Good Things to Eat, As Suggested by Rufus by Rufus Estes
Facsimile reprint. First printed in 1911, Rufus Estes's Good Things to Eat is the work of a former slave and the first African American chef to write--let alone publish--a cookbook. Estes rose in life to become a chef to two presidents, European royalty, Pullman Private Car travelers, and late-19th-century celebrities such as "Bet-a-Million" Gates. His cookbook, reissued in facsimile with the addition of 56 period images, is a remarkable window; through it we can view the food of an era, the fine and everyday cooking (the two overlap) of its time. Readers interested in American history, culinary and otherwise, and in encountering one of its singular personalities will embrace the book.
Here Estes shares some of his 600 evocative dishes, the labor, he notes, of years: Chicken Timbales, Celery and Nut Salad, Tomato Soup (three kinds, one prepared with corned-beef stock), Rechauffé of Finnan Haddie, Boston Baked Beans, Lamb Curry, and Creamed Spaghetti (the pasta in a white sauce). There are stuffing recipes for duck, rabbit, fish, goose, pig, and turkey, two of which, clearly designed for Estes's carriage trade, contain truffles. A chapter on bread specialties includes recipes for Rye Breakfast Cakes, Graham Bread, Oriental Oatmeal Bread (inexplicably named, as its only "exotic" ingredient is molasses), Quick Muffins in Rings, and, simply, dearly,"A Pan of Rolls." This everyday breakfast item, to be started the night before, contains sugar, lard, and butter. The sweets chapters--there are three--reveal the vast range of early 20th-century "dainties" and include Baltimore Cake (two versions), Snippodoodles (thin, cinnamon-flavored cookies), Crullers, Cranberry Sherbet, and Maple Parfait. While written in the abbreviated style typical of the time, the recipes could be made by cooks with the kitchen experience Estes justifiably assumed of his audience. This is a lovely, instructive, and, considering the history of it author, moving book--a vivid look at a near but totally vanished American past. --Arthur Boehm