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At Home on the Range: A Cookbook Presented by Elizabeth Gilbert

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At Home on the Range

At Home on the Range

At Home on the Range was written by Margaret Yardley Potter and first published in 1947. Potter is, along with a practiced cook and an excellent writer, the great-grandmother of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, who found a copy of her great-grandmother's book in a trove of family belongings and rightly thought that the book's information and style would be as appealing today as it was when it was written.

In a way, At Home on the Range is a bit of history. It gives insight into what Americans were eating in the early part of the 20th century. It also describes how one woman got that food. In Potter's case, that involved seeking out the best she could find - from farmers and fishermen, making deals when things were tight - and making the best of it without making herself nuts in the process.

That's where this history lesson gets interesting. While some of the dishes she made aren't on the average home menu these days (I haven't heard of very many people whipping up kidney stew for their guests lately), most of what she describes sounds incredibly familiar. Her suggestion that weekend guests at a beach house be served cutlets with tomatoes and eggplant, baked potatoes, cole slaw, and trifle doesn't seem like a half-bad idea. That she lays out an entire weekend of meals, complete with what to make ahead and what to do when ready to serve, makes Home on the Range much more than a history lesson. It's a lesson on living.

These lessons include how to be prepared for unexpected guests, detailed advice on painless entertaining (her three-column approach to menu preparation is brilliant - write out every dish including drinks in the first column, what you have on hand to make it in the second column, and what you need in the third - since it covers planning, shopping, and cooking in one document), and suggestions on what to bring and how to comfort the sick.

Since it is a cookbook, At Home on the Range includes plenty of recipes too. Gilbert has pulled out family favorites - chicken livers with red wine, oyster bisque, and tea cookies are a few examples - in the back of the book with her notes and space for readers to jot down their own interpretations. The real treasures, however, are the simple recipes littered throughout the text.

Potter writes recipes in a wonderful straight-forward manner, with only those tips as are needed for success, yet her love of food and company come through in every one. And I'll follow the advice of anyone who warns "stewed tomatoes should never be thickened with bread crumbs, flour, or, perish the thought, cornstarch, but simmered uncovered until just the right consistency." Truer words, in my humble opinion, have never been written.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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