Monday, October 6, 2014

Biddeford, the town with Two Bookstores. Where we Find Julia Child and calves brains.

I am still daydreaming of my visit to Rabelais' Books in Biddeford Maine. Hidden away in a converted mill building about twenty minutes from Portland is a treasure trove of culinary history.

Recommendations from two separate people on the same day sent me there. (It was so bizarre I couldn't not-go) Not knowing what I would find, but sure it would be inspiring from the stories I had heard.

It was a couple of the most fun hours I had spent and I have been telling all my foodie friends about it since. Don Lindgren gave us a tour of his shop and let us dig around the shelves and drawers rifling through antique books, cooks journals, farm ledgers and menus from restaurants that long ago shut their doors. 
For a girl who heads straight to the cooking section in every used book store and is always keeping an eye peeled for the odd old cookbook in antique shops and yard sales this was a dreamland. It was almost too much, I wanted to look at every book, I could have spent days and days there.

I know everyone might not love old cookbooks as much as I; imagine you ended up in a store filled with seemingly every book ever published on the subject that excites you most. Like a kid in a candy store I was literally bouncing up and down. I felt like the luckiest lady to be where I was at that moment.
I got to look through a stack of books owned by Julia Child's in her french apartment. That is her signature on top of La Chanso de Roland. My favorite was La légende de St Germain des Prés, a 1950 photo book celebrating a classic day in the quintessential Parisian neighborhood. Young Parisians drinking cafe a lait for breakfast, in the afternoon they are "practicing jitterbug in the flower market", at midnight they are twisting at a night club, and the last image is (my favorite) a girl sleeping on her knee in the subway waiting for the metro home after a night of so much jitterbugging. The only caption: "6 a.m." Hilarious!

Flipping the pages of Julia Child's books was the tip of the iceberg. Lindgren has organized the shop by both subject and time period. Bouncing from one section to the next I found myself in a shelf or two of books on spices, next fruit, with a large section devoted to plums.  I breezed over the sections on how to raise chickens and bees.

Among the bins of cookery pamphlets, you know the type sold or given away by baking soda or mayonnaise companies, I found this definitive 60 ways to Serve Ham. I did not feel the need to bring this home, having never been a fan of ham. I am NOT a ham fan. My little sister always liked ham a lot. She was and still is a big ham fan! I doubt my mother had more than 3 recipes for ham. They all involved swiss cheese or mustard. And sometimes there were cans of deviled ham, which were strangely wrapped in white paper. When I had to eat ham I never liked it very much but felt that since it was my sister's favorite I should not complain so she could enjoy it and mom would make it again for her. That sounds very nice of me!

The real joy for me were the oldest cookbooks. The leather bound volumes kept behind glass doors were books I had read about in other books, but never seen in person. Cookbooks from grand houses in England, the very first Parisian restaurant reviews, some things in Latin I was amazed to see in the flesh. Don could tell how excited I was and carefully brought down his favorites for show and tell.

 He allowed met to take a few photos, above is a delicious sounding seed cake with rosewater and caraway seeds from The Complete Court-Cook.

There are very few pictures in these old books, these were a highlight; the carving diagrams take up much of this book, all varieties of dead fowl and where to cut up a calfs head. Look the poor calf's brain on display, like a brain hat.

Old British cookbooks are far from vegan. So so far.

I gleefully fell in love with many books with smaller price tags than the brain-hat book. I went home with a big armful of new and old books which I am still working my way through.

I already wrote a post about the beautiful grey book; Good Things in England.

If you happen to make it to Biddeford to find this mecca of cookery books I urge you to go down the street about 6 blocks or so to Elements, a coffeeshop and used book store. This is where I found a hilarious book called the ABC of Casseroles and a classically bad blender cookbook for a total of $5. The bar is covered with photos of authors, it is clean, sunny, and witty. Clever people, all the signs play with the periodic table concept.

Now I need to create more bookshelf real estate in my apartment.

1 comment:

  1. This is the MOST Amazing wonderful book store on earth!


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