A client called to book a dinner party for February. They want a traditional English menu of roast prime rib, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, carrots, and sticky toffee pudding. I nodded agreement to everything until she asked for Duchess Potatoes. I quickly went through my mental recipe box and couldn’t find an entry. “You know, the one from the Purity Cook Book,” she explained.
Oh, that recipe. I smiled and assured her I did indeed know it.
This is one of the benefits of collecting cookbooks, especially unusual, eclectic and even dated ones. A few months ago I found a 1967 copy of The All New Purity Cook Book at a local used bookstore. I wasn’t sure if I should buy it as many of the recipes call for shortening (not found in my pantry), plus flour, yeast and leaveners from 45 years ago were much different, so most of the recipes would need tweaking. With fat, salt, sugar, pepper and Worcestershire sauce the primary seasonings (herbs and spices sparingly if ever used in English cooking of the time), the recipes weren’t that inviting.
Still, there was something comforting, almost nostalgic about having a cookbook from the time
before celebrity chefs and television cooking shows. A time when cooking was something we did every day, creating meals to nourish, celebrate and eat together. I decided to add it to my collection.
The Purity Cook Book was one of the most popular in Canada, first published in 1917 by Maple Leaf Mills, Ltd. Primarily an advertorial to encourage consumers to use their Purity flour in the baking recipes, the 1967 All New Purity Cook Book also includes vegetables, mains and desserts.
Most of the recipes were simple enough to be fool proof and reading them more closely at home, I began to see how the fundamental recipes could still work. I also could see how these basic recipes were the foundation for dishes we make today using fresh herbs, spices from around the world, tropical fruits, whole grains, and fresh vegetables to shape them into a fuller, richer and even more delicious meals.
To dismiss The Purity Cook Book as irrelevant would disrespect those dedicated and creative cooks that came before us. While we might no longer use the recipes as written, they are as much part of our history as any textbook. They were the kitchen guides for our mothers and grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers.
I bought the cook book in homage and gratitude to them. I never intended to use any of the recipes, and I certainly never expected a client to call and specifically request a recipe from this of all cook books. Everything old is new again.
I’ll let you know how it works out in February.