The remarkable thing about the first Olive Green cook book I purchased was its design. I bought it for its content, One Thousand Salads. I was more than persuaded by its comely cover. Blue and white gingham, smart ivory paste-down outlined in green, with its title in red and a beautiful green and red trellised rose vine hugging a red cup of coffee sitting on a red handled service plate. Hummm. It sure was pretty. I had no idea at the time there were nine other cookery titles Ms. Green produced during her very short life. And, that she was a famous romance author. Lavender and Old Lace is the most recognizable today.
Book designer, Margaret Armstrong, known for her highly stylized decorative book covers, outdid herself with this charming set. These are very handsome little books. Gilt top-edged paper, deckled for-edge, small but hefty for their size. Originally they were protected by plain brown paper dust wrappers with a little publisher's blurb on the cover.
There is much to Ms. Green's biography. Olive Green is the pseudonym of Chicagoan Myrtle Reed (1874-1911) who married Irish-Canadian James Sydney McCullough in 1906. At the time of her marriage, she was an established and popular G. P. Putnam writer of "Edwardian chic lit." She produced 17 books, innumerable household columns (under another pseudonym, Katherine LaFarge Norton) and the ten cookery volumes in the Putnam's Homemaker Series during her short 13 year writing career.
Illustration: Lisel Ashlock from Chicago Magazine by Dan Carlinsky 11 September 2007 "Hell in Paradise Flat."
She came from a widely talented family, one whom quipped about Myrtle, "The only instrument she could play was the kitchen range." Paradise Flat was the home she built before her marriage, where the 'keynote of her home was hospitality' and favorite toast was, "May our house always be too small to hold our friends."
Jan Longone of the Clements Library wrote a terrific article about the Putnam Series in the Fall 2003 issue of Gastronomica (both are wonderful food history resources). Unfortunately, Myrtle Reed suffered her whole life with bouts of depression and ultimately committed suicide despite her roaring publishing success. Two beautiful volumes of her collected works, culinary and prose, were published posthumously: The Myrtle Reed Cook Book and The Myrtle Reed Year Book. One of my favorite food-related entries in the Year Book is, "Cooking and love may seem at first glance to be widely separated but no woman can have one without the other."
Each book is crammed with hundreds of recipes, supposedly 1000 per volume, clearly written in an informal paragraph style. She expects some kitchen experience from her readers. These are not cooking school texts. No lists of ingredients. Just a clear thoughtful expression about how the recipe is to be produced in as few words, in as little space, as possible. An example from Everyday Desserts:
Molasses Gingerbread-I. (There are III Gingerbreads)
Melt a tablespoonful of butter, add a cupful of molasses, a pinch of salt, half a cupful of sour milk or cream, and a heaping teaspoonful of ginger. Add a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in a little cold water, and a pinch of salt. Sift in two cupfuls of flour and bake in a quick oven in deep buttered tins. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.
The chapter titles within the volumes are quite unique to Ms. Green's style. She veers completely away from conventional categories, using instead Twenty-Eight Blanc Manges, or Twenty-Two Dumplings, and Twenty-Three Gingerbreads. In What to Have for Breakfast, she offers a parody of the popular Omar Khayyam"The Kitchen Rubaiyat." In One Thousand Simple Soups, she pens "The Ballad of the Empty Pantry and the Seven Guests."
The following list are the titles in the cookery series.
VIII. One Thousand Salads
My set of Olive Green cook books comes with a back story as well. The original owner, 15 year old Esther Atwood, known as a fine cook, purchased the set during a shopping trip to Coffyville, Kansas while a celebration was taking place on the anniversary of the demise of the notorious Dalton Gang (October, 1912). Esther married Don Weidman in 1920 and during their marriage the books moved with her from Kansas to Nebraska and Colorado. They finally ended up in Vancouver, Washington with Esther's granddaughter, Lane Weidman, who sold them to me. The set retained most of the dust wrappers, which I had never seen. The books have been well cared for and cherished. And remain so.
In the foreword to The Gourmet's Almanac, Allan Ross Macdougall heaps praises on the enterprising author of these books, How to Cook Shellfish in particular.