Appleyard". Her text could turn an orchard into an impressionist masterpiece --- when she described blossoming apple trees as "Degas dancing girls in tulle and pearls with arms reaching up to the sky."
Learn about the legendary kitchen of "Mrs. Appleyard" Friday afternoon and Saturday morning on the VPR Table.
We may be tempted to take Vermont cookbook writers for granted. We've got James Beard award winners Molly Stevens, Deborah Krasner and the VPR Table's own Rowan Jacobsen. There's Melissa Passenen and Andrea Chesman and others, singled out for national attention. It wasn't always so. Until the middle of the 20th century, most Vermont cookbooks were of the Church Lady variety - Some were great but, being compilations, they lacked a cohesive personality, a point of view - a voice.
That changed in the 1940s, when Louise Andrews of Boston married a Kent of Kents Corner in Calais, and began writing cookbooks as Mrs. Appleyard of Appleyard Center. Her recipes are old-fashioned - oatmeal lace cookies, corn pudding, white sauce -- her writing is anything but. Beans, ripening suddenly in the garden, she wrote, "must be dealt with like small children in a tantrum: Kindly, firmly and at once." Plum pudding, she intoned, "is not especially improved by being dropped." But her hallmark was her appreciation of the landscape.
Here's an apple orchard in bloom: "Degas dancing girls in tulle and pearls with arms reaching up to the sky." A small hayfield, surrounded by hardwood trees, during foliage -- " like a room with old tapestries on the walls." She noticed how fields in autumn are "lion-colored," the "Air Force Blue" of the winter sky.
Louise Andrews Kent died in 1968, but her legacy lives in the best of today's cookbooks, the ones that reflect what Cornwall writer Amy Trubek calls "a taste of place." Vermont's beauty, Mrs. Appleyard wrote, "is in the bones of the land, and its enduring and compelling power." Mrs. Appleyard's compelling power is that she knew in her bones that Vermont leaves its mark - on its people, its food...even its cookbooks.
Join us next week on the Vermont Table - for the un-Valentine dinner.
Mrs. Appleyard's Oatmeal Lace Cookies
From "Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen" by Louise Andrews Kent (Houghton Mifflin, 1942)
"If Mrs. Appleyard is remembered by posterity, it will be for these cookies...."
2 and 1/4 cups uncooked, rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 and 1/4 cups light-brown sugar
1/2 pound butter
1 eggs slightly beaten.
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or almond extract, if you like it
A word from Mrs. Appleyard:
"Begin by looking at the weather. It is no use trying to bake these cookies on a hot sticky day. Make brownies or sponge cake [instead]. The day should be cool and crisp with a few white clouds high up in the blue. The wind should be in the northwest. The smell of newly cut hay, the sound of a downy woodpecker tapping on the apple tree, cowbells in the distance and the silky rustle of maple leaves are desireable, but not absolutely essential. [NB: depths of winter works fine]...
"Never make the mistake of adding more flour because the mixture looks too wet. Never try to bake anything else in the oven at the same time. Don't try to get along with less than three pans.....Never leave the stove while these are baking. Let the telephone ring."
And now, the method:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three heavy-duty cookie sheets with baking parchment.
In a large bowl ("that old Bennington one with the crack in it") stir together the oats, flour, salt and sugar. In a small pot, melt the butter. Let it get quite hot but not bubble. Stir it well into the mixture until the sugar is melted. Add the slightly beaten egg and vanilla (or almond) and stir all together.
Push the batter of the end of a large spoon with a spatula, onto the prepared pans. Make small lumps two-inches apart. Do not smooth them down; they will attend to that themselves. You will get about 9 cookies per pan.
Bake 6 to 8 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom of the oven about halfway through. Set on the counter to cool for a few moments. When cool enough to peel off the parchment, do so, and put cookies on a cooling rack.
"If you have good luck and no one comes in to ask you how to play Mah Jongg, or to ask whether any socks came home in the wash, you should have just about enough tie to get one batch of cookies off the pan and the pan filled again while the next batch is baking. At the end of the time you should have about 50 cookies - minus any that were wheedled out of you and the ones you ate yourself to be sure you were doing all right."
"Be sure they are cold before you put them away. A large box with a tight cover is the Appleyard repository for them, and they are put in between layers of waxed paper. They will keep crisp as long as there are any left. Mrs. Appleyard says she kept some once for almost two days."
VARIATION: In his excellent book, "Simple Cooking," food historian John Thorne (Viking Penguin, 1987) modifies this recipe slightly. He toasts the oats in cast iron skillet set in the preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes. He reduces the flour to 2 tablespoons, specifies unsalted butter, and adds 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger to the recipe. Thorne calls "Mrs. Appleyard's Year" "one of the few good New England cookbooks published this century."