BOOK REVIEW: This local history is quite a plateful

“Cook and Chatter” by Jill Peck Vona

JILL PECK VONA, RAISED IN COPAKE, has written a fascinating piece of Roe Jan history. It’s a cookbook. How is it history? The answer is that there are various types of histories: political, economic, and social histories are three broad ones and culinary history is a type of social history.

“Cook and Chatter” is subtitled “A Trip down Memory Lane.” In that spirit, in addition to many old Roe Jan area families’ recipes, the book features relevant photos. They are of (and from) old familiar Roe Jan/Columbia County names like Albright, Ackley, Blass, Fuller, Hermans, Miller and Peck.

The Copake Stitch and Chatter Club members seen here are: (l-r, top row), Jean T. Peck, Rose Kaufman, Lula Jensen, Charlotte (Skeeter) Dean, Bernice Bristol, Harriet Strassburger, Sophie Bowerhan, Polly Langdon; front, Marge Barton, Barbara Ackley and Helen Pateman. Photo courtesy of Jill Peck Vona

Initially I perused the book’s photos. My favorites include “Lunch at the dock of the Peck family’s Copake Lake cabin.” It was the Pecks, who started two highly successful businesses: a mortuary and an insurance company in Copake. There are two photos of Copake’s Frank Stang taken at his Church Street, Copake service station. We see Pecks, Whitmores and a Piester on a horse-drawn sleigh.

There’s the old Copake theater, which became a victim of arson, and a great one of Jill’s mother, Jean, at the (pre-clock) flagpole in the center of Copake. We also see Max Fass, Lou Kaufman and his wife in front of pharmacy, and a 1920-ish one of kids at the old Main Street (Copake) school. Finally, there’s one of Myra Knox, Inez McIntyre and Edna Carl at the 1924 Great Barrington Fair. All told, the photos are charming.

Peck Vona poses challenge to her readers. “Cook and Chatter” has an index, of course. But lazy readers beware. She Orders the reader to leaf through the book, identify recipes you like and then write down their page numbers in the index. Jill intentionally omitted them. So who was I to disobey orders from someone whose family name is so prominent in the Roe Jan area?

And now to the recipes. Having passed the 70-year-old milestone a few years ago, I have great nostalgia for many of these foods so familiar from my childhood, though I did not have the good fortune to grow up in Columbia County. Generally they’re quite simple and therefore doable. There is nothing remotely like Julia Child’s complex recipes, which so many folks admire but rarely have time to make. Purists may take issue with some shortcuts that Jill (and the original sources) suggest. Thus Joyce Roche’s Best Baked Beans, uses canned pork and beans as the first ingredient. Well, it makes cooking simpler–and that’s how Joyce did it. So there!

Ruth Tremper’s chicken liver pate caught my eye. So I duly recorded in the index that it’s on page 154. So did Nita Fuller’s ice watermelon meringue and Alan Kaufman’s creamy blue cheese dressing. Step aside Newman’s Own.

Looking at some of the photos and the recipes, and knowing folks from some of the families who contributed them, I can imagine that Carrie Blass’ Filled Cookies (page 169) must surely have been a favorite of her granddaughter Wendy and her star baseball player grandson Cecil a.k.a. “Teetles” of the Copake Falls semi-pro team.

I can conjure up a basket full of Jean Peck’s zucchini bread served at lunch time at Windswept, the Peck’s summer cabin on Copake Lake. Ann Drumm’s Pepper Hash (Page 167) contributed by Ann’s daughter, Carol Lee Miller, had to have been a popular dish at West Copake’s former Knickerbocker House, the hotel that Carol Lee’s grandfather, George Rover, owned until its 1940s demise.

Seeing the photo of Rose and Lou Kaufman, (and a very nice one of Rose alone), I can imagine her bringing a bowl of this “Jewish penicillin”–as chicken soup is sometimes called–to a bedridden next-door neighbor.

And finally, looking over Barbara Ackley’s Tea’s Chocolate Cake in my fantasy I see Barbara, her five daughters and some friends enjoying it with coffee on their splendid former farm on Empire Road, perhaps watching Ben putting one of his trotters through its paces. Tea, by the way, was a woman who worked for the Ackleys long ago.

I’m not sure whether Peck Vona, a freelance photographer, cartoonist and writer living in Latham, has invented a new style of cookbook, with her use of photos of local folks and what seems like an original layout. But with her selection of old, down-home recipes, photos and occasional stories of townsfolk, she’s created a winner, sure to please both the old Columbia County families as well as relative newcomers.

Nancy Fuller, also from Copake and now the host of “Farmhouse Rules” on the Food Network, wrote the foreword.

“Cook and Chatter” is available at www.jillpeckvonabooks.com and at local bookstores.

Howard Blue, editor of the Copake History Facebook page, can be reached at . He is a historian, a retired teacher and chairs the Committee to Save the Bash Bish flag.

RECIPE

Ethel Porteous’ Sour Cream Johnny Cake

It’s a good one this time of year. Like a cornbread but not as dry. Great with baked beans, or make a hamburger base with onions, peppers, corn, spices, and tomatoes and pour this recipe on top and bake in oven. You then get dinner on the bottom and the cornbread on top. (any hamburger combination on the bottom) Actually the juice from below gives a nice flavor in the cornbread on top.

YOU WILL NEED:

1 egg

1 tspn salt 1 tspn baking soda in a little boiling water

1/3 C sugar 1 C sour cream

¾ cup flour ¾ C corn meal

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DIRECTIONS:

Beat egg well. Add salt, sugar and flour and mix until smooth. Add sour cream and cornmeal. Dissolve baking soda in a little boiling water and stir in last. Bake in moderate oven at 350°F for 20 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

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