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Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles
Letters to Helen Evans Brown
By James Beard, John Ferrone
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 John Ferrone
All rights reserved.
Both James Beard and Helen Evans Brown had cookbooks published in 1952 by Little, Brown. Their fan letters to each other set off their twelve-year correspondence. JB was beginning another book, James Beard's New Fish Cookery, and asked HEB's help with recipes for West Coast fish. In January 1953 he became a consultant to Edward Gottlieb Associates, promoters of French cognac and champagne. In April he made his first trip to California in thirteen years and visited the Browns. On the way back he attended the National Restaurant Show in Chicago. In late June he went to Nantucket for the summer to manage and cook for a restaurant called Chez Lucky Pierre. On September 22 he sailed for Europe, toured the Bordeaux wine country, spent time in Paris and London, and returned to New York in early November on the Queen Elizabeth. By early December, JB and HEB were planning to collaborate on a book of outdoor cookery.
36 West 12th Street New York May 23, 1952
My dear Helen—
There, you see, I have started. Thanks for your letter—and for the recipe for the Flapper Salad. I showed it to someone who took it seriously. God, where can their sense of humor be?
I want to send you Paris Cuisine properly inscribed. I think it is a pretty book. Little, Brown did very well by both of us this year. Monday night my very good friend Bill Palmer of the Café Continental is giving a dinner for the press and promotion people—about forty. Wish the two of you could be here. We are giving them chausson of lobster à l'Américaine, poularde Maxim's, rice pilaff, pineapple au kirsch and two of the cakes from the book. Champagne, a really wonderful Tavel '45 and liqueurs comprise the wine list.
Send me a couple of your favorite fish recipes, typically Western, for my fish book if you will. I'd love to have a few things from other people. Make it something you are really fond of.
All the best, Jim
[36 West 12th Street New York] August 4, 1952
My dear Helen—
In the middle of all this heat I am doing pictures of eggnog and all the holiday cheer. Then, come January, I will be doing mint julep. There is no rhyme nor reason to this life whatsoever.
I have never cooked abalone in my life and wonder if you would be good enough to send me two or three recipes which you can vouch for to use in the fish book. I don't want to take recipes from here and there, because I can't try them out.
If you are doing a book for Spice Islands I want you to include my (or rather Mary Meerson's) beefsteak Flamande. Mary really uncovered it when she and her husband [Lazare] were doing all the research and the designs for Carnival in Flanders. It is nothing more than a lot of rosemary pressed into a thick steak with the heel of the hand and then grilled. But the flavor is something you wouldn't believe true. I like it better than any steak dish I know. I have also done it with a whole filet which was wrapped with fat. Stuck the rosemary under the fat and roasted the whole thing in a very fast oven.
Also try frying breakfast cereals in a little butter and garlic powder or celery powder, and add a few peanuts and almonds to it. Soupçon is doing that here and getting two dollars a quart for it.
There is a movement afoot, with quite a little of the money already raised, to start a new food magazine. Know of anyone who might be a likely person to buy a share of it?—it is going in $5,000 hunks so far. And don't tell anyone who is close to Gourmet at this point, for several reasons. At any rate I think you should, when the thing gets going, apply for West Coast editor. I know it would be received kindly. So far we have Philippe of the Waldorf, Peggy Wood's husband, Bill Walling, Sam Field, the publisher, and my friend Bill Palmer, who has about ? of the money in the world, it seems to me, and several others. I say "we" but I have nothing to do with it so far except they have called me in as a consultant about it. God knows, there is the need for a first-class food magazine.
I must stop this and get busy roasting about 15 pounds of beef so that it will look pretty for the damned picture tomorrow.
My best to you all,
[36 West 12th Street New York] September 17, 1952
The abalone recipes, if I haven't already thanked you, were elegant. I could use a special one if you want to do it for me.
I am getting so fat that I can hardly move around. What I am going to do, God only knows. And right now is the time when everyone is giving parties and people are eating and drinking too much. And me, going to Europe in March unless TV prohibits. There is no help in us, as the prayer books used to say.
I have to fly to the bank and put in and take out. What a life—no one can save a bloody cent—I am always poor nowadays.
If you ever find another copy of The Web-Foot Cook Book, let me know about it. I should love to have it for sentimental reasons.
All the best, gastronomically, Jim
Pasadena [September 1952]
My dear Jim,
The second copy of Web-Foot Cook Book we find will be yours. The first, I selfishly admit, will be ours. We have tried to years to get one....
I, too, am poor and fat. What a world!
36 West 12th Street New York January 20, 1953
My dear Helen—
Last year I was nuts for the month before Christmas, with Sherry Wine & Spirits1 calling on me all the time and having to do several articles and then doing three television jobs, including getting to the studio at 6:30 Christmas morn to roast a goddam goose.
My neck is being broken by the fish book. I have to ask you for some more help. It has been so long since I have been on the Coast that I forget some things. Salmon, smelts, halibut, sand dabs, porgies—most of them I remember vividly. But I am stumped by the rockfish—which is not what rockfish is here—striped bass, is it? And then the ling cod and the Alaska cod baffle me a bit, too. The Alaska cod I remember as being a very oily fish which bakes well and kippers well, and the ling cod I remember as a pretty good all-round fish. Do you get any whitefish from California waters? or red snapper? or fresh haddock? What kind of bass are there in the markets? And can you give me a couple of good recipes for the following:
Any unusual Chinese recipes—I have sweet and sour and fish with walnuts, etc.
Anything else you might think of would be so appreciated I would practically crawl out on my hands and knees to thank you.
Fresh sardines—do you use them?
I have taken on a job as consultant to the new cognac campaign they are putting on over here. It is to run for a year and should be pleasant bread and butter for that time. I hope you have lots of things with cognac in them in print this year.
Tonight I have Alexis Lichine and two others for dinner. I am giving them some charcuterie and a little bit of green to start with—then duck with turnips, mushroom sauté with parsley and garlic, cheese, and a chocolate soufflé, which is the recipe I use for chocolate roll and soufflé both—6 eggs—beat the yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar and beat in 6 ounces melted semisweet chocolate—then fold in the 6 beaten whites and bake. Simple and really good. I usually melt the chocolate with a little rum. We are sampling about four wines so I have more or less simple dishes to enhance them.
I hope you don't think I am imposing, asking you so many fish questions. I promise you your name in double caps in the new book.
36 West 12th Street New York February 4, 1953
My dear Helen—
Thanks, thanks for your letter and all the help. I am writing on taste memory, as I remember the sablefish and the dabs and some of the other fish we had around Astoria and Gearhart. Your fish chart is a magnum opus.
Yes, Little, Brown are doing it, and it is going to be a rush job at the end, I can see that. Do you and Philip have that new book of La Monte's—Marine Game Fishes of the World? If not I shall send it toyou at once—it's rather good. And have you all the books from the Department of the Interior, written by Rachel Carson, on the fish of the Atlantic? If not, I shall ask Rose Kerr [of the Department of the Interior] to get me a set for you. They are worth adding to your collection for the information as well as the writing. And I'm afraid those days in Washington are gone when they have someone like Carson to do a job like that.
The soufflé, I find, cooks best at 375 rather than at the high temperature of the French recipes. I once discussed this with [Louis] Diat, and we came to the conclusion that the hotel type of soufflé cooks quickly because the oven is always hot, but in the home unless your stove is perfectly insulated there is no chance that the soufflé will do the same job. Therefore 375 is really safer. It depends on the time—around 25 minutes, for wet, I find is right. You do my favorite soufflé, of course—a ginger one with gobs of preserved ginger in it? And whipped cream with little bits of ginger? That is something.
Back to my fish.
36 West 12th Street New York February 26, 1953
My dear Helen—
Thanks a million for the recipes. I have incorporated them and have finished the first draft of the damn book except for the shark recipes you promised to send me.
They have just sent me the galleys of a rather charming book by Sophie Kerr and June Platt called The Best I Ever Ate, which is a series of reminiscences of gastronomic highlights in their lives, with recipes for the dishes they talk about. More and more I feel that the real future of the cookbook lies in that sort of book. Stories and recipes and gaiety—well, you did it to a great extent in West Coast Cook Book and it captivated everyone. If I were only a really good writer I would do something fabulous in that direction—but maybe I shall find someone to ghost it for me or do it with me.
My dear friends Kathi and Claude Sperling have an amusing place at Nantucket called Lucky Pierre. It is the first attempt on this coast to do a real West Coast hamburger and sandwich job—with fantastically wonderful decor and advertising, which has captured all New England. They can't be there during the summer so I am going up to be the manager—and if it goes the way we think it will, we shall take our lives in our hands and start the same thing here in New York. For the only thing of its kind we have, called Hamburg Heaven, with about six branches, is something you or I would spit on in passing—but it has made a fortune.
Tomorrow night Francis Guth, a tycoon in the textile business who cares only for cooking and eating and wining, is doing a dinner for fourteen in a friend's kitchen. We are getting a clear game consommé, a pâté of duck livers and grouse in artichoke bottoms, a cold roast sturgeon with his special sauce, a wild turkey flown from Yucatán, with another sauce, some sort of braised vegetable, cheese, and a dessert which slips my mind.
This, along with wines chosen by Lichine, should make a unique and wonderful dinner—many too many courses for me nowadays, but interesting anyway.
Thanks again for the recipes. You have a halo of truffles intertwined with old southern smilax and large goose livers.
Always the best, Jim
36 West 12th Street New York May 18, 
My dear Helen and Philip—
I haven't had time to catch my thoughts since I left International Airport almost a fortnight ago. The restaurant show in Chicago took all my time and energy, for that immense barn of a pier is one of the most fatiguing places in the world, and the walk to our booth was almost a good mile, it seemed to me.
I have returned here with many ideas in my head. Firstly, I know that the Browns made me as happy as I have been for a long time. The wonderful times we all had during the days I was there in Pasadena are something I shan't forget. I am convinced that we should and will be a team—and if there is any chance of becoming tops in this field I think we can do it, with a few breaks. I felt yesterday that I would have given anything to have dropped into the Brown kitchen, run up some sort of an experiment and then chinned for a few hours.
As for my next step, either I keep on plugging along with all the things at hand or I find a new outlet. Perhaps the summer at Nantucket will help me make the decision. I am not so sure that the thing I want isn't a restaurant of my own—or with someone else—interested, Browns? I know that I never want to think of writing another cookbook or anything like it. Especially after getting the news that neither Paris Cuisine nor West Coast Cook Book has been publicized in Portland. In fact, several people asked me when my Paris book was to come out. Why do we waste time doing books when it gets us nothing?
The restaurant show showed more ways to imitate food than you can imagine. There were artificial onion soups, ice cream made from old rayon petticoats, barbecued sandwiches heated with a steam pipe in one second, cake mixes and pancake mixes by the ton, little doots to keep potatoes white, and so forth. All the equipment in the world and much that was fine. I may have a freezer as a result. But as for anything to make food better or more truly flavorful, there was nothing. A sad commentary on the future of food in this country. If restaurateurs are intent on cutting quality and giving artificially puffed-up food, there is no chance for any of us to do missionary work.
I dined at the famed Pump Room and had what I consider to be the end of all dinners for $13.00. I am going to give them a pumping when I write about it in Apartment Life. I was begged by the captain to try the—quote—"Sliced Beef Tenderloin cooked in Burgundy wine, Old French Market, buttered noodles (on Wagon)." Well, it was on wagon all right, but for the life of me there was no trace of the Old French Market. It included some rather large chunks of what may originally have been chuck but so cooked in something resembling red wine and thickened with cornstarch that I couldn't quite tell all the other things in it. This was served in a ring of noodles which had been heating away on the steam table for lo these many hours—and with no seasoning whatsoever. A half-bottle of Haut-Brion 1934 was served in a glass which you wouldn't think large enough for a liqueur. And for the first course two little pieces of king crab meat with mustard dressing—specialité de la maison—to the tune of $2.50. Of course there were the hot and cold running waiters in their hunting-pink jackets and their black satin knickerbockers and nylon hose. And there was all the usual pomp and glop to make it more chichi than ever. Thank God I can send the bill to the magazine.
I'm off now to do some errands and to learn how to make Crêpes Bretonne.
All my love and kisses to the Browns, Jim
[36 West 12th Street New York] June 8, 1953]
My dinner at Dione Lucas's was strange and wonderful. We started with the most indifferent bits of bread with smoked salmon, and cocktails. Then when we went to table she told me that she was ashamed of her hollandaise because the stove went wrong. She hadn't made it, but one of her assistants on the TV show had. It was sole poached in white wine with Mornay sauce and the Mornay topped with hollandaise and then truffles. With this, champagne. Then a chicken sauté which she made the point of calling "Stanley"—but Stanley is prepared by poaching and has a velouté with curry and other things added, and is served with rice. This was a sauté with bits of ham, truffle and mushroom, and a brown sauce. Truffles twice. Then asparagus hollandaise. Hollandaise twice. And potatoes and hot brioche. Then a huge salad and then a Dobosh Torte, which she said she had not made and which I could tell had come from a bake shop nearby. She ate nothing but watched every bite I took. And she questioned me later about leaving a small piece of fish on the plate. She fell asleep in the drawing room. She does all the shows I told you about and then goes away on weekends to cook for eighty people in some religious cult. It is her salvation she is working on. I am told she not only cooks for two days for these eighty people but that she buys all the food out of her own pocket as well.
Look at this month's Town and Country and read the recipes. The Lobster Américaine is all wrong. She is a great, great technician who doesn't know food.
Yesterday Ann Seranne and I drove up to Philippe's and did lunch for fourteen. Smoked salmon and sturgeon with champagne, then a cold cream of pumpkin soup with nutmeg, tiny baby lamb racks with a touch of garlic and Old Man on them (sample enclosed), sirloin steaks, and a huge green salad with field salad, cress, romaine, endive and Boston lettuce. Then fruits with kirsch and ice cream (Waldorf) and a cake (Waldorf). It was a lot of fun and we think everyone had a whirl of a time.
Love and kisses to you both, J
Excerpted from Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles by James Beard, John Ferrone. Copyright © 1994 John Ferrone. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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