Island authors serve up their second cookbook
Books are important to Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald, who have lived in Jamestown since 1996. Stavely served as director of the Fall River Library and Fitzgerald is currently a librarian at the Newport Public Library.
Now the couple have published a new book of their own, the second they’ve written together, called “Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England.”
Northern Hospitality follows Stavely and Fitzgerald’s first book — “America’s Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking” — which was published in 2004. The authors have once again turned to the historic traditions of food preparation in New England for their inspiration. Northern Hospitality can be seen as a companion to their first book, though both can be read on its own.
“The first book was a narrative history of New England cooking. It covers from the first settlement in the 17th century up to the early 20th century,” Stavely said. “We did a number of speaking engagements when we were promoting the book and a lot of people who attended our signing events said that they would be interested in having more recipes. This new book, ‘Northern Hospitality,’ is responding to that interest. Many of the recipes in the new book are for dishes that we talked about in the earlier book but didn’t give the full recipe for.”
The authors, no strangers to research, used a variety of resources to research their new book, including public libraries, reprint editions of older cookbooks, the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, which is devoted to women’s history, and full textbooks that are now available on the Internet.
The new book contains nearly 400 recipes, which come from the time period covered by the narrative in their earlier book. Among the dishes are wine-soaked bass served with oysters and cranberries, roast shoulder of lamb seasoned with sweet herbs, almond cheesecake infused with rosewater, robust Connecticut brown bread, zesty ginger nuts, and high-peaked White Mountain cake.
Stavely came across his interest in food writing in a very traditional way. “I’m interested in food as someone who likes to eat,” Stavely said, “and I’m not a bad cook. Kathy really started the probing into New England food. She drew me in and I got more and more interested.
She was kind enough to let me jump in as a co-author.”
Fitzgerald’s interest is primarily the result of the fact that she grew up as part of an Irish-American family in Medford, Mass., and ate the kind of food that is celebrated in traditional lore. For example, her family would have baked beans and brown bread on Saturday night. She began to wonder why the food she grew up eating didn’t have the same cache as the ethnic foods like Italian-American or German- American that were so popular. Fitzgerald became interested in discovering why the Yankee food tradition came to be seen as something of a default cuisine.
According to Stavely, “Our book is trying to look at the cuisine much more fully, take a broader range of samples of it, and show that it really is a worthy original cuisine that offers all kinds of good tasting dishes. It also speaks to the current interest in cooking with local ingredients.”
The authors didn’t cook all of the recipes in “Northern Hospitality,” but they did cook quite a few, and Stavely has some favorites among them.
“The first printed recipe for chowder, that we know of, was from an English cookbook by Hannah Glass. It’s quite different from the chowder that we’re used to. First of all, it’s not clam chowder. It’s made with cod and has all kinds of fancy stuff in it like Madeira wine, oysters, truffles and morels. You put a piecrust over it and crackers inside it. It’s really delicious.”
“Northern Hospitality” devotes four chapters to the subject of pies, which are a large part of the New England cooking tradition. “Until the 19th century, there were more pies made with meat, fowl or fish than there were with fruit,” Stavely said. “We actually bought the ham for one of the pies that we made from Pat’s Pastured, the local sustainable farm here in Jamestown.”
“It is a cookbook, a book that people can cook from,” he continued. “The recipes are not written the way people are used to having recipes written nowadays. It doesn’t give step-by-step directions, except for a few of the more recent recipes. Most of these recipes were not written in that style, which was only developed about 100 years ago. They kind of assume that the cook has some experience.”
“Northern Hospitality” is available from Amazon.com as well as Barnes & Noble in Middletown. Stavely and Fitzgerald have speaking engagements scheduled for May 22 at the Fall River Public Library and June 7 at the George Hale Library in Warren. They hope to add dates at the Jamestown Public Library and the Newport Public Library.