Recently, Elizabeth Gilbert unpacked some boxes of family books that had been sitting in her mother's attic for decades. Among the old, dusty hardbacks was a book called At Home on the Range, written by her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter. As Gilbert writes in her Foreword:
'I jumped up and dashed through the house to find my husband, so I could read parts of it to him: Listen to this! The humor! The insight! The sophistication! Then I followed him around the kitchen while he was making our dinner (lamb shanks), and I continued reading aloud as we ate... By the end of the night there were three of us sitting at that table. Gima had come to join us, and she was wonderful, and I was in love.'
The cookbook was far ahead of its time. In it, Potter espouses the importance of farmer's markets and ethnic food (Italian, Jewish and German), derides preservatives and culinary shortcuts and generally celebrates a devotion to epicurean adventures. Potter takes car trips out to Pennsylvania Dutch country to eat pickled pork products, and to the eastern shore of Maryland, where she learns to catch and prepare eels so delicious, she says, they must be 'devoured in a silence almost devout'.
Part scholar and part crusader for a more open food conversation than currently existed, it's not hard to see where Elizabeth Gilbert inherited both her love of food and her warm, infectious prose. At Home on the Range is a fascinating, humorous and useful cookbook from the past that is essential for the present day.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of three books of non-fiction, the multi-million-copy-selling Eat, Pray, Love (now a major motion picture) and its bestselling follow-up, Committed, as well as The Last American Man (nominated for the National Book Award and a New York Times Notable Book). She has also written a short story collection, Pilgrims (a finalist for the Pen/Hemmingway Award), and a novel, Stern Men. She was a writer-at-large for American GQ where she has received two National Magazine Award nominations for feature writing. In 2008, Time magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Elizabeth Gilbert lives in New Jersey. Margaret Yardley Potter's book is culled from a lifetime of cooking and entertaining in her home, from the 1920s and through the Second World War. It was first published in 1947. In addition to being a cooking columnist for the Wilmington Star, she also painted, sold dresses, assisted in the birth of four grandchildren, and took up swing piano.