Lillian Hellman was the provocative playwright who authored The Children's Hour and The Little Foxes. She authored a memoir, Pentimento, which included the story of her close friend, Julia. The book became an Oscar- winning film of the same name. The story of "Julia" it was later revealed was not that of Hellman's "friend" but the story of New York psychiatrist, Muriel Gardiner, who claimed she was "Julia" and that she had never met Hellman, though she did share lawyer with Hellman. The inconsistency in her work sparked one of America's great literary feuds when Mary McCarthy said on national television that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."
One work that did belong to Hellman was a cooking memoir, Eating Together, she wrote with Peter Feibleman. They spent spent many summers together on Martha’s Vineyard. Both were writers, both were Southerners born in New Orleans, and both were a bit difficult – Lillian Hellman much so.
The tradition in the kitchen was to work separately as neither liked to have the other interfere in their cooking. Each was right, always! There was no interference, or sparks flew. Lillian Hellman says, “he puts up with turkey, while I think it is worthless.” As for her recipes, Hellman points out,
“You will note that we haven’t always given exact timings because there is no such thing in cooking. Exact timing cannot be done. It’s a fake. It depends on your stove, the opt you’re cooking in, the temperature outside and too many other factors for any cookbook to tell you how long to do anything.”
Peter Feibleman notes that,
“the social mores of the artist-intellectual set on the Vineyard are the flip side of Easthampton which is to say that a man who wears a tie is gauche elegance is outré, discomfort a virtue, modesty a must, casual living reigns and who has air-conditioning in a bedroom admits to it.”
In spite of their opinionated beliefs, a strong bond formed which led to many parties. They say that the people who are most impressed with celebrity are other celebrities and making a guest list for a party on Martha’s Vineyard is an inescapable exercise in name dropping. So when Mike Nichols visited Hellman, there was need for a dinner party. The guest list was a Who’s Who dripping with Kennedy, Cronkite, Mailer, Graham and Styron to name a few. Hellman vacillated till the bitter end on what to serve. In keeping with the bohemian existence of the Vineyard, she chose a pasta, salad and dessert. By the day of the dinner, Hellman announced, “Fuck all of them.” But the dinner progressed. Feibleman was heading out of the kitchen with the following salad. Hellman stopped him at the kitchen door and removed a lone radish he had stuck on the top, tucking it deep into the salad saying, “ You don’t want people to think you’re decorating food around here. Some of them would never speak to you again.”
Chopped Vegetable Salad
1 zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces
2 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces and lightly blanched
2 cups green beans, cleaned, cut into bite-sized pieces and blanched
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 bunch radishes, sliced
2 packages frozen mixed vegetables
2 cups Romescu sauce
Combine all vegetables in a large bowl. Toss with 2 cups Romescu sauce. Refrigerate and serve well chilled.
1/4 cups almonds, toasted
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
Pulverize almonds, garlic, cayenne pepper, slat, tomato and vinegar in a blender. Slowly drizzle in oil, making sure that each addition is completely absorbed. Adjust seasonings to taste with additional salt and pepper.
Let's hope Hellman would not find my salad too decorative. In recent years, Hellman paid a hallucinatory visit to Lisa Simpson in an attempt to get her to start smoking.
For those of you wondering, Lisa demurred.
For those of you who know more about The Simpson's than Lillian Hellman, there is no truth to the rumor that she invented Hellman's Mayonnaise.
Catch a slightly different, though clearly plagiarized version of this post for Famous Food Friday on the Lucindaville blog.