he northern Rhody variation on sloppy joes); and for tourtiere, the French-Canadian meat pie, including one version from “Memere.” This book has an even wider ethnic range, including not just French-Canadian and Italian-American recipes but Polish, Swedish, Portuguese, Jewish, and good old Middle-American — i.e., the infamous “kitty litter cake” (look it up; it’s a hoot!).
A Taste of Heaven
has the distinction of a recipe from Bishop Robert Tobin — “spaghetti alle vongole,” with two pounds of fresh littlenecks — and, from Monsignor Thomas Bride, the Vicar-General of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut, a blueberry pie. Southern Rhody specialties include Wickford bread (a carrot-cake variation), Shelter Harbor Inn clam chowder (the creamy kind), Block Island chili, and scallop chowder (with sweet corn).
Cooking Through the Seasons
has a lovely painting of cows on the cover and categories that reach beyond the normal appetizer-entrée-dessert scheme. This book also has a welcome focus on cooking with the local bounty of farm, field, and sea. Rhode Island shellfish and fin fish, fresh veggies and herbs, and Sakonnet Vineyard’s wine find their way into these incredibly enticing recipes, many from local markets and eateries: Milk and Honey Bazaar, Stone Bridge Restaurant, Partner’s Village Store, the Stone House Club, Back Eddy’s, the Barn, Coastal Roasters, Sakonnet Vineyards, and Pot au Feu.
Two cookbooks that are not Rhody-specific but have strong ties to Rhode Islanders are Jessica B. Harris’s THE MARTHA’S VINEYARD TABLE
(photos by Susie Cushner, Chronicle Books); and MYSTIC SEAFOOD
, by Jean Kerr with Spencer Smith (Globe Pequot Press). The former is a beautiful book of stories and reminiscences, portraits of the island’s people and places, and evocative memories of its foods. Harris’s Tennessee family found their way to Oak Bluffs in the 1950s, joining a growing summer population of African-Americans, who have added another cultural layer to this mix of Native Americans and old-fashioned Yankees, Portuguese and Cape Verdean fishermen, and Jamaican, Brazilian, and eastern
European immigrants. The recipes reflect all of those traditions and then some: red pea soup with “spinners” (dumplings), “jag” (rice, beans and linguiça), couve (Brazilian greens), lobster grits, gingerbread with blueberries, sweet bread, kale soup and stuffies.
The Mystic book is also full of captivating tales, along with histories, of oysters, clams, mussels, lobster, shrimp, crab, and fin fish, from bluefish and cod to shad and swordfish, with a nod to monkfish, skate, and wolffish. There are several recipes gathered from Rhode Island’s seafood heritage, including clams casino (said to have originated at the casino next to the Towers in Narragansett); lobster croquettes, from The Rumford Complete Cookbook (1908); Rhode Island clam chowder (though the recipe comes from Mystic’s Kitchen Little restaurant); and boquerones (Portuguese-style smelts), from the now-departed LaMoia Restaurant in Providence.
The last recommendation in this bevy of books is a memoir: BACKSTAGE WITH JULIA: MY YEARS WITH JULIA CHILD, by Nancy Verde Barr (Wiley). For anyone who ever cooked from one of Julia Child’s recipes or saw her TV demonstrations, this book is a must. Indeed, Barr’s introduction to working with Child was a fundraiser held at the RISD Auditorium, and she includes her Great-Grandma Feely’s recipe for Rhode Island red clam chowder. Barr is an engaging and vivid writer, taking us into her memories in an almost confidential way, but also managing to keep the broader context of Julia’s legacy squarely in front of us. Her book is a surprising and delightful page-turner — a fitting tome to digest, along with Shott’s “drinking chocolate” and Desaulniers’s “chocolate gingerbread snowflakes.”
May your head dance with visions of sugarplums and all the other wonderful foods in these books.