Foodstuff: Notorious fan of cookbooks |

Foodstuff: Notorious fan of cookbooks

Cookbook authors from Aspen’s history endear one reader to the recipes

A stack of cookbooks in columnist Kaya Williams' "cookbook nook."
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Late last week, as I corralled some friends into my kitchen for a cozy offseason cooknight, we happened upon the subject of notoriety.

Someone — Liz, probably, or maybe Hannah or Henry — had proposed a summer outdoor cookout. It had been done before, Hannah said: Legend has it some guy used to hike up Buttermilk and cook hot dogs at the top of Tiehack. We weren’t sure who, but much of the evidence pointed to a dear friend who I’d consider “a notorious fan of hot dogs.”

Which prompted a follow-up: What foodstuffs were we “notorious fans” of? After some lengthy mulling, Henry landed on raw meat and fish of the tartare and sushi varieties. But it took less than 30 seconds to determine where my reputation lies: “a notorious fan of cookbooks” was the obvious answer.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my enthusiasm for recipes might come off as “a bit much.” I’ve covered a wall in my living room with the back covers of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and lined the table below end to end with recipe collections and kitchen-adjacent literature. “The Cookbook Collector,” a novel I devoured, is in that stack; maybe a little too on the nose, eh?

But I also believe this enthusiasm is warranted, especially for the old yarns and great fun that I find in reading old lists of ingredients and instructions and introductions. I got hooked in college, in a “Cookbooks and History” class furnished by a spectacular collection of collectibles and handwritten recipe cards; these days, the Aspen Thrift Store enables my habit and enhances it.

You, too, can find the treasure trove at Aspen Thrift, right at the bottom of the stairs on the lower floor. It’s just about the best collection I’ve ever seen outside of a university setting (though I’ll confess I have not seen too many non-collegiate compilations), better yet because I get to keep what I find.

A stack of food and cooking-related books in columnist Kaya Williams' "cookbook nook."
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Among the treats I’ve found on those shelves: “The New York Times Cookbook” (1961) and its siblings, “The New York Times Menu Cookbook” (1966) and “The New York Times International Cookbook” (1971), all with recipes from the New York Times, and a 1971 edition of “The Playboy Host and Bar Book” and a 1979 edition “The Playboy Gourmet,” with hundreds of recipes each from Playboy magazine (yes, that Playboy).

Tucked in the stacks, I’ve got “Beard on Bread,” a 1979 education of bread recipes by James Beard, and “Kitchen Classics from the Philharmonic,” a 1992 compilation of recipes and classical music pairings from affiliates of the New York Philharmonic.

But my favorite acquisitions are most often the community cookbooks that contain so much of Aspen’s history in their pages. I treasure my 1988 “Snowmass Chapel Cookbook,” which features familiar names and sections like “Chapel Pastries,” “Backpack Yummies” and “Balloon Festival Breakfasts.”

Two local community cookbooks: the "Snowmass Chapel Cookbook" and "Recipe Requests from the Mace Kitchens."
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

A recent find, “Recipe Requests from the Mace Kitchens” from 1999, is a relic of hearty health foods from the Stuart and Isabel Mace’s family operations up at Toklat at Ashcroft and at Malachite, a farm at the base of Mt. Blanca in the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Aspen Potpourri,” which I scooped not at the Thrift Store but at our office, was filled with the rich flavors and faces of old Aspen.

Most fun, though, is Tukey Koffend’s “No Cooking at All. Almost. Hardly.” I found the book, a collection of “Interesting Recipes for the Lethargic Gourmet,” at last year’s Aspen Thrift Shop art sale. The back cover informed me that Koffend ran the “eclectic” Uriah Heep’s shop in Aspen for 25 years, hosted a daily “Aspen A.M.” show on TV with her two pugs and staked claim to the title of “oldest living cookbook author.”

I scooped the book mostly for its quirky illustrations and its even quirkier recipes that fulfill the promise of the title — recipes like “Tomato/Orange Soup,” which calls for just two cups of orange juice and two of cream of tomato soup and claims to have a “very nice ‘mystery taste,’” and “Beets with Sour Cream,” which calls for canned beets and dollops sour cream. (Some are more elaborate, like the collections of quiches and souffles.)

But I’m keeping it around less for the menu than for Koffend’s clever, generous voice, preserved in the book she published just a year before she died in 2005. Notorious fan of cookbooks that I am, it’s often their authors who endear me to the recipes inside.

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