I love cookbooks.
Four years ago, I was researching and writing my dissertation on Willa Cather. At least, that’s what I was supposed to be doing. After three intense years of coursework, nine months of study and preparation for the oral and written exams, and a whirlwind tour of archives to read Cather’s letters, by the time I was ready to start writing, all I wanted to do was bake.
And bake I did. For three months I made bread. Sourdough bread. Rye bread. Wheat bread. White bread. Cheese bread. You name it. If I could find a recipe for it, I was making it. After several months of this, my freezer was stuffed with frozen loaves of homemade bread. There was simply no other place to put more bread. And so the canning began. I canned jellies and pickles, tomato sauce and roasted red peppers. My kitchen was a laboratory. The house smelled divine.
That summer, I had a paper to present at the International Cather Seminar in France. There, I came face to face with my dissertation director who had no qualms in asking me, point blank, where my dissertation was. I stammered. I hemmed and hawed. And finally, I admitted that I had discovered the perfect sourdough starter.
Looking back on it, it makes perfect sense that I would turn to cooking at that point in my study. I had just finished reading numerous Cather biographies in addition to her letters to friends and family. Food was everywhere. Willa Cather was, shall we say, a bit of a gastronome. She had a french cook specially prepare her meals. She wrote, most often disparagingly, of the food she ate. Every biographer who has written about Cather has been forced to, at the very least, mention her obsession with food. Were she alive today, I have no doubt that Willa Cather would have one of the most discriminating and well-followed food blogs ever to be written.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the Willa Cather Foundation has recently published a cookbook: At Willa Cather’s Tables.
This little gem has recipes from no less than sixteen of Cather’s literary works in addition to Cather family recipes and a host of recipes from places Cather loved. It is also filled with excerpts from Cather’s novels and short stories and memories from friends and family members. If you’re like me, and you love both literature and cooking, it’s the perfect kind of cookbook. You can get it here: www.willacather.org
My dissertation director was not impressed with my experiments in gastronomy. Back then, his exact words to me were, “Gabriel. Just write the damned thing.” And that is exactly what I did. And yes, even my dissertation dealt, in part, with Cather’s obsession with food. But that was years ago. And though I’m still actively involved in all things Cather, I don’t currently have a deadline looming. The only real pressing matter is deciding what I should attempt first: Antonia’s Favorite Banana Cream Pie or Carrie Miner Sherwood’s Christmas Plum Pudding.