23 July 2009

Hometown Appetites

Hometown Appetites by Kelly Alexander Cynthia Harris is a biography/cookbook. It brings to light the life of one of the greatest food journalists America ever produced, Clementine Paddleford. If you haven’t heard of Clementine Paddleford, you are not alone. During her lifetime, however, Paddleford was named by Time Magazine as the most famous Food Editor in America. She had a daily column in the New York Herald Tribune and a longer piece in their Sunday magazine.

Her monumental work, How America Eats compiled recipes from around the country. She spent 12 years and traveled 800,000 miles compiling regional recipes that showcased the food of America.

Harris and Alexander cite several reasons for Paddleford’s work falling out of favor. First, The Tribune folded while the New York Times became the newspaper of record. Craig Claiborne was Paddleford’s main competition and he wrote for the Times. At roughly the same time How America Eats was published, The New York Times Cookbook with Claiborne’s byline came out. Both books featured home cooking from around the country, but Paddleford’s was folksier and didn’t have the imprimatur of the Times. How America Eats went out of print while Claiborne’s book remains in print to this day. Paddleford also suffered from having her publishing company change hands as Scribner’s merged with Athenaeum which became Scribner’s Book company which merged with Macmillan which was purchased by Simon and Schuster, which kept reference books under the Scribner’s name who were then sold to Thomson Gale. I think that’s right. So who knows who owned Paddleford’s copyrights or cared about keeping her in print.

Paddleford’s writing career and the heyday of her fame culminated in an era before television. Not that Paddleford was suited for television. She was no raving beauty and she developed throat cancer in at 33. Not wanting to give up her career, Paddleford underwent a rare surgery where a metal tube was inserted into her throat. She was able to speak by placing her finger over the hole in her throat, giving her a raspy and shallow voice. Paddleford disguised her problem with a choker that became part of her “look.”

Paddleford also rose to fame before the wave of individual “branding” where your name is a commodity. Paddleford had an offer to continue her byline by selling her name. As there was really no precedent for such a thing, she declined. Her contemporary, Duncan Hines, chose a different route. One wonders what might have been if Paddleford had taken the money!

From her article, “Those Refreshing Melons” is a recipe for a lemonade.

Watermelon Lemonade
1/2 cup of sugar
3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups finely chopped watermelon
1 cup lemon juice
1 quart carbonated water
Crushed ice

Dissolve sugar in the boiling water. Put watermelon pulp through a fine sieve; make sure no seeds get through. Combine strained watermelon juice with lemon juice and add to sugar syrup. Chill thoroughly. At serving time, add carbonated water and pour into tall glasses a quarter filled with crushed ice. Garnish with mint.

If you care about food, Clementine Paddleford is a name you need to know. We often loose the work of women, because they write about “women’s work” and that is regularly undervalued. Paddleford was a writer, traveler, journalist, pilot, editor and pioneer in culinary history and a woman who knew how America eats.

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