Entertain Like an Early 20th-Century, Way-Ahead-of-Her-Time Railroad Heiress

New Cookbook

While you are probably familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert and her best selling book Eat, Pray, Love, it's not likely that you have heard of her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter or her 1941 cookbook At Home on the Range. If this is true, then I highly recommend you remedy the situation and get your hands on a copy of this forward-thinking cookbook, which was just released by the folks at McSweeney's.

Elizabeth Gilbert was dimly aware that her great-grandmother had written a cookbook but it wasn't until she unpacked a box of old family books that she discovered At Home on the Range. She opened the book, started reading, and didn't stop until she read it straight through. Having done almost the same thing over a period of the last several days, I can completely understand why.

More than just a charming look into days gone by, this cookbook actually taught me a thing or two about how to cook, how to entertain and how to keep a sense of humor through it all. I was most impressed by an early chapter in which Mrs. Yardley outlines how she managed to feed the inevitable clutch of guests that follow her husband to the family's seaside cottage every weekend. She quickly developed a clever combination of precooked items and store bought treats that meant she could spend at least a few hours at the beach with her guests.

There are definitely moments of nostalgic cooking in this book, with references to aspics and several recipes for eel. But there's a timelessness, too, and even a bit of forward thinking as she wanders into immigrant neighborhoods in search of ingredients and stumbles upon a reddish brown tomato pie (ahem, that's a pizza!)

Mrs. Yardley is a wonderful, entertaining writer and a keen observer. There's a touch of M.F.K. Fisher in her prose, a bit of no nonsense practicality, that offers a glimpse into someone who was perhaps a bit more complicated than the wealthy homemaker image she presents.

Bonus: Elizabeth Gilbert is donating all of her proceeds to 826 National and ScholarMatch which matches underserved but high-achieving students with donors to help cover the cost of college tuition. Yes, that's right, all of her proceeds. So if you purchase this book, you are helping to send someone to college.

Quick Facts
Who wrote it: Margaret Yardley Potter, with a forward and recipe notes by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Who published it: McSweeney's

Number of recipes: Dozens and dozens, some in traditional form and others told in story form.

Recipes for right now: POM Pickles; Strawberry Blossom (a cocktail made with fresh strawberries, gin and heavy cream); Asparagus Soufflé; Pea Vichyssoise.

Other highlights: The illustrations from the original book, especially the blue and white endpapers; an excellent binding that lays flat when opened; her bread recipe which involves having a cigarette break while the bread rests and rises. The index is rather lame, however, as it is just a list of recipes in alphabetical order and not by ingredient.

Who would enjoy this book? People who appreciate vintage cookbooks; people who entertain a lot; and people who want to help to send deserving kids to college.

More:
At Home on the Range website
• Elizabeth Gilbert makes her great-grandmother's cookies in this video with with Martha Stewart and answers questions for Publisher's Weekly.

Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: At Home on the Range by Margaret Yardley Potter with Elizabeth Gilbert.

Related: The Canape: A Classic Cocktail Party Nibble

(Image: At Home on the Range)

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Dana Velden has just finished writing her first book: Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Meditations and Recipes from a Mindful Cook which is based on her Weekend Meditation posts from The Kitchn. (Rodale Press, Fall, 2015) She lives in Oakland, CA.