Matt Lee and Ted Lee talk about their beloved
Elizabeth Maxwell, our late grandmother, had a profound
influence on our cooking, though you'll have to banish any images of
an apronned Southern Grandmother laboring all day at the stove,
stirring her collards and hushing her puppies. Gran, as we called
her, was a thoroughly modern Yankee, wearer of short skirts and
seeker of good conversation and great tastes, liberated by canned
soup, public buses and the premature death of her husband to
entertain with abandon in Manhattan in the 1970s, and then in
Charleston, South Carolina in the '80s and '90s.
As a single woman of limited means, pragmatism ruled, in her
kitchen and in her cookbook collection. A typical dish was her
flank steak (a recipe we adapted for Simple Fresh
Southern-wonderfully simple to execute, and with stellar results.
Her source cookbooks were not numerous, but they were very
well-worn, and supported by a fat sheaf of recipe clippings.
While organizing our own cookbook collection recently for entry
into our EYB account, we came across a blue pamphlet that was
Gran's early form of EYB, a "Recipe Finder," tabbed
with different categories-soups, appetizers, fish, etc. (Diet was
crossed out!) In her distinctive art-deco print, she wrote her
favorite recipes, the source and the page number. If she was
searching for a chicken dish, she flipped to the "poultry &
game" tab, where the top entry was "broiled chicken with tarragon
butter, The Gourmet C.B., p. 298." Flipping through her Recipe
Finder today paints an instant portrait of her taste--the specific
cookbooks that excited her then, as well as the individual dishes
in those books that she found irresistible. What we were intrigued
to discover is that her culinary interests crossed borders even
before her move down South: there were more than a few entries
citing The New York Times Cookbook and June Platt's New England
Cookbook, but also plenty from "The Memphis Cookbook" and "Southern
Living: Our Best Recipes!"