30 September 2011

The Happy Table of Eugene Walter


OK, some of you may not think Eugene Walter is that famous, but I do. It is one of my greatest regrets that I never met Eugene Walter. In a previous post at Lucindaville, we extolled the copious adventures of Mr. Walter. At Cookbook Of The Day we have featured several cookbooks from Eugene Walter. If ever there was a Renaissance man, it was Eugene Walter who was at varying time in his colorful life:

cryptographer

writer

poet

artist

founder of a chamber orchestra...
...and the Paris Review

winner of a Lippincott...
...an O’Henry...
...a Sewanee-Rockefeller fellowship...
...the Prix Guilloux

puppet maker

music composer

opera singer

actor (including Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Lina Wertmüller’s Ballad of Belle Starr and 100 others)

cookbook author

legendary party-giver

consummate Southerner

They just don't make them like this anymore. For much of his later life, Eugene Walter talked of writing a book about gumbo. It is the great "lost" book of Eugene Walter and the first question everyone asks his executor, Donald Goodman. Goodman says the book never existed. I have asked him repeatedly. One day last year, I got an e-mail form Goodman. While there wasn't a gumbo book, there was a manuscript that never got published. The University of North Carolina Press was going to publish the cookbook and Don wanted me to know. I immediately pre-ordered the book. The Happy table of Eugene Walter arrived last week. First I just looked at it for a couple of days and finally I sat down to spent the day with Eugene. It was the next best thing to meeting him.



The first thing one notices about the book is its division. The first, substantial section, is on drinks. Southern drinks, of course. There are 5 juleps, 7 eggnogs, 13 punches, two pages of instructions on iced tea and 9 hangover "cures" all with a proper history and introduction.

The second section is on victuals. And what victuals they are. Walter offers up a favorite from the famed creole cookbook author, Celestine Eustis. The recipe is a basic bread pudding recipe titled "Monkey Pudding." The recipe calls for stale bread, milk, cream, sugar and spice, but it is the actual baking instructions that caught Walter's eye. According to Eustis the pudding is cooked until... "it looks like an old monkey."

Water loved monkeys and one can just see him laughing at as he pulled that monkey pudding from the fire.
Walter never looses his humor nor his writing style when introducing a recipe. Here is his introduction to Sunday Supper Onion Pie:

"Okay, you have the wreckage of a baked ham, roast beef, or pork. So prepare your favorite flaky pastry for a deep pie pan --not a casserole, not a shallow pie pan, but a deep pie pan. Bake it; chill it.
Then make your onion pie filling. There are dozens of recipes. And, just like the 2,000 green tomato pie recipes are about evenly divided between sweet versions and savory ones, same's true of onions. Many eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century green apple pie recipes were simply northern apple pie recipes with, in the apple-less south, green tomatoes substituted for Eve's preference."



Walter's description of learning to make rice from Marie Honorine Julac is worth the price of the book.


Here is a little recipe Walter calls, "a mad dish from the 1920's."

Whoopsadaisy Toast

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound grated Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup dry Champagne
Dash of mace
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Toast

In your chafing dish, melt butter over hot water, then add grated Cheddar cheese. As it melts, gradually add Champagne, Pit in a dash of mace, a pinch of salt, and a hint of freshly ground white pepper; serve immediately over warm toast. Chilled champagne, of course, with it.


Cheese toast. Every kid has had it at one time or another, yet, in the hands of Eugene Walter it becomes an elegant and delightful luncheon. "In your chaffing dish..." because everyone has a chaffing dish, really what kind of Southerner are you? "A dash," "a pinch," "a hint," all less than a 1/4 teaspoon, but important measurements to be learned through a culinary osmosis. Chilled champagne-- "of course" -- because what is the point of whoosadaisy toast without a little champagne on the side.

I said it before and I will say it again, I am very sorry that I never met Eugene Walter. But, I am grabbing a bottle of Champagne and making Woopsadaisy Toast for lunch in his honor.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for introducing me to this charming author previously: I ordered the Delectable Recipes from Termite Hall immediately, and am enjoying reading in it immensely. Savoring the writing. love his recipe for baked potato. Will have to get this one too now. Great blog.

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