Foodstuff: ‘Aspen Potpourri’ Revisited
A cookbook from the past gives a winning recipe for community
Mick Ireland can write a heck of a recipe.
This is not a statement I make with any more than an ounce of knowledge about his culinary habits or aspirations. The only time I’ve ever spoken to him was during a people-on-the-street interview at last summer’s Fourth of July reverse parade in Aspen, and I had no idea who he was until I asked him to spell his name and realized it sounded familiar. I just thought he was some random guy walking around. (Then again, aren’t we all?)
Still, I feel confident staking this claim based on his instructions for “Brown Rice Surprise” that I found in a 2002 edition of “Aspen Potpourri” by Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, the late, great and dearly beloved writer, photographer, columnist and editor who contributed to The Aspen Times for more than half a century.
The recipe — which is really just a roundabout way of telling someone to cook some brown rice and add veggies fried in butter at the end — includes theories about lab-rat testing and instant rice additives and has cooking-time caveats for “altitude, attitude, water temperature and whether your utility bill is paid up for the near future.”
A “cup” to the cook can mean “left over Boulder Bolder Race cups, simply lemonade cans, beer mugs, Pyrex beakers ‘borrowed’ from a long-abandoned chemistry lab, even measuring cups.” He suggests boiling the water and rice for “more time than an inning of baseball and less than one quarter of the typical NBA game.”
It was printed, “of course, all in his own words.”
And like most of the great delights of our silly little town, I stumbled upon it (backwards, as a dear friend of mine likes to say) without realizing what I was getting myself into. I didn’t even know “Aspen Potpourri” was a cookbook when I snagged the volume from the up-for-grabs counter at the back of our office.
All I knew was that I wanted to get my hands on the work of Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, whose clarity and spark I had just discovered while reading a recent reprint of her 1981 account of “The day Andy Warhol visited The Aspen Times.”
After a year at the Times, I knew her name but not much else until I read that story and realized I wanted to know everything about her, her life, the Aspen that she knew and what she would think of the Aspen that it has become, though I can’t very well ask her about it now.
(This would be a good time for you to make that wet-behind-the-ears joke you’ve been saving up since I admitted I didn’t know who Mick Ireland was because I’m about to get heartfelt and then teasing me won’t be very fun at all.)
I know the way old-timers get starry-eyed about the sweet towniness and good eating that used to flow out of homes and restaurants around these parts. Even some of my 20-something contemporaries who moved here not too long before me wax poetic about institutions I’ve never set foot inside and characters I’ve never met, places and people that I may never encounter.
Some nostalgics might be discouraged by this prospect and find it all the more reason to sigh wistfully about the way things used to be. I think they just haven’t read enough cookbooks yet.
Sure, I can’t warm up at Gretl’s Restaurant with a strudel, but I could make a batch of Gretl Uhl’s liver soup from the recipe in “Aspen Potpourri.” I may not have a run-in with John Denver, but I can flip to page 128 read his tips for environmental conservation. I’ll never be edited by Bil Dunaway, but I can make the same fondue that was served in Chamonix when he made the first ski descent from the summit of Mont Blanc with Lionel Terray in 1953.
There also are plenty of recipes from the still-living: the book is recent enough that I could still text Jill Sheeley if I have a question about her broccoli soup or email Tony Vagneur about his mountain stew or track down Madeleine Osberger to ask about her zucchini bread if the need arose.
I may not be able to ask Hayes about the rich life she led and the friendships she forged here, but I can glean the essence of it from the warmth of her photos and the vast collection of foods and ideas she compiled in five editions of the book.
I can even, if I want, make Hayes’ “Aspen Potpourri.” There is a recipe for it on page 102 (main ingredients: wildflowers and spices), but also one of a different kind in Hayes’ foreword: “some old timers, some newcomers, some jet setters, some artists, some writers, some celebrities, some musicians, some truck-drivers and cat-skinners, some chefs and some just good cooks.”
“Some of the people are no longer in Aspen,” Hayes wrote. “However, all the people in this book gave something of themselves to Aspen … and will always be a part of Aspen.”
We should all be so lucky to enjoy their recipes, too.
“Aspen Potpourri” is on the shelves at Carl’s Pharmacy and the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus. There are a few copies available at the Aspen Historical Society’s Wheeler/Stallard Museum. Explore Booksellers does not currently have the book in stock but can order copies.
The Pitkin County Library also has several editions available from 1968, 1975, 1976 and 1990, according to their online database.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that there also are copies of “Aspen Potpourri” at the Aspen Historical Society’s Wheeler/Stallard Museum.
Kaya Williams is a reporter for the Aspen Times and the Snowmass Sun who would almost certainly pay $29.95 for a Mick Ireland cookbook. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.